2008 Dodge Caliber


2008 Dodge Caliber Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2008 Dodge Caliber was new.


Performance: 5.9

Opinions of the performance of the 2008 Dodge Caliber vary among reviewers, with some complaining of a lack of power and sluggish handling while others find the performance adequate for a smaller car. The Caliber is "a solid daily driver, though hardly much more than that," says Edmunds. "Our impressions of the Caliber were dampened by the lack of driving excitement."

But Kelley Blue Book finds the Caliber "as competent around town and on the highway as most of the competition." The car is currently available with several different four-cylinder engines. Buyers interested in performance will welcome the new SRT4 model, which comes with a 2.4-liter turbocharged engine that makes 285 horsepower.

Acceleration and Power

SE and SXT models are powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 148 horsepower, which comes paired with a five-speed manual transmission. Both can be upgraded to a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 158 horsepower, paired with a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). R/T models come with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that achieves 172 horsepower, which can be paired with either transmission. An all-wheel-drive R/T model is available, though only with the 2.4-liter engine and CVT.

Many reviewers find the engines inadequate for the Caliber's weight. Writing of the mid-level 2.0-liter engine, Motor Week says, "The engine is slow-revving and a bit noisy when pushed. Add in our R/T's 3,308 pound curb weight, and it all feels a bit sluggish." Automobile.com also complains that the engine "would need to lean on gearing to win a race to 60 mph, and most likely would come up a bit short." But in this segment, the writer points out, "Does this really matter? Hardly." Many reviewers echo that sentiment, saying that the performance of the engines is simply adequate for the class. "The Caliber's mission in life is decidedly more utilitarian than performance oriented," says Kelley Blue Book.

The new SRT4 version raises the performance bar with its 2.4-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine. It makes 285 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 265 pound-feet of torque at 5,600 rpm. Motor Trend says, "Fun is to be had thanks to the turbocharging and intercooling of the 2.4-liter DOHC global four." The Kansas City Star is also pleased, commenting: "Because the SRT4 has such a linear power curve, it is most enjoyable when it is being driven at a leisurely pace. Turbocharging not only raises its outright power output, but it also enhances low-speed drivability, something that is not usual for turbocharged engines." The engine comes only with the six-speed manual transmission.

Environmental Protection Agency mileage estimates for the engines say the 1.8-liter will average 24 miles per gallon in the city and 29 mpg on the highway; the 2.0-liter will average 23 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway, and the R/T's 2.4-liter will average 23 mpg in the city and 29 on the highway (with the manual transmission). The SRT4's 2.4-liter turbocharged engine has not yet been rated.

Reviewers offer few comments on the manual transmission, though the Kansas City Star says its shift linkage is "tight, firm and direct." The Continuously Variable Transmission is also well-liked. "In everyday driving the Caliber has one of the most refined CVTs we've tried, adapting to changing demands quickly, especially in city traffic," praises Motor Week. Motor Trend agrees, saying, "The CVT is a joy. Although the sensation of not feeling conventional gear 'shifts' takes getting used to, the transmission's calibration is spot on…It doesn't hunt around as much as many CVTs do."

An AutoStick mode allows the driver to simulate shifting even with the CVT. This feature divides reviewers. "While the idea of engineering artificial gearing into the Caliber's 'gearless' continuously variable transmission might seem counterproductive, the ability to control the transmission with ultra-responsive manual shifts is very useful," offers Kelley Blue Book. However, some reviewers offer complaints about the AutoStick, like this one from Edmunds: "The simulated shifts felt especially, well, simulated."

Handling and Braking

The handling dynamics of the 2008 Caliber disappoint most reviewers. Motor Trend complains that "its ride and handling fall short of expectations… plowing through corners as if Dodge had benchmarked a full-size truck." The power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering has given the Caliber a turning radius among the tightest in this class, but reviewers often find the steering "light" and "numbish," as Motor Trend describes it.

Automotive writers find the car very stable, but still complain of body roll. Cars.com comments that "its stability is undeniable when compared to a truck, but one feels the car's height when flinging it around corners, especially in the SXT trim level, which has more compliant, touring suspension tuning and a bit more body roll." Automobile.com says "on the highway the Caliber is uncannily stable, even at higher than posted speeds," but in turns Edmunds complains that "we experienced mucho body roll." Motor Trend complains about torque steer in the new SRT4 version, which feature performance-tuned rack-and-pinion steering: "Plant your right foot to the floor and call up all the Dodge Caliber SRT-4's torque, limited to 214 pound-feet in first gear. The carbon-fiber-pattern leather steering-wheel rim lists in your hands left, then right, like you're piloting the SS Minnow."

Base SE models come with standard power front disc and rear drum brakes. Four-wheel anti-lock brakes are standard on R/T and SRT4 models and available on the SXT. Few reviewers had much to say of the SE model's brakes, though their performance on braking distance tests is adequate for this class of car. Of the anti-lock brakes, Motor Trend has "no complaints," finding "plenty of stopping power, with just enough pedal pulse to let you know when the ABS cuts in."

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