Going head-to-head
Dodge Caliber R/T
Characteristics
Pontiac Vibe
68.8
Width
69.5
60.4
Height
62.8
103.7
Wheelbase
102.4
173.8
Length
171.1
2.4-liter, four-cylinder
Base engine
1.8-liter, four cylinder
Variablespeed automatic;
Base transmission
Five-speed manual

The most affordable of the Dodge lineup, the Caliber R/T four-door hatchback features amenities not found on similar or smaller-sized cars, such as liftgate-mounted speakers that flip down, a chilled glove box for beverages, and a hard-drive-based audio and navigation systems that can store and play digital music files. For an economy car, it has the looks and height of an SUV.

Unfortunately for the Caliber, acceleration is not one of its strong points. Our test vehicle could have used more get-up-and-go, especially for entering highways. Once up to speed, though, it maintained quite nicely. The 2.4-liter engine, paired with a continuously variable transmission, was good for 172-hp @ 6,000 rpm and 165 lb-ft torque at 4,400 rpm.

The Caliber handles nicely and its sport-tuned suspension and 18-in. alloy wheels give it a nice smooth ride. The Caliber’s Mopar premium coilover suspension kit features stainless-steel technology, new thread design, and aluminum spring perches.

The Caliber is a nice-looking vehicle with a roomy interior and raised seating similar to other small SUVs. While the interior and instrument panel are nicely laid out, its textured plastic interior could use a little dressing up. The placement of the gear shifter (built into the dash, directly below the climate-control dials and on a 90° angle) took a little getting used to.

The rear seat can be lowered for a flat-load floor that can carry up to 48 cu ft of cargo. The Caliber’s cargo-area lamp doubles as a removable, rechargeable LED flashlight.

The Chill Zone glove box is a nice touch, especially for those who travel frequently. So are the lighted cup holders.

Now, on the downside, the lock, unlock, and window lock/unlock buttons should be lit up at night as they are hard to see. And the seat belts on both front seats seemed to stick when trying to remove them.

New this year is Chrysler’s hard-drive-based navigation and Uconnect audio systems, one unit that features a touchscreen, USB port, and 30-Gbyte hard drive. The nav system boasts voice-activated GPS.

As for safety, the Caliber scored five stars for both front and side-impact crash tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a “good” rating by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Fuel economy of the Caliber R/T is 21/25-mpg city/highway. Base price is $19,545. Optional equipment on our test vehicle included Inferno Red Crystal Pearl Coat exterior paint ($225) and the customer-preferred package 26X consisting of sport appearance interior group and continuously variable transaxle II AutoStick automatic transmission ($1,075). Add in the $580 destination fee, and the Caliber rolls out the door at $21,425. — Denise Greco