Test Drive: 2011 Dodge Caliber Heat

The Dodge Caliber is the current basic hatchback offering from Chrysler. The whole brand is getting a facelift through 2011 and 2012 as the result of the recent merger with Fiat, and the Caliber is likely to be the last of the ?Old Dodge? products to be revamped. If the great products coming out of Chrysler this year are any indication, the successor to the Caliber is going to be fantastic.

But let?s look at the car in front of us today ? the Caliber offers you a 2.0-liter 4 cylinder DOHC 16-valve engine at 158 horsepower, yielding a very respectable 32 MPG on the highway and 23 MPG on city streets.? That?s good news combined with the Caliber?s $18,085 base price ? the economics are right for this year.

You have your choice of a 5-speed manual transmission or the continuously variable? transaxle (CVT) automatic option.? With this car, you really want the manual transmission, because the CVT will suck up most of your available horsepower and leave the car feeling extremely anemic, with a tendency to wind out. That?s common among small-displacement 4-cylinder cars ? they just don?t have the grunt to make a continuously variable transmission move the car the way you want.? The CVT option costs $1,000 extra on the Caliber.

Inside the Caliber is already nicer than it was just a couple years ago. The Caliber comes with everything you expect in a modern car. You get air conditioning, CD/MP3/Satellite stereo, Dodge?s UConnect voice control system, cruise control, a complete set of safety features including stability control, and power everything. Outside, with the ?Heat? edition as tested, you get a really nice coat of bright red paint, nice 18-inch wheels, and power heated mirrors.

Driving the Caliber is generally nice ? with the caveat that you need the manual transmission version. The car is light, so you?re not going to get that Chrysler 300 ride, but it?s nimble and well-made.

The cargo capacity on the Caliber is great ? with the squared-off body and the big hatch and fold-down rear seats, you can stuff a tremendous amount into this car. That?s one reason why I recommend the Caliber if you?re getting ready to send a child off to college ? they can haul all their stuff to school, haul friends around, and the car is both affordable to buy and to insure.

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