With a moniker that stands for Street And Racing Technology (not the often-mistaken Street Racing Technology), Dodge's in-house performance arm uses hardware and expertise gleaned from its production and motorsport teams to produce cars that offer the best 'bang for the buck'. The last sport compact to undergo SRT's engineering makeover was the Neon SRT-4, a snorting, torque-steering turbo rocket that's more fun to drive than it looks on paper. Just five minutes behind the wheel of our own Project SRT4 is enough to convince any naysayer. But what the Neon lacks in modern design and refinement, the Caliber SRT4 seeks to fill.
The engine is a brand new, 2.4-liter, turbocharged and intercooled in-line four, pushing 285bhp and 265lb-ft of torque. Dual Variable Valve Timing (VVT) oversees the action of the intake valves and Inconel exhaust valves. Other tricks include piston oil squirters, an SRT4-specific oil pump/balance shaft module, oil cooler kit, forged connecting rods (but cast pistons) and iron cylinder liners for the otherwise all-aluminum engine. A TD04 turbocharger feeds into an 11-row front-mount intercooler, which is sandwiched in front of the radiator and visible through the grille.
Rather than cap the boost level to reduce torque steer, the team at SRT have created a variable boost delivery system that seeks to maintain an optimum level of torque at any altitude or air inlet temperature. In first gear, it's designed to hit 215lb-ft of torque, 230 in second and 265 in third gear and up. And it will deliver however much boost pressure is required to hit those torque numbers. At sea level, the maximum boost pressure is around 12psi, although SRT engineers have seen levels as high as 15psi to maintain a steady 265lb-ft.
The Getrag six-speed manual transmission shifts directly and accurately, although we would have liked the second-to-third throw to be a little shorter. The SRT4 uses ZF Sachs twin-tube dampers all around, tied in with stiffer springs and a 18mm rear anti-roll bar. Excessively huge 19x7.5 cast-aluminum wheels are paired up with 225/45/19 Goodyear Eagle F1 tires.
The suspension is dialed in for the street and the occasional track session, matched to the stock rubber. But once out on the asphalt of Putnam Park, it's the Brake Lock Differential (BLD) that proves to be the most interesting aspect. Not a true mechanical limited-slip differential, the BLD is actually an open differential with specific programming of the onboard wheel speed sensors. The BLD reads the speed differential between the front wheels, detects slip or spin and uses the front brakes to limit excess torque transfer from one side to the other. The system keeps either drive wheel from spinning, thus limiting the amount of torque that would otherwise disappear into tire smoke.
SRT engineers assure us that the BLD system can compensate for changes in tire and brake pad compound, and shouldn't adversely affect brake pad life. Even so, torque steer is still a major problem.
Speaking of brakes, the SRT4 feels downright good. Twin-piston front and single-piston rear sliding calipers combine with 340mm front and 302mm rear rotors, all plucked from the Chrysler parts bin. The brake pedal is firm and short, and, when combined with the SRT-tuned ABS system and front brake ducts, stops repeatedly from 60mph to a standstill in less than 125 feet (according to Dodge).
Apart from the ducts, the SRT4 features a different front bumper, lower side sill moldings, rear bumper and rear spoiler. The interior features an Auto Meter boost gauge ( la Neon SRT4) and an optional Reconfigurable Display (RCD), which uses the onboard accelerometers to measure quarter-mile and one-eighth-mile times, 0-60mph acceleration, lateral gs and braking distances.
In building a successor to the Neon SRT4, Dodge and the SRT engineers have sought to deliver a car that is the next logical step for older, more refined, former Neon fans-claiming a top speed of 155mph, 0.85g on the skidpad, a 14.5-second quarter-mile time, and 0-60mph in the low six-second range.
All while offering better interior build quality, a smoother engine and a six-speed transmission. Put into perspective, the muffler-less Neon SRT4 has been replaced by this quieter Caliber SRT4, which makes much more power with a muffler and two catalytic converters.
The Caliber SRT4 is impressive, especially considering the low $22,995 entry price. But it could be even better with more boost, lighter and wider wheels, stickier tires, a free-flowing exhaust with only one high-flow cat, and a mechanical limited-slip differential.
2008 Dodge Caliber Srt4 Price as Tested: $22,995
Engine Displacement/Type/Valvetrain: 2360cc, in-line four, aluminum block and head, DOHC, turbocharged and intercooled, dual VVT variable valve timing Claimed Crank HP: 285 @ 5700-6400rpm Claimed Crank Torque: 265lb-ft @ 2000-5600rpm Drivetrain/Layout/Transmission: Transverse front engine, front-wheel drive, six-speed manual Curb Weight: 3189 lbs Suspension (Front): MacPherson struts with anti-roll bar Suspension (Rear): Independent multi-link with coil springs and anti-roll bar