Dodge has hardly lost a sense of social responsibility. In early 2006 Caliber arrived as an early '07 model. A compact wagon to replace the Neon sedan, it was built on a new platform developed with Mitsubishi. Caliber marked another brave step for Dodge, blending macho Magnum style with four-cylinder efficiency in a trio of American-made "world" engines, all with twin overhead camshafts and de rigueur variable valve timing.
The base SE and SXT offered a 148-bhp 1.8-liter with manual transmission or a high-tech continuously variable automatic (CVT). Both also had an optional 158-bhp 2.0-liter, while the sporty R/T mated a 172-bhp 2.4 with CVT and standard AWD; a front-drive version with five-speed manual was scheduled to come later.
Caliber's tall-body styling over a 103.7-inch wheelbase provided good room for up to five adults, plus anywhere from 18.5 to 48 cubic feet of cargo space. With small-car buyers increasingly demanding upscale features, Caliber came sensibly calibrated with standards like curtain side airbags and options such as antilock brakes (included on CVT) models and ESP traction/stability control, plus the usual fancy trim, audio upgrades, and such.
Yet prices started just south of $14,000, very competitive with class rivals. For all this practicality, Dodge didn't forget leadfoots, planning the inevitable SRT4 version for a fall 2006 release. With a 2.4-liter turbocharged to no less than 300 bhp, the Caliber SRT4 upped the last Neon SRT-4 by 70 ponies. Due to extra girth, though, Dodge's claimed 0-60-mph time remained unchanged at 5.9 seconds.
Reflecting SRT's usual thoroughness, the hottest Caliber was set to boast a standard six-speed manual gearbox, a working hood scoop, big all-disc Charger/Magnum brakes, and a lowered suspension crouching over standard 19-inch wheels. Yet for all the go-fast goodies, the new SRT4 was rated at an estimated 28 mpg on the highway. The best of all worlds? Could be.
Also due from Dodge for 2007 is the much needed successor to the aging Stratus, plus attractive new truck models like the Jeep-based Nitro, Dodge's first compact SUV. There's also the prospect of a smaller-than-Caliber car for the European market, where Chrysler Group wants Dodge to be a major player.
Last but not least is the 2006 concept predicting a reborn Challenger pony car on a modified LX platform. The concept was first shown at the early 2006 car shows, and it made quite a stir. Said to be offered sometime around '08, it promises to be a strong, er, challenger to Ford's highly popular Mustang.
All in all, things look pretty good for Dodge at this point in the story. Though its truck sales softened a bit in 2005 -- mainly due to some buyers having second thoughts about thirsty SUVs -- car sales seemed healthy again, exceeding 300,000 calendar-year units in 2001, '02, and '05. While today is never a sure forecast of tomorrow, Dodge seems poised for further prosperity in the near future, especially with cars. After all, as the old adage says, nothing succeeds like success.
For more on the all-American Dodge, see:
- Dodge New Car Reviews and Prices
- Dodge Used Car Reviews and Prices