2007 Dodge Caliber R/T

2007 Dodge Caliber R/T 2007 Dodge Caliber R/T
Short Take Road Test

Forget about any Dr. Evil-esque puns. For starters, the Dodge Caliber isn't nearly as pretty as a fembot. The look, echoed by Dodge's "anything but cute" advertising tagline, is a purposeful departure from the Caliber's predecessor, the bug-eyed Neon. Moreover, the last Caliber we tested finished sixth out of seven in our May 2006 comparison test of $15,000 entry-level cars. That Caliber was a base SE model with a 148-hp 1.8-liter engine. The R/T comes with a larger 2.4-liter that produces 172 horsepower. The price inflates accordingly: Our test car, equipped with a continuously variable transmission, came in at $19,985. Adding all-wheel drive kicks an R/T's price to almost $21,000.

The elevated sticker price on the Caliber R/T invites comparisons with cars that weren't part of that cheap-car comparo, such as the Mazda 3. Although the Caliber's chunky looks make it seem deceptively large, it's actually three inches shorter than the Mazda. Compared with a Nissan Versa (which finished second in that comparo), the Caliber is four inches longer.

At least the Caliber's interior space isn't wasted. Head-, shoulder-, and legroom dimensions are all close to the Mazda's and Nissan's, but the Caliber's 19 cubic feet of storage space trump the 3's by two and the Versa's by one. When it comes to the feel of the interior, however, the Caliber falls far short of the competition. Our R/T test car came with a nice-looking glossy red surround to the radio and climate-control stack, but the rest of the interior plastics felt cheap. On the positive side, there are a number of thoughtful design elements, such as an AC power adapter and a rubber-lined, fold-out arm on the center console that's perfectly suited for holding an iPod or cell phone. There's also a bin above the glove box that keeps cans and bottles cool with the help of the A/C system. It's a clever idea, but there's not enough chilling power to cool off a warm beverage—start with a cool drink, and you'll see better results.