2009 Dodge Caliber Expert Review

You'll Like The 2009 Dodge Caliber If...

Changes for 2009 are minor, adding body-colored door handles to SXT models and improvements in interior sound reduction across the line. Anti-lock brakes are now standard on the SXT, while uconnect gps navigation is made available for the first time.

You May Not Like The 2009 Dodge Caliber If...

Whether you're looking to get some versatility with your economy or some economy with your versatility, the 2009 Dodge Caliber throws in a little attitude as well.

What's New

Changes for 2009 are minor, adding body-colored door handles to SXT models and improvements in interior sound reduction across the line. Anti-lock brakes are now standard on the SXT, while uconnect gps navigation is made available for the first time.

Interior Features

The 2009 Dodge Caliber is pleasantly roomy and functional, especially for a vehicle with such a modest price tag. With a fold-flat rear seat and fold-flat front passenger seat (SXT and R/T), Caliber's hatchback design accommodates a variety of cargo and passenger configurations. Standard cloth seating can be upgraded to stain-resistant cloth or leather. A sport appearance package features a shifter bezel, dash trim and seat inserts coordinated with the vehicle's exterior color. Overall, the interior is nicely designed and offers a variety of clever features as either standard or optional equipment.

Exterior Features

With unique proportions, sharp-curve styling and Dodge's signature crosshair grille, the Caliber is perhaps the most distinctive five-door/crossover/wagon offered in the sub-$20,000 arena. It's bigger than the MAZDA3 and Volkswagen Rabbit, not as streamlined as the Toyota Matrix or Pontiac Vibe and has none of the retro vibe of the Chrysler PT Cruiser and Chevrolet HHR. Up-level Calibers are distinguished by chrome side moldings and grille, fog lights and bigger, aluminum wheels.

Driving Impressions

While the Caliber's mission in life is decidedly more utilitarian than performance oriented, we managed to have some fun in an all-wheel-drive R/T model. With its 172-horsepower engine, sportier suspension and continuously variable transmission, the R/T is the model we'd choose to take camping - especially if the campgrounds were at the end of a curvy canyon road. The continuously variable transmission offers the Auto Stick "manual-mode," which allows the driver to select any one of six "ratios" and thus hold onto that gearing step if necessary or desired. As for the more modestly-motivated Calibers, we found them as competent around town and on the highway as most of the competition.

Pricing Notes

With a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starting just under $17,000, the 2009 Dodge Caliber is an attractive prospect. The SXT pushes the price closer to the $18,000 mark, while a fully-loaded R/T model with all-wheel drive can top $28,000. Our Fair Purchase Prices have reflected real-world transaction prices at or near these sticker prices. The Caliber's wide price range allows it to vie with everything from the well-equipped Hyundai Elantra to the sporty Volkswagen GTI and still be somewhat competitive. As for resale value, we expect the Caliber to perform appreciably better than the Chrysler PT Cruiser and Chevrolet HHR but well below the Scion xB.

Notable Equipment

Along with a 1.8-liter engine and five-speed manual transmission, a base Dodge Caliber SE features front and rear side-curtain airbags, inflatable knee blocker, a four-speaker AM/FM/CD/AUX sound system, sliding armrest with cellphone/MP3-player holder, tilt steering, illuminated cup holders, rear-window defroster and wiper, 15-inch covered steel wheels and manual windows, door locks and mirrors. The SXT adds anti-lock brakes (ABS), air conditioning with Chill Zone storage compartment, split folding rear seats, cruise control, Stain Repel stain resistant seat fabric, 115-volt outlet, 17-inch aluminum wheels, removable cargo light, and power functions for the windows, door locks and mirrors.

Notable Options

Dodge Caliber's powertrain options include 2.0- and 2.4-liter four-cylinder engines, a continuously variable transmission (CVT2) with Auto Stick and all-wheel drive (R/T). Typical optional equipment includes leather seating, a power sun roof, front-seat side-impact airbags, uconnect tunes audio system with 30-gigabyte hard drive and uconnect gps with real-time traffic updates. Unique extras include a chilled glove box, uconnect Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity and a Boston Acoustics nine-speaker audio upgrade with flip-down tailgate speakers.

Our Favorite Features

MusicGate Speakers
As part of the 458-watt Boston Acoustics premium audio system, the Caliber's rearmost speakers flip down from the open liftgate to project outward for tailgate parties, picnics and other outdoor activities.

CVT2 Auto Stick
While the idea of engineering artificial gearing into the Caliber's "gearless" continuously variable transmission might seem counterproductive, the ability to control the transmission with ultra-responsive manual shifts is very useful.

Under The Hood

The three engine choices each have four cylinders and 16 valves. The base engine displaces 1.8 liters, makes 148 horsepower and is matched with a five-speed manual transmission. Up from there is a 2.0-liter version of 158 horsepower, and then a 2.4-liter version rated at 172 horsepower. Both of the larger engines are matched with the continuously variable transmission (CVT). On all-wheel-drive models, the CVT can be manually "shifted" through six simulated gears. With an optional trailer package, the 2.4-liter R/T model is rated to pull up to 2,000 pounds.

1.8-liter in-line 4
148 horsepower @ 6500 rpm
125 lb.-ft. of torque @ 5200 rpm
EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy: 24/30

2.0-liter in-line 4
158 horsepower @6400 rpm
141 lb.-ft. of torque @ 5000 rpm
EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy: 23/27 (automatic)

2.4-liter in-line 4
172 horsepower @ 6000 rpm
165 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4400 rpm
EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy: 23/29 (manual), 21/25 (automatic)

Editors' Notes

As fuel costs continue to fluctuate, small cars are increasingly required to be more than just frugal commuters. Few vehicles better epitomize this trend than the 2009 Dodge Caliber, a combination hatchback, wagon and SUV. Dodge's most affordable offering, the Caliber is no bargain-basement car. Models range from a fuel-efficient economy car to a powerful all-wheel-drive variant and include such appealing options as a flip-down rear speaker bar, built-in iPod holder and a refrigerated beverage cooler, features you won't find on the Volkswagen Rabbit or MAZDA3. Then again, the plastics used to form the interior are not as sophisticated or handsome as those inside the VW and Mazda, an important issue for many savvy young buyers.

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Owner Reviews

3.7
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Cool features, fun and reliable!

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My car gets great gas mileage. It has cool features such as a built in cooler that holds 4 bottles, tailgating speakers, satellite radio, and 6 disc CD player. The back seats last down easily allowing me to haul small furniture. There is a transmission overheat issue that can arise in these cars but I have learned out can be prevented by driving easy. By that I mean don't "gun it" or quickly accelerate and be consistent with speed. I have had to replace the alternator twice as well. Other than that it has been reliable and fun. I have saved a lot of gas money with this car and taken many trips. If I could do it over I would purchase it again.

Amber H
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Great design in style and size, but extremely poor built of engine.

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Overall, I love the size of the car and the hatch back feature. I used this car during the second half of college and it was very helpful when I moved every year. The back seats fold down and create lots of space. However, similar to my past experience with other Dodge vehicles, they fall apart quickly. Within the first year, my alternator failed and now I am having problems with multiple sensors going off such as tire pressure and brake. I have had multiple mechanics look at it, and no one ever find anything wrong with the brakes. It is preventing me from passing a vehicle inspection to get a new license plate in North Carolina.

Katherine L
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It is reliable and safe. . . Always.

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My car is nine years old, so there have been typical repairs needed: air conditioning, suspension, etc. It has been a very reliable car. It is comfortable for its size and class. My favorite feature is the glove compartment set up to receive cold air from the air conditioning. You can put drinks in it and your sodas will be kept cool. If you perform routine maintenance, then you could have a reliable, cost-effective car for years to come. The cars’ body design is classic. I have enjoyed this car. I would buy a new one if Dodge had continued to make them. I would recommend this as a good car to get to work and back.

Jen W
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