If I had a working means of time travel, I'd set the machine to 2004 and loan it to Chrysler's engineers. That was the point when Chrysler (er, DaimlerChrysler) decided to end the collaboration with Mitsubishi on what would become both automakers' next generation of small cars.
Admittedly, both products -- the Caliber and the Lancer, respectively -- have their faults, but I'd argue that Mitsubishi managed to create a more rewarding compact offering. Even in non-Evolution trims, the Lancer delivers sharp steering, taut cornering, and a generally compliant ride quality.
It's amazing how different the Caliber feels. Contrary to the Rush nameplate affixed to this top-spec car, the Caliber doesn't enjoy being hustled in the slightest. The higher stance and seating position may appeal to SUV admirers, but virtually no effort was made to rein in the body roll that results from a raised center of gravity. This drives less like a small hatchback and more like a small SUV -- and if you look carefully at the Monroney, you'll see Dodge calls this its "sport suspension" package. Yikes.
We're on the cusp of a new wave of small vehicles, notably the Nissan Juke and the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, that promise to bridge the gap between hatchback and sport-utility better than the Caliber does. Unless you're smitten with the styling or swayed by some sweet incentives offered by your friendly Dodge dealer, I'd hold out for something different.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer