Ten Point Test

Auto Trader Ten Point Test rating: 76%

Need something Ford Focus-sized but want something with more interest-value than Britain’s best-selling car?

The Dodge Caliber is the latest entrant into a market which includes the Focus as well as fellow big-hitters the VW Golf, the Honda Civic and the Peugeot 307.

And being different is one of its big selling points. We borrowed one for a week to find out what else it had to offer.

1. Looks 8/10

This is the classic Marmite car. Seen the adverts with the Caliber apparently photocopying its rear end? That’s Dodge attitude we’re being sold and because, in this country, it’s the new kid on the block the US manufacturer is more interested in making waves than pleasing the masses. Some in the AT office took one look and muttered “Ugly” – and it really is a matter of taste. Design deviations from the norm will always garner strong reactions: think Chrysler’s PT Cruiser. I liked the look of the Caliber, more so in real life than the promo pictures, the chunky, “not cute” design has road presence and attitude in spades and it looks different without looking faddish. The entry model comes with five-spoke wheel covers.

2. Looks inside 8/10

If you like the exterior enough to get in, you’ll find the interior is even nicer. The tasteful two-tone theme (two different shades of grey) is very liveable, while the white-dialled, red-needled gauges are both neat and sporty.

We also liked the SUV style central console-mounted gearstick and illuminated cupholders which take the ‘box’s traditional place. The central console is also simple and stylish. The steering wheel feels substantial and solid and the entire cabin has a feeling of cohesion.

3. Practicality 8/10

Seats up, the Caliber can accommodate 525-litres of luggage. This increases to 1360-litres with the seats folded flat. The central cupholders are subtly and handily illuminated for night-driving and there are three “glove compartments”, the central one housing the Chill Zone Beverage Cooler, available on air conditioned models and able to hold four 500ml bottles. The central armrest also features a mobile phone holder. The high shoulder line raises the lower edges of the windows reducing the amount of rear visibility but the high driving position improves matters at the front.

4. Ride and Handling 7/10

The Caliber offers a smooth ride while moulded seats increase the level of comfort. The handling could be sharper but that is against market leaders which have spent years perfecting their models. For day to day driving the Caliber’s handling is more than adequate.

5. Performance 7/10

Buyers can choose from two petrol (1.8-litre or 2-litre) models and one diesel version (2-litre). The 2-litre diesel, 138bhp, six-speed model we drove achieves 0-62.5mph in 9.3 seconds, and produces a top speed of 115 mph. It had plenty of oomph and power to overtake with ease when called upon. Choose the 2-litre petrol and the top speed rises to 125mph.

6. Running Costs 8/10

The model we drove – SE 2.0 CRD Manual – has an average consumption of 47.1mpg, dropping to 35.8mpg for urban driving and increasing to 58.9mpg once you get on the open road. Go for petrol and the consumption increases to 38.7mpg average, 29.4mpg for urban driving and 47.1mpg on the open road. The 2-litre diesel falls into insurance group 8E, the smaller engined-petrol models attract a smaller premium. Tax is cheaper for the diesel at £135, with the annual tax bill for running one of the bigger-engined petrol models coming in at £190 a year. All models come with a three year/60,000 mile warranty and 12 months’ roadside assistance. The service intervals are every 12 months or 8,000 miles for the petrol models and 12 months or 9,000 miles for diesel models.

7. Reliability 7/10

The Caliber is a new car and Dodge’s first mainstream UK model so there is little past performance to make predictions on reliability. Dodge might be more known than driven in this country currently but it is the fifth biggest brand across the pond which should give owners confidence.

8. Safety 7/10

An anti-lock braking system and six airbags all come as standard with diesel models also benefiting from an electronic stability program incorporating traction control. There are no EuroNCAP crash test results as yet.

9. Equipment 8/10

The Caliber’s decent specification is a key weapon in its fight for a share of a market that includes the Ford Focus, VW Golf and Peugeot 307. Entry-level S models come complete with radio/CD player, electric windows and heated, power folding mirrors.  Other trims are SE, SXT and SXT Sport. Air conditioning comes with the SE version upwards. Fog lamps, body-coloured side mouldings and 17” alloy wheels come with the SXT trim and 18” alloys make the SXT Sport stand out.

10. X-Factor 8/10

You’re looking at it. We like the Caliber and this’ll sound like a backhanded compliment, but one of its best features is NOT being a Focus, Golf or 307. Looking for something different from your family hatch? Dodge has produced a stylish alternative well worth your consideration.

Key facts

Model tested: Dodge Caliber SE 2.0 CRD Manual
On the road price: £13,990
Price range: £11,495 – £15,430
Date tested: January 2007
Road tester: Adrian Higgins