2007 Dodge Caliber SXT

Car enthusiasts love Chrysler for its stand-out styling. The Chrysler Crossfire and PT Cruiser are head-turning designs that made automotive high style affordable to the average consumer.

But the real excitement is inside the cars. The Dodge Caliber, which replaces the Neon as the automaker?s global compact car, is a perfect example. On the outside, the Caliber is taught and muscular, with a powerful beltline that ends in its functional rear spoiler.

Inside, the five-door hatchback is all athlete: with the versatility and durability to go the distance. Two rows of fold-flat seats, a removable cargo liner that?s easy to clean, large, plentiful cupholders, a 115 volt outlet, and a portable, rechargeable rear cargo light are just a few of the features that appeal to buyers with active lifestyles.

Perky, Thrifty Powertrain

The test car was the Caliber SXT, with a two-liter, four-cylinder engine rated at 158-horsepower and continuously variable transaxle. The transaxle maximizes fuel economy by utilizing an infinite number of gear ratios, based on engine load and driving conditions. The front-wheel drive platform has impressive fuel stats: 26/30 miles-per gallon city and highway.

The transaxle also enhances low-end torque, improving the Caliber?s acceleration on highway ramps. The SXT model comes standard with 17-inch wheels which produce a large footprint for stable cornering. Designers pushed the wheels to the corners to enhance handling and make the most out of the Caliber?s interior space.

While the four-cylinder engine doesn?t have the pavement crushing torque of larger blocks, power is more than sufficient for driving on surface streets and highways, with good acceleration for quick maneuvers in dense traffic. The compact hatchback fits easily into almost any parking space. The driver sits four inches higher in the Caliber than the Neon, improving visibility all the way around the car.

Seven inches of ground clearance are sufficient for clearing obstacles on most unimproved roads. For those who live in areas where weather is a factor, the upscale RT model comes with an available all-wheel drive system.

Comfortable Seating for Four

While the Caliber is configured to seat up to five passengers, its compact dimensions are better suited for four adults. The front passenger seat folds flat to function as a work table or to extend the cargo area with the second-row seats folded flat. Cloth seats come standard on all models. A soil-repellant, anti-microbial upholstery fabric will be available later as an option. The standard vinyl load floor in the cargo area is removable and washable.

The standard seats are firm and comfortable with good lower back support, and the manual adjustments should be adequate for most adults. The driver?s armrest slides forward three inches to accommodate smaller drivers. A floor-mounted center console has a large bin for holding compact discs or small electronic devices.

The test car was equipped with the optional 115-volt power outlet on the console. Two cupholders up front and two in the rear are large enough for big water bottles. There is a 12-volt outlet in the center stack just below the gear shift lever, and a jack for MP3 players.

Those who prefer to keep their beverages on ice can purchase a storage bin that holds up to four, 20-ounce bottles in a chilled glove compartment.

The second-row seats fold flat by releasing loops to either side of the seat cushions. With the second row seats folded, the Caliber meets our bike-friendly standards.

The undersized spare tire and jack are located in a compartment beneath the cargo floor. Because of its relatively low profile, the liftgate is for adults of all sizes to open and close. A light bar on the liftgate illuminates the key cylinder to make it easier to see at night.

Those who plan to camp at the trailhead might opt for the rechargeable rear cargo light, that can be removed to use as a flashlight. There are tie-down hooks to either side of the liftgate, as well as on the second-row seatbacks, to make securing large cargo easier.

Standard Side Curtain Airbags

The SXT comes standard side curtain airbags and a tire pressure monitoring system. The Caliber is the first compact Chrysler car to come with available electronic stability program, that integrates antilock braking, traction and yaw control. Antilock brakes are also available as a separate option.

Other standard safety features include a knee airbag to protect the driver in a frontal collision, seat belt retractiors, an energy absorbing steering column, and an enhanced accident response system that unlocks the doors and turns on the interior lights after the airbags have deployed, to make it easier for emergency personnel to reach the passengers. The same system also shuts off fuel flow to the engine to reduce the risk of a fire.

Warm seats, Hot Tunes

While the torrid Phoenix temperatures didn?t allow me to test the heated front seats, the optional MusicGate Power Sound system made it more fun to crank the tunes. The nine-speaker system which includes two large speakers in the liftgate, surrounds all of the passengers with sound. Standard comfort and convenience features on the SXT grade include remote keyless entry, power windows, mirrors and door locks, air conditioning, and an aerodynamic rear spoiler. A standard rear windshield wiper keeps the rear glass clear of water, dirt and ice.

The audio and temperature controls are easy for both the driver and front passenger to use. Four air vents in the front do a good job of directing airflow, and can be sut off completely if the passengers so desire.

There are plenty of storage cubbies throughout the car, including a handy covered shelf right above the two part glovebox. The front doors have integrated map pockets.

With pricing starting at $13,985 for the base model, the Dodge Caliber is a lot to love for a minimal outlay of cash. The 2007 Caliber is currently available for test drives at Dodge dealerships around the country.

Likes: Youthful, sporty exterior styling with a well-equipped, versatile interior. The SXT comes with two appealing standard safety features: side curtain airbags and a tire pressure monitoring system. The portable rear cargo light and removable cargo load floor liner should also appeal to athletes who camp at the trailhead and need a low-maintenance interior.

Dislikes: Antilock brakes are not available on the base model, and are an option on the SXT (tested).

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