‘DRIVERS are bored with the bland offerings in the lower-medium sector and they are crying out for a boldly-styled, affordable car.’
This is the mission statement for the new Dodge Caliber, the car that marks the launch of the brand in the UK as part of the latest in a wave of American brands to look to our shores for sales growth.
The Caliber is intended to take on established C-segment rivals such as the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra, Peugeot 307, VW Golf and Mazda3.
Our test car was black – a bad colour choice as the dark hue robbed it of all the impact of its lines. Colour aside, the styling does make the Dodge stand out. It’s a hybrid lower-medium hatchback/soft-roader. In other words, it is the size of a hatchback but looks like an SUV.
The price is also eye-catching as it starts at just £11,495 for the S, although the SXT diesel we tested comes in at £15,422, right in the heart of Ford Focus territory. Take in the specification and you can see why Dodge is claiming that this car is value for money.
Standard equipment includes leather seats, cruise control, electric windows, fold-flat passenger seat, electric mirrors, tyre pressure monitoring and a long list of other niceties. Dodge suggests it is 12% – or nearly £2,000 – cheaper than a VW Golf 1.9 TDI SE when equivalently specified, £2,000 less than a Peugeot 307 1.6 HDI SE and £1,600 less than a Mazda3 1.6D TS.
However, the cabin materials feel low-rent, especially the dashboard and door handles, which are hard plastic that is a long way from what you would expect in any of the rival vehicles. However, it does have a chunky appeal to it and some nice design touches, such as the white backing to the rev counter and speedo.
Front seat occupants have plenty of room but, overall, packaging isn’t this car’s strong point, as there isn’t a great deal of room in the rear. Although the rear bench seat splits 60/40 and fold flat, offering 523 litres of boot space up and 1,360 down, that doesn’t translate into really usable space and the boot is soon full to capacity.
The VW-sourced 140bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel, which develops 138bhp and 229lb-ft of torque, offers strong performance on paper but the traditional diesel surge seemed to take a long time to arrive. The 0-60mph figure of 8.8 seconds also felt much slower in reality, but on the motorway it was quiet and the six-speed manual was easy to use. Move on to winding roads and the Caliber shows its 4x4 leanings, literally, and starts to lose grip relatively early in tight cornering.
Overall, it is soundly beaten by most European lower-medium cars but that may not matter, as Dodge’s target buyer for this car is seemingly bored with capable, rapid, solid and dependable transport, backed by a large dealer network.
P11D value: £15,422
CO2 emissions (g/km): 160
BIK % of P11D in 2007: 22%
Graduated VED rate: £135
Insurance group: 8
Combined mpg: 46.3
CAP RV (3yr/60k): £4,025/26%
Monthly lease (3yr/60k): £393
We don’t like:
ONE of Dodge’s selling points for the Caliber is that it is better-equipped than rivals. It also has a more powerful 140bhp engine while the Golf manages with the ageing 103bhp 1.9 TDI. The Astra and Focus units are more current, but neither are exactly laden with equipment.
WITH power comes tax: the Caliber suffers from higher emissions while the others make do with lower outputs and engines tuned for frugality. In tax terms, for a 22% payer, the Focus is cheapest at £50 a month while the Caliber is the dearest at £62.
THE problem that Dodge drivers will encounter is that dealers are few and far between, while Volkswagen, Vauxhall and Ford are in most towns. SMR costs are high for the Dodge – it would result in a 60,000 mile bill of nearly £3,000 – extremely expensive.
Golf: 2.71 (pence per mile) £1,626 (60,000 mile total)
Astra: 2.86 £1,716
Focus: 3.45 £2,070
Caliber: 4.91 £2,946
THE Caliber’s fuel bill is by far the most expensive – and in a segment where cost is vital, that’s a problem. To be more than £700 over the next worst after 60,000 miles – the Golf – is a pretty big margin. The Focus and Astra’s figures represent fuel economy in the high-50 mpg area.
Focus: 7.10 (pence per mile) £4,260 (60,000 miles total)
Astra: 7.40 £4,440
Golf: 7.84 £4,704
Caliber: 9.03 £5,418
THE Golf is the strongest on depreciation and after three years/60,000 miles, it will be worth 40% of its cost new. The surprise is how well the Caliber does. Small numbers might well account for its decent showing. The Focus and Astra lose two-thirds of their cost new.
Golf: 15.96 (pence per mile) £9,576 (60,000 miles total)
Caliber: 16.41 £9,846
Focus: 18.36 £11,016
Astra: 18.59 £11,100
WITH low depreciation, excellent fuel economy and good servicing costs, the Golf is easily the cheapest to run. The Caliber has high fuel consumption, hefty servicing bills and depreciation that, while better than expected, does not make up for the shortfall in other areas.
Golf: 26.51 (pence per mile) £15,906 (60,000 miles total)
Astra: 28.85 £17,310
Focus: 28.91 £17,346
Caliber: 30.35 £18,210
THE Caliber really doesn’t do it in enough areas to take the win here. Sure, it has a lot of equipment and there is the rarity factor that will attract the odd person, but it is too poorly built, too expensive on tax and too dear to run for a fleet to consider serious numbers of these. As a one-off user-chooser car – well, each to their own. For a fleet, you really can’t go wrong with any of the other three. The Golf has the least refined engine and, before individual discounts, makes a strong case for itself on wholelife costs. It wins.