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Click for pictures“Hey — there’s a new
  American kid on the
  English block. He’s big,
  he’s bold and he’s got
  the lot. Try to dodge
  him, you cannot!
  Question is: Do you
  want to?”

ARE YOU READY for Dodge? That was the question posed
at the media launch of the American brand in Europe. We
'd better be, because sales of the all-new Dodge Caliber begin to major European left-hand drive markets before the end of June and they will start in the right-hand drive UK market from July this year.

Each of the 88 UK Chrysler Group UK dealerships that currently sell
and service Chrysler and Jeep products are getting an additional brand name to hang over their doors: Dodge. In the Chrysler Group line-up, Dodge is the affordable, value for money and potentially higher volume marque. And, like its stablemates, the Caliber will be marketed on its all-American value-for-money appeal.

Strictly speaking, the Dodge brand is already in the UK, but in very limited numbers — as represented by the huge Dodge RAM pick-up and the STR10 (or Viper, as it is unofficially known). But Caliber is the vehicle that officially launches another US brand to the UK. So this week's press event was not just about launching the Caliber but as much about launching the Dodge brand.

The Caliber is a crossover vehicle, somewhere between a 'C-segment' medium sized five-door hatchback and a two-wheel drive SUV. And while it might look like a compact 4x4, it isn't. The C-segment is a very tough and price-sensitive marketplace accounting for one in three
new cars sold in the UK. It is the battleground for the likes of the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra, VW Golf, Peugeot 307 and Citroen C4 plus a host of Japanese and Korean offerings.

Suffice to say that the International Media launch event was held in the clubbing capital of Europe — Ibiza — and in particular in one of the world famous 'Pacha' nightclubs. You get the picture, then, on where Dodge is aiming its brand profile.

Dodge like to see their brand image and the Caliber as funky, raunchy, boldly irreverent and in-your-face. The marketing programme for Dodge and Caliber includes a major advertising campaign and UK dealer regional road shows themed 'How Dodge Are You?'. The Internet is already carrying Dodge websites, such as These feature 'interesting' advertising themes. 'Mooning dogs' is just one advert heading our way, not to mention body stencils and tattoos of the Dodge horned ram logo adorning the faces and bodies of 'young thrusters'.

Steve Gray, Marketing Director for Chrysler Group in the UK, said: "There is a significant minority group of customers who want to buy something different when it comes to a family car. They want to make a statement with their purchase. They are switched on by afford-ability and the Caliber offers great value for money, a high level of specification with distinctive non 'run of the mill' good looks. And it is
a versatile family vehicle.

"Initially our sales effort will be to reach new retail customers and
fleet and business sales will follow after that. We expect to see a 50:50 sales split between petrol and diesel models with the SXT trim and equipment level versions taking around 70 per cent of sales."

There are four models in the Caliber range: S, SE, SXT and SXT Sport, with a choice of two petrol and one diesel engine.

The range kicks off with the 1.8-litre petrol Caliber S priced at just £11,495 with a five-speed manual gearbox. The Caliber S 2.0-litre diesel with a six-speed manual gearbox is priced at £13,495.

Diesel versions carry a £1,500 price premium over petrol models, but diesel models also include an ESP electronic stability programme. All models have anti theft protection, electric windows, 60:40 split folding rear seats and a fold down front passenger seat back as standard. Most versions even have a 'chill zone' — a cooled drinks tray within
the glove box for up to four 500ml bottles or cans.

Currently, two four-cylinder petrol engines are on offer: a 148bhp 1.8-litre and a 154bhp 2.0-litre, both shared with Mitsubishi and Hyundai. A 138bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel engine is also available and this unit is sourced from Volkswagen. A 304bhp 2.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine will be added to the range when the Caliber SRT-4 arrives in 2007.

The 1.8-litre petrol and 2.0-litre diesel models have 6-speed manual gearboxes. The 2.0-litre petrol versions are only available with a continuously variable auto transmission, but there's no extra cost for the CVT.

Steve Gray said; "Advertising and marketing straplines such as 'Caliber — It's Anything But Cute', and 'Grab Life by the Horns', referring to the Ram logo, will attract customers looking at the Caliber as an alternative vehicle to what's on the market today. Once they look and then start seeing the great value for money and the affordability the Caliber line up offers, we have established the reason for them to buy.

"If you compare it with other C-segment five-door hatchback competitors with like-for-like specification, the least expensive Caliber model is over 10 per cent cheaper than the equivalent Golf, 7 per cent less than the Peugeot 307 and about the same price as a Mazda 3. If you look at the Caliber 2.0-litre petrol with its standard CVT trans-mission the difference is even greater: 25 per cent less than the Golf and 15 per cent less than the 307 and the Mazda 3. Petrol or diesel, it is a similar story when it comes to comparisons about price and specification."

Like most American cars, the Caliber is loaded with standard specification normally only found on higher value models or as extra cost options.

Technically or in its driving performance, the Caliber brings nothing new to the market. But it will find a ready audience attracted by its 4x4 'SUV' appearance, even if it is only front-wheel drive. It is no longer than a Ford Focus but it looks much larger on the outside than it does when you actually sit in the car.

As family transport it is a good package, and the vehicle appears to be pretty durable. The rear tailgate gives access to a sizeable luggage area and the folding front passenger seat and rear seats make it versatile. Although aimed at younger families — and with its advertising aimed squarely at the 'un-square' — I can also see a wide range of potential purchasers running an experienced eye over the Caliber because of its perceived value for money.

If you know it undercuts most mainstream medium sized cars, just
think how impressed customers will be when comparing it to the more expensive SUVs or even MPVs.

The interior is a touch 'old school' as far as European offerings go. The plastic is hard, not slush moulded or padded as UK buyers have come to expect. But I bet it's durable. Due to its coupé side profile and very high waistline — not to mention the very thick front A-pillars — glass areas are smaller, so there's less light coming in and less view looking out than you might be expecting. But if you prefer eye-catching crossover styling then it won't bother you.

The driveability is acceptable although everything is a bit soft and not quite as sharp in the handling department as UK buyers expect from European and Japanese products. The pick of the engine options is undoubtedly the VW-sourced direct-injection 138bhp 2.0-litre turbo-diesel unit. With a hefty 229lb ft of torque on tap from only 1,750rpm, it's both gutsy and flexible. It is actually better accelerating than the 2.0-litre petrol engine and more economical and cleaner for CO2 emissions. The 2.0-litre petrol model is hampered by its power-soaking CVT semi-auto transmission while the 1.8-litre petrol engine is no more than okay.

However, if image and style is your thing and you want to drive some-thing different that stands out from the crowd but that comes at a very good price, then the Caliber is potentially a good buy. Whichever model you go for you'll find it well specified. The entry-level S model, for example, features fabric seats, power windows, power steering, CD/Radio, halogen headlights, heated and powered folding mirrors, driver and front passenger airbags, 60:40 split rear seats that fold flat, rev-counter, tilt steering wheel, interior removable/ rechargeable lamp, Thatcham Category 1 security system and 17-inch steel wheels as standard.

The 2.0-litre petrol, with a CVT at no extra cost, is available in SXT
or SXT Sport spec priced from £13,790. The SXT model comes with leather upholstery as standard.

Once we have more information regarding residual values, insurance groups and so on, and once we get to drive the UK right-hand drive versions I'll report back. In the meantime, keep an eye out for the advertising and promotions material for the new Dodge Caliber — it's fun and totally in-your-face. So, to Dodge or not to Dodge? That is
the question. And with range prices starting at a very low £11,495
for petrol models, it could be the perfect choice. — David Miles

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Dodge Caliber 2.0 diesel SXT | £15,290
Maximum speed: 122mph | 0-60mph: 9.3 seconds
MPG: 46.3mpg | Power: 138bhp | Torque: 229lb ft

Visit Dodge's website Click to go there now

---------------------------------------------------------------------- Dodge Caliber