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2007 Dodge Caliber R/T AWD

2007 Dodge Caliber R/T AWD

You certainly can't accuse Chrysler of lacking creativity. From the company that brought us the PT Cruiser, the Pacifica, and the Crossfire comes another mold-breaking design in the shape of...well we're not sure what, but the 2007 Caliber certainly is distinctive.

With styling that will be liberally referred to as "bold" and "aggressive," the new compact crossover Caliber cuts a dash: flared wheel arches, bulky front and rear fascias, a Ram-style grille, and a raked roofline make it look like a Ford Focus on steroids. We just got back from a spin in our more-than-conspicuous Sunburst Orange tester, and on first impressions, the verdict is mixed.

Climbing into the Caliber for the first time is a memorable experience. A color-coded shifter bezel and instrument-panel bezel and two-tone orange-and-grey seats meant that the Sunburst experience continued into the cabin, but the clouds began to set in once we fired up the 2.4-liter engine.

The Caliber runs on the same platform as the Jeep Compass and the Jeep Patriot, and unfortunately, it also delivers the same SUV-like ride. Anemic throttle response, massive understeer, and bouncy, brittle suspension all rained on the parade of the Caliber's sporty exterior styling.

On the upside, we have to award it tech points for its continuously variable transmission, which delivers smooth joltless acceleration, although the lack of power means this is less like a train (as we observed in the CVT-powered Lexus GS 450h) than like a golf cart. An option to control "shifts" using the curiously positioned shifter (it sticks out of an almost- vertical housing) gives a little more control for passing maneuvers on the highway, but even when kicking down through the gears, torque is still in short supply.

In the cabin, we liked the fact that the upgraded six-disc in-dash stereo accepted MP3 files, and we found the navigation of files and tracks to be intuitive and easy to use. One thing that we would like to control, however, is the amount of time that the ID3-tag information stayed on the dot-matrix LCD screen. A dedicated hard button allows you to call up the folder/artist/track info, but this disappears after about five seconds, which we found frustrating. Another tech highlight was optional Sirius Satellite Radio. One bizarre aspect of the upgraded $320 head unit is that it does away with the auxiliary input jack that comes standard with the base stereo--kind of a less-for-more deal.

Our tester also came with the $400 upgraded sound system, comprising six Boston Acoustics speakers and two articulating liftgate speakers, which are attached to the hatchback by hinges--presumably to be deployed for tailgate parties outside the ballpark. The inclusion of the liftgate speakers and the fact that the stereo is tuned to be very bass-heavy suggest that the Caliber's sound system is aimed at a demographic more inclined to Beyonce than Bizet. Aside from the liftgate speakers, the Caliber incorporates a number of other original interior design elements including illuminated cup holders, a chilled glove box, a sliding armrest with cell phone/MP3 player holder, and an auxiliary 115-volt power outlet in the front center console.

We are looking forward to discovering more quirks and qualities of the Caliber over the next week. Look out for our full review and video coming soon.