Thursday, May 29, 2008

Dodge's higher calibre of Caliber

Posted By Joe Duarte

Posted 3 hours ago

It's easy to find adjective phrases to describe the SRT4 version of the Dodge Caliber - a Dodge of the highest Caliber; Dodge's new bullet; a higher Caliber bullet ... I'm sure I could go on and on.

But if the truth be told, as nice and quick as this new Caliber is, it doesn't stand out in a crowd of lower Calibers. And that package was pretty good right out of the box - equipped properly, they would leave their owners wanting for nothing.

Still, some wanted more power in light of the special version of the Neon that Caliber replaced. The SRT4 was a lovely little sports sedan that really transcended the Neon name much more clearly than the new SRT4 transcends the Caliber brand.

SRT is Chrysler's tuner group that proudly puts its stamp on everything from Ram pickups to Viper roadsters, Chrysler 300 sedans to Jeep Grand Cherokee sport-utes, Dodge Charger sedans and Magnum wagons. Past vehicles also included the Chrysler Crossfire coupe and the Plymouth Prowler. Future ones include Challenger.

It stands for Street and Racing Technology (SRT) with the trailing number being the number of cylinders of the vehicle's engine. In this case, the "4" designates a turbocharged four-cylinder engine displacing 2.4 litres.

It's a fun four-banger, too, coming to life with rebellious growl and snorting out exhaust with a defiant declaration of performance potential. It reportedly goes from 0 to 100 km/h in the mid-six-second range and covers the quarter mile in about 14.5 seconds. You can time all this yourself, with an onboard computer that can also gauge lateral force (Gs) and stopping distance.

The six-speed manual is pretty efficient at forcing through early acceleration but it can get clunky in the middle and cumbersome if you're trying to shift while negotiating a turn (such as an onramp). In a sense it's a throwback to North American performance transmissions that required their drivers to muscle through the gears, often without even using a clutch, but today's sports cars are more about nimbly tip-toeing around a track more than rumbling your way down a dragstrip.

And although the combination of a battened-down suspension and low-profile, stiff sidewalled performance tires on 19-inch rims does a good job of providing a flat stance during that onramp acceleration, it's not so efficient at handling see-saw cornering. But, it is stiff enough to pop a lid off a Timmy's cup during everyday city driving (note to wife: no matter how smooth city pavement may look, don't pull the lid off that coffee until we get to cruising highway speeds).

The interior could be lifted right out of a race car with high, wide Recaro-style seats snugly supporting front occupants from shoulder to knee. Beyond the wheel, three large gauges alert the driver to what the car's doing, with a smaller boost gauge sitting just to the left of the steering wheel rim. The only complaint I have is that the speedo should be large and in charge in the centre of the cluster with the rev-counter relegated to either the left or right flank.

There are all sorts of little stowage cubbies throughout the cabin, but none of them are really easy to use effectively and quickly.

The rear seats are flat but comfortable and the seatback goes down in a 60/40 split for cargo/passenger versatility. Putting them down doesn't create a flat load floor, but this vehicle is more about compromises than traditional hatchback versatility.

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