What's New for 2010
For 2010, the Dodge Caliber is offered in five new "lifestyle" trim levels ranging from the value-oriented Express base model to the sporty top-of-the-line Rush. All models get an upgraded interior that includes a padded center armrest, padded door trim panels and active front head restraints. The high-performance SRT4 model has been dropped from the lineup.
First, the good news: As a whole, the quality of new vehicles sold in the U.S. has improved dramatically in recent years. Now the bad: There are still a handful of models out there -- like the 2010 Dodge Caliber, for example -- that don't measure up to the leaders in their respective categories.
Don't get us wrong: This compact four-door hatchback that replaced the brand's entry-level Neon sedan back in 2007 has some strong points, including almost 50 cubic feet of cargo space plus several unique bells and whistles like a chilled glovebox beverage cooler, a built-in rechargeable LED flashlight and a premium stereo with rear speakers that can be flipped down and pointed outside the open liftgate. The problem is, the Caliber has a number of competitors that are noticeably better in ways that really matter.
The Caliber's two available four-cylinder engines are a good case in point. Both offer passable performance and good fuel economy, but they feel downright sluggish compared to what's under the hood of rival models. Safety feature content is also disappointing, as is interior quality, though the latter is better than it has been. For 2010, Dodge's designers replaced many of the cheap-feeling plastics with better-quality materials. Unfortunately, the 2010 Dodge Caliber is still at an overall disadvantage in this highly competitive segment.
Though none of these issues is a deal breaker by itself, we suggest that buyers in the market for a small four-door hatchback or wagon test-drive a few competitive models before making up their minds. Even a quick spin in category leaders like the Hyundai Elantra Touring, Mazda 3, Scion xB, Toyota Matrix and Volkswagen Golf will reveal that the Caliber is down on performance, handling and interior quality. While it's true that there aren't any really "bad" cars anymore in the traditional sense, the Caliber continues to qualify as "not as good."
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2010 Dodge Caliber is a compact four-door hatchback that's offered in five new "lifestyle" trim levels. The entry-level Express model comes standard with 15-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, cloth upholstery, full power accessories, cruise control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Bluetooth connectivity and an AM/FM/CD stereo with auxiliary audio/USB jacks and satellite radio.
Step up to the Mainstreet trim level and you'll get 17-inch alloy wheels, a "touring" suspension and foglights. Interior upgrades include a tachometer, fold-flat front passenger seat and 60/40-split-folding and reclining rear seatbacks.
Springing for the Uptown model gets you rear disc brakes (versus drums), automatic climate control, leather upholstery, a power-adjustable driver seat, heated front seats and a premium nine-speaker Boston Acoustics audio system with steering-wheel-mounted controls and flip-down speakers in the liftgate.
The sporty Caliber Heat takes the Mainstreet model's equipment list and adds 18-inch polished alloy wheels, sport-tuned suspension and steering, rear disc brakes (versus drums) and specialized interior trim. Building on the Caliber Heat is the Rush, which adds a larger 2.4-liter engine, 18-inch chrome-clad alloy wheels and a rear spoiler. Inside, the Rush also gets a few more creature comforts including automatic climate control and a premium audio system with a touchscreen interface and 30-gigabyte hard drive.
Many of the options found on the upper trim levels are offered as options on the lower trims. A sunroof and a navigation system are also available.
Powertrains and Performance
Under the hood, the front-wheel-drive Caliber can be had with one of two different four-cylinder engines. A 2.0-liter engine rated at 158 horsepower and 141 pound-feet of torque is standard on all trim levels except the Rush. The Rush gets a 2.4-liter that puts out 172 hp and 165 lb-ft of torque. This engine is optional on the Uptown. Transmission choices include a five-speed manual and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), depending on the trim level.
Fuel economy is relatively good across the board, though mileage suffers a bit with the CVT. The 2.0-liter engine returns EPA estimates of 23 mpg city/31 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined with the manual transmission and 23/27/25 mpg with the CVT. The larger 2.4-liter engine is nearly as good, with EPA ratings of 23 mpg city/29 mpg highway and 25 mpg combined for manual-transmission-equipped models and 21/25/23 for versions fitted with the CVT.
Standard safety features include a driver-side knee airbag, side curtain airbags, active front head restraints and antilock brakes (rear drums for the Express and Mainstreet, four-wheel discs for the other trims). Front-seat side airbags and stability control aren't available on the Express but are optional on the remaining trim levels.
The Caliber earned perfect scores in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests, including five stars in both frontal and side impacts. Results were mixed in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests, however, with a top "Good" rating in the frontal-offset tests and a next-to-lowest "Marginal" rating in side-impact tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The fact that the 2010 Dodge Caliber has been given an interior makeover is welcome news. While not much has changed in terms of the overall layout or dimensions, the addition of soft-touch materials in key areas like door panels and the sliding center-console armrest have helped address our previous chief complaint about the cabin. Both front and rear seat passengers enjoy a decent amount of head- and legroom. Outward visibility is good, the gauges are easy to read and most controls operate intuitively.
When it's time to haul cargo instead of people, the Caliber makes it easy thanks to 60/40-split rear seatbacks that fold down to create a nice flat load floor that's covered in easy-to-clean plastic. The upper trim levels also include a fold-flat front passenger seat that makes it possible to shoehorn in longer items like surfboards and still close the rear liftgate. Maximum cargo capacity is 48 cubic feet, which is about the same as other small wagons like the Mazda 3 but falls well short of compact crossovers like the Honda CR-V.
As with the rest of the car, there's nothing really wrong with the way the 2010 Dodge Caliber drives. The problem is that there's just not that much to recommend it either.
Acceleration is lackluster with the smaller 2.0-liter engine, and only slightly better with the larger 2.4-liter. The performance of both motors suffers noticeably when fitted with the CVT.
The suspension delivers a decent ride quality, though the sport-tuned suspension underpinning Heat and Rush models may be a little too firm for some folks' tastes. Handling is adequate enough for daily driving, but buyers looking for a sporty driving experience will want to look elsewhere.