The Caliber Is Ready for Action in Small-Car Market

SCOTTSDALE, AZ In firearms nomenclature, the word often is equated with stopping power. But for Chrysler Group, Caliber could mean the start of something big. The Dodge-brand replacement for the once-cute, now-tired Neon compact sedan is an exhilarating mix of aggressive styling, ultra-cool features and high-tech engineering. And with a bargain-basement starting price of $13,985, the '07 Caliber is

SCOTTSDALE, AZ — In firearms nomenclature, the word “caliber” often is equated with stopping power. But for Chrysler Group, Caliber could mean the start of something big.

The Dodge-brand replacement for the once-cute, now-tired Neon compact sedan is an exhilarating mix of aggressive styling, ultra-cool features and high-tech engineering. And with a bargain-basement starting price of $13,985, the '07 Caliber is aimed squarely at sales success.

Curbside, the Caliber appears cocked and ready, like a newly minted Beretta — the handgun, not the departed Chevy midsizer.

Although small, it looms large with its sculpted fenders and Dodge's trademark crosshair grille.

The Caliber is first to showcase Chrysler's new World Engine, an inline DOHC 4-cyl. engineered in co-operation with Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd.

It features variable valve timing for both the intake and exhaust valves (many engines in this class vary only the intake valves). Available in displacements of 1.8L, 2L and 2.4L, it generates outputs of 148 hp, 158 hp and 172 hp, respectively.

On winding blacktop that soars above the desert floor, the Caliber shows credible stiffness.

And while its steering wheel could use more girth, it doles out just enough recoil to feel connected.

However, there is a disturbing blind spot created by the muscular C-pillar and the inexcusable absence of a headrest for the rear-center passenger.

European-market Calibers will have five headrests. And other auto makers selling here manage to overcome the resulting visibility challenges.

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