2006 Dodge Caliber SXT car reviews

Review Notes: Dodge Caliber SXT (2.0 / CVT)
Personality Downsized SUV
Unusual features Unusual drivetrain
Above Average: Unique, functional interior, gas mileage
Needs Work In: Driving position, interior décor
EPA gas mileage 28 city, 32 highway
Written by Michael Karesh

Dodge Caliber SXT car reviews

Dodge sold millions of Neons from 1995 to 2005, but sales of the second generation lagged, leaving the Belvedere plant underused. To replace the Neon, Dodge opted to abandon not only the name, in favor of Caliber, but also the car format altogether in favor of a cross between a hatchback and an SUV. The only similar compact crossovers currently available are the Toyota Matrix and closely related Pontiac Vibe. So the segment, such as it is, should be far less competitive, and more profitable, than the crowded compact sedan segment.

Click here for our Caliber R/T AWD test drive.


With a healthy helping of cues from Dodge’s trucks, especially around the front end, the Caliber looks considerably larger and tougher than the Matrix. At least the larger part is deceiving, as the Caliber is only a couple inches longer than the Matrix, and is actually an inch smaller in width and height. Frankly, even after reading the specs I find this hard to believe.

A sportily raked hatch roofline follows the Durano-esque front. I kind of enjoy the contrast, but it is most definitely a contrast, and everyone won’t go for it.

The truckish theme continues inside, with hard, chunky instrument and door panels. Some people will perceive and styling and materials as tough and durable. Others will see cheap and unwelcoming. Perhaps because I’m not a truck person, I veer towards the latter opinion.


The Caliber’s interior provides plenty of headroom, but much less rear kneeroom than I expected. Though adequate, the Matrix offers more. The Matrix also offers more cargo room, partly because its rear window is more upright. But the Caliber is not too far off, and certainly provides a useful amount of cargo room. As in the Matrix, the front passenger seat folds to make way for long items.

The niftiest part of the Caliber could be its glove compartment. It actually includes three roomy compartments, and the middle one not only is shaped to hold four 20-ounce soft drink bottles but is cooled by the air conditioner. Volkswagen is the only other manufacturer to offer this feature on a non-luxury car.

My largest beef with the Caliber concerns the driving position. As in the Durango, you sit waaay back from the base of the windshield, and the steeply raked pillars flanking said windshield are huge. This detracts from the perceived agility of the Caliber. But it also makes the small crossover feel much larger than it is from the driver’s seat.

The driver’s seat itself is very soft but provide decent support. It adjusts only for height—a tilt adjustment would be a welcome addition.


With 150 horsepower moving roughly 3,100 pounds (plus me), acceleration is tepid off the line but adequate otherwise. The CVT does a very good job of holding the engine precisely where power output meets demand. Accelerating in traffic, this translates to a steady 3,500 RPM. Find some open road and put the pedal to the metal, and the tach will show a steady 6,000 RPM. Yet despite this unconventional operation it’s not blatantly obvious that you’re driving a car without a conventional automatic.

That said, this powertrain is clearly designed for getting around town, not driving thrills. The new engine sounds like the typical, pedestrian four—you won’t want to floor it just to hear the engine sing. For those who seek thrills, there’s a 300-horsepower turbo coming in SRT4 garb.

Despite the tall body, body lean in hard turns is moderate, and despite the nose-heavy weight distribution the front tires don't simply roll over on their sidewalls and plow. Still, this is not a sporty vehicle to drive. The steering, though quick just off center, generally feels heavy and numb, giving the Caliber a massive rather than an agile character. This does have the advantage of avoiding the tall economy car character of the Matrix. But I’d rather a character more like that of the sporty Mazda3.

The Caliber rides well for a compact. As I've said a few times already, it feels solid and larger than it actually is. The interior feels cheap, but the body structure doesn't. At 60 MPH the CVT has the engine turning only about 2,000 RPM, which keeps fuel economy up (the EPA ratings are 28/32) and engine noise levels down. Unfortunately wind and especially road noise become potentially tiresome over 50 MPH.


My website, truedelta.com, will begin collecting reliability information on the Caliber as soon as a dozen owners sign up, and will begin providing the results once there are 25 cars participating in the panel. Buyers may beware the completely new platform, suspension, and drivetrain, though on the positive side the factory uses a quality-oriented empowered teams approach.

Pricing and Summary

Value depends on whether you see the Caliber as a hatchback or a tall wagon. Truedelta.com also provides quick yet thorough price comparisons between vehicles. Using it, I find that the Caliber is very close to the Ford Focus in price (after incentives), and costs only a few hundred dollars less than the Mazda3. Its main advantage over the much sportier Mazda is about 50% more cargo volume—and that trick glove compartment. If these aren’t a large consideration, I’d personally opt for the Mazda.

But some people will want the Caliber’s additional cargo volume. Or they might simply be set on owning a compact crossover for the hint of SUV flavor they provide without SUV fuel economy. Compared to the Matrix and Vibe, the Caliber is about $2,500 less at MSRP. Compare invoice prices, and the gap with the Toyota falls to about $1,500 (Toyota dealer enjoy unusually generous margins.) The Matrix and Vibe never quite did it for me. Their engines are a bit small, their chassis a bit unsorted, and their overall feel a bit flimsy. So in this limited segment I’d very likely opt for the Dodge.

Click here for our Caliber R/T AWD test drive.