2010 Dodge Caliber R/T

2010 Dodge Caliber R/T

The Dodge Caliber hatchback has never been at the top of our compact-car list, in part because of its lousy gas mileage compared to the competition.

Now, Chrysler has simplified its engine and drivetrain options to improve the gas mileage of the 2010 Dodge Caliber slightly, along with its platform siblings, the 2010 Jeep Compass hatchback and 2010 Jeep Patriot small crossover.

New: 2.0-liter four, five-speed gearbox

Entry-level versions now offer a single, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, replacing the previous choice of 1.8-liter, 2.0-liter, and 2.4-liter options.

With a five-speed manual transmission, the 158-horsepower, 2.0-liter engine is rated at 23 mpg city / 31 mpg highway in the 2010 Caliber. The ratings are slightly lower in the pair of Jeeps.

Highway mileage over 30 mpg

Last year's 1.8-liter and five-speed combination had returned a  mediocre 24 mpg city /29 mpg highway in the Caliber. So while the new engine loses 1 mpg on the city cycle, it gains 2 mpg on the highway.

If you opt for the continuously variable transmission (CVT), mileage falls to 23 mpg city / 27 mpg highway (the same as last year).

Only one other engine is offered in the 2010 Dodge Caliber: a 172-horsepower, 2.4-liter four. With a five-speed, it achieves 23 mpg city / 29 mpg highway, and with the CVT, an unimpressive 21 mpg city / 25 mpg highway.

In either case, these numbers pale against competitors, from the 2010 Hyundai Elantra with a 2.0-liter four and automatic (26 mpg city / 34 mpg highway) to the 2010 Volkswagen Golf, which has a powerful 2.5-liter five and a 6-speed automatic (23 mpg city / 30 mpg highway).

RIP hot-rod Caliber

The line's former "hot hatch" for 2008 and 2009, the Caliber SRT4, has been discontinued. It added a turbocharger that boosted the 2.4-liter four up to 285 horsepower, delivering power through a standard six-speed manual. Its gas mileage was correspondingly low, at 19 mpg city / 27 mpg highway, and it required premium fuel to boot.

For 2010, there's a slightly-sporty R/T  trim level with fancier 18-inch wheels, but any performance features have been emasculated. It uses the standard 5-speed manual and 2.4-liter engine, and only front-wheel-drive is available throughout the line.

All-wheel-drive, previously an option on some models, has now vanished entirely from the 2010 Dodge Caliber. (It's still available in the two Jeeps, naturally.)

Not a favorite

In previous model years, we said that the 2.4-liter was a "noisy engine that nonetheless delivers marginal performance," and we've previously criticized the Caliber's "astoundingly loud continuously-variable transmission (CVT)" and "unimpressive gas mileage."

We listed the 2009 Dodge Caliber as one of our five least favorite green cars, and concluded that the 2008 Caliber was "not the best bang for your twenty thousand bucks."

We look forward to bringing you a full road test of the 2010 Dodge Caliber, which we hope improves Chrysler's chances in the compact hatchback segment before all-new products from its partner/owner Fiat start arriving for the 2012 model year.

Interior re-do

For 2010, our complaint about the "hard, nasty, ugly plastics inside" has been addressed with new soft-touch materials, and redesigns of the instrument panel, center storage bin, and other elements.

The center console offers a padded armrest, with a split lid for more storage space over a larger storage bin inside. The door trim panels use soft-touch materials, and the cup-holders are illuminated by LED lighting to make sure you land that Diet Coke properly.

Dodge is very proud of the "bright accents" throughout the interior, including chromed surrounds for the heating, ventilation and air conditioning vents, the shift bezel, and the instrument cluster rings, and chrome spears on the door.

A few cool options

Optional features include the kinda-cool Chill Zone cooled bin for your beverages, a 115-Volt power outlet in the console, and a rechargeable LED flashlight.

You can also get a fold-flat front passenger seat, and a nine-speaker Boston Acoustics premium sound system with a pair of speakers that swing down from the tailgate, for those impromptu parties in the parking lot.

Sadly, no Eurodiesel

What US buyers will not be offered is the newly revised CRD diesel model that's a requirement to sell the 2010 Dodge Caliber in Europe. That 2.2-liter turbodiesel, mated to the six-speed manual no longer offered in the States, puts out 163 horsepower.

And its mileage? A whopping 40 miles per gallon on the European cycle. It's worth noting that last year, Chrysler sold more Dodge Calibers outside the US than any other model, including all of its Jeeps.

So far, only two diesel hatchbacks are offered here: the 2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI, which we think will be diesel's big winner, and the new 2010 Audi A3 TDI.

Even though it's built in Illinois along with the US-bound Calibers, the CRD diesel is strictly for Europe. There, of course, deliberate tax policies make diesel fuel much cheaper than gasoline. But here in the States, it appears, we prefer hybrids for fuel economy.

[Chrysler, Detroit News, Car and Driver]