REVIEWS: 2009 Dodge Caliber SRT4

June 3, 2009
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0906 01 Z+2009 Dodge Caliber SRT4+profile View
I just can't get past the price of this car. There's a decent amount of power, but it's going to the wrong wheels, and the result is tons of violent torque steer. The pedals aren't positioned for heel-and-toe shifting, and the turbo lag is very noticeable. Other cars in the segment (VW GTI and Honda Civic Si) are much more fun to drive and offer better value for your money. Bottom line: the competition in this segment is very strong, and the Caliber just doesn't cut it.
If Chrysler can find a way to keep an SRT4 product around after bankruptcy, it needs to have all-wheel drive, a better driving position, and not be based on the Caliber.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
0906 12 Z+2009 Dodge Caliber SRT4+recaro Seats
Ditto to everything Phil said, but let me also mention what I like about the Dodge Caliber SRT4: the handsome, nineteen-inch wheels; the very comfortable and sporty, Recaro-style front seats; and the powertrain, with the 285-hp turbo four mated to a reasonably decent six-speed Getrag manual with a good clutch pedal. The turbo boost gauge mounted in the driver's door and the digital g-force gauge are mildly amusing, as well.
As for the rest of the car, the base Caliber is incredibly unattractive, and the SRT performance add-ons do little, if anything, to improve matters. Thick A-pillars, high side windows, and a small windshield create an uncomfortably claustrophobic atmosphere in the cabin. And the torque steer? Wow. Hang on tight, folks.
In general, when one is considering the Caliber SRT4, one can't help but think of the "putting lipstick on a pig" bromide from last fall's election. It's sad, especially when you consider how cool the Neon SRT4 was in its day.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
0906 05 Z+2009 Dodge Caliber SRT4+front Three Quarters View
Funny; I'd assumed this car had quietly slipped into the night, much like the short-lived Chrysler Crossfire SRT6. I can't remember the last time I saw a Caliber SRT4 on the road here in Mopar-laden Michigan, although I did manage to count five Neon SRT4s driving in Ann Arbor over the past week.
The SRT-tuned Neon continues to maintain a strong fan base, but I wonder if that will be the case for the Caliber. The Neon proved to be a rip-snortin' version of a compact car that already, when properly modified, had some track prowess (anyone else remember the first-gen ACR?). The Caliber, with its wide stance, mail-slot windows, and tall nose, feels more like a cute-ute SUV with a stroked engine than a hot hatch.
For the record, that engine--a 285-hp, turbocharged 2.4-liter I-4--is quite good. Despite being built off (Daimler)Chrysler's world engine, it offers a substantial amount of torque (explicitly evident, thanks to front-wheel drive) and feels surprisingly refined. If it weren't for the boost gauge added to where an HVAC vent should lie, I'm not sure I'd recognize this as being a turbocharged mill.
It's an interesting package, and kudos to the engineers at Chrysler for wanting to have at least a little fun with a boring package. Still, other manufacturers (notably Subaru and Mitsubishi) have raised the bar for building tuned econoboxes, and I'm not sure the Caliber clears it.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
0906 11 Z+2009 Dodge Caliber SRT4+front Passenger Interior
In the mood for crude? Your ship is in. The SRT-tuned Caliber has the unsophisticated feel of something amateurs created under a tree with hand tools. It's quick but terminally quirky. Consider: The world-class torque steer. A suspension that hops the whole car airborne over bumps. A throttle that hangs open when you lift off the gas. Criminally heavy steering and shifting. An underhood presentation showcasing the latest plastic molding advancements.
I did admire some facets of this jewel in the rough. The boost gauge, red-stitched front bucket seats, leather-wrapped wheel, and simulated carbon-fiber shift boot are delightful. The sound system rattled my ears free of waxy buildup. And there's a commendable amount of bang here for not many bucks. The truth is, cars like this are about to disappear, so this may be your last opportunity to scratch your itch for crude.
Don Sherman, Technical Editor
0906 06 Z+2009 Dodge Caliber SRT4+badge
Per their usual, the engineers at SRT worked hard to make this car an extreme performance machine. The only problem in this case is that the basic Caliber is far from a good starting point. So, you end up with an ultrafast hot hatchback that has nasty hard plastics in the cabin (particularly on the upper parts of the inner door panels), a poorly damped (read: too bouncy) ride, and a general feeling of cheapness. I'm not sure if the wandery steering carries over from the base Caliber or if it is an SRT-spec system, but I was unimpressed, particularly after hopping out of the superstar Nissan GT-R and into this silver Dodge. DeMatio's "lipstick on a pig" reference is totally accurate.
Granted, this Caliber does have some nice features, including Bluetooth and satellite radio (as it should at this price). The gigantic subwoofer in the cargo area is cool, but it takes up lots of cargo space and doesn't sound all that impressive. The very large speakers in the rear doors and the dropdown speakers in the liftgate are pretty cool, too, even if they are typical Chrysler gimmicks.
I'm all for crude, but I much prefer the crudeness of the original Neon-based SRT4. Still, this might not be a bad time to seek out a smokin' deal on this raw muscle machine.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
0906 03 Z+2009 Dodge Caliber SRT4+rear Three Quarters View
2009 Dodge Caliber SRT4
Base price (with destination): $25,220
Price as tested: $27,615
Options:
Leather Interior Group $695
Kicker/SRT Livin' Loud audio system $675
SRT Option II $575
-Rear view auto dimming
-Soft tonneau cover
-Tire pressure monitoring display
-universal garage door opener
-uconnect phone
225/45R19 performance tires $50
19" wheels $400
Fuel economy:
19 / 27 / 22 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
Engine:
Size: Turbocharged 2.4L 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 285 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 265 lb-ft @ 2000 rpm
Transmission:
6-speed manual transmission
Weight: 3189 lb
Wheels/Tires:
19 x 7.5-in polished aluminum SRT wheels
225/45R19 BSW performance tires
0906 02 Z+2009 Dodge Caliber SRT4+rear Three Quarters View

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