Another Focus wannabee?
Say hello to the Dodge Caliber, America’s answer to the ubiquitous Ford but with a big dose of attitude thrown in for free. The Yanks think it’s a small car, but they think Europe is small, so it’s actually like an SUV crossed with a mid-sized people carrier with room for five tall adults and their gear. Young couples, small families, and anyone with an eye for a bargain are top of Dodge’s hit list: at £11,500 the Caliber looks great value against its opposite number at Ford.
It certainly stands out in a supermarket car park full of Euro metal.
Yup, Detroit clearly thinks it can cash in on our love affair with all things American. Dodge’s designers reckon that although there are some great hatchbacks they all look pretty much the same and that there is a place on British tarmac for a chunk of macho US metal. Big wheelarches make it look tough and the bluff front end is taking no prisoners. Just don’t let anyone look inside: cheap-feeling plastics give it a distinctly Korean atmosphere.
But it’s sensible family transport underneath that butch exterior?
It’s definitely as practical as most European hatchbacks. The rear seats recline and fold flat, while the front passenger seat also drops down so you can take two mountain bikes, or long awkward objects like a surf board. There are some neat touches, like a chilled glovebox that can take four large bottles and naturally, as its American, there are six cupholders. A decent music system is standard and two special speakers drop down from the tailgate so you can have your own mobile disco anywhere and any time.
But will you fall asleep when you’re on your own?
There’s a definite shortage of yee-ha factor behind the wheel – the steering, handling and shove from the 1.8-litre petrol are pretty sedate. And the five-speed manual gearchange felt stiff and sticky compared to European rivals. To sum up: adequate but uninspiring. But the cars we drove were American spec and Dodge says the suspension will be tuned to European tastes. There will also be a diesel – the excellent 2.0 from the Volkswagen Golf, no less – and a 2.0-litre petrol four that should offer the missing horsepower, plus economy on par with its rivals.
What else has Dodge got in the pipeline?
Plenty. There’s the rugged looking Nitro 4×4 arriving next year at around Â£16,000 and an affordable executive car on the way too. Even more surprising is the supermini concept Dodge unveiled at the Geneva motor show in March. It looks like a Mini on steroids, and ChryslerGroup is talking to partners about building it. And don’t forget you can still get the Ram pick-up and the frightening Viper supercar if you relish the Full Metal Jacket experience.
The Caliber’s an interesting attempt to breathe new life into the rather predictable hatch market. On ability, rivals have it licked, but it’s distinctive, practical and good value. Worth a look, in other words.