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Motoring: Dodge Calibur is cut below average

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | November 13th, 2006

I have always hated CVT transmissions, always had and for what I thought, I would always will.

So, when I learned the new Dodge Caliber is only available with a CVT automatic transmission (manual is also available, but all auto's are CVT units), I cringed.

I was dreading to get into the car, thinking I'd hate it.

But almost immediately after getting in it, I was impressed by the CVT in my Caliber R/T test car. Unlike most CVT's, it doesn't whine and feel like its only breathing in. It feels like a normal automatic, which is good, but it also gives the fuel economy advantage of the CVT, which makes it better.

Yes, despite my tester having the top 2.4-litre four cylinder engine, which has variable valve timing helping it produce 172 hp, and 165 lb/ft of torque.

The R/T version has all-wheel drive, and yes, this vehicle is no road rocket, it's far from it, but it's designed for economy, not performance. Those looking for performance will have to wait for the fire-breathing SRT4 version.

So despite the big engine, and all-wheel drive, I averaged 9.4-litres/100km. That is amazing for this class of vehicle. That means it's more economical than smaller cars like the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit and Mazda3 Sport, yet the Caliber is the largest of them all. This car is bigger than my first apartment.

So, sounds like this car is a winner?

Not quite. While it is good on fuel economy it falls flat on its face in other areas. Starting off with the quality. This car is made form the cheapest looking plastic I have ever come across. The plastic looks like it was cut from a mould with a knife wielded by a sixth grade student, and the fit and finish was horrid. The panel where the dash met the portion holding the transmission selector was crooked. The cover for the passenger airbag was of a different shade of beige than the rest of the dashboard, and I don't think that was intentional.

Then there is the driving position. Your position to the steering wheel and the pedals is fine, but the thick A-pillar is very obtrusive thus makes going around corners very tricky.

As for going around corners, it's fine but has a bit too much body roll to make it entertaining.

So, things are not looking so good for the Caliber. The only things going for it is interior space and fuel economy, even the price is not that amusing. The loaded model I had is priced at $29,085, which is a lot. Why would anyone buy this over a Mazda6 Sportback with the V6 engine for about the same money is beyond me.

The base price is decent though at $15,995, but that only comes with a 1.8-litre engine, so performance isn't going to be impressive.

However, I do see quite a few of these on the roads already, so perhaps it's making sense to many people. Not to me though. I wanted to like this vehicle, and yes, its fuel-economy, transmission and interior space are all very impressive, but it's not enough to get me hooked. Perhaps the SRT4 version will change my mind.
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