2008 Dodge Caliber SRT4 Review

Much needed steering adjustments help out runt of SRT litter

2008 Dodge Caliber SRT4 Review
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FAST FACTS

1.

Performance display measures G-forces and quarter-mile times

2.

285 hp and six-speed manual

3.

Mopar performance packages

Short for Street and Racing Technology, SRT badges are worn by several high-performance Chrysler models, including the Viper, Charger, 300 and, of course, the all-new Challenger. Oh, and don’t forget the runt of the litter, the Caliber SRT4?

TURBO FOUR PUMPS OUT A WHOPPING 285 HP!

Based on architecture co-developed with Mitsubishi, the 2008 Dodge Caliber SRT4 is a seriously pumped-up version of the otherwise mundane car. Up 55 ponies from the previous Neon-based SRT4 (’03-05), the 16-valve DOHC global powerplant with VVT pumps up to 285 hp and 265 ft-lbs of torque (available above 5700 rpm) through a Getrag six-speed manual transmission.

It might not have racing stripes or a big Hemi engine, but this four-door front-wheel-drive hatchback gets it done with a peppy and efficient 2.4L turbocharged and intercooled inline-four. It also offers lots of interior cargo space and pretty decent fuel economy, which the EPA rates at 19/27 mpg (city/highway). I averaged a hair under 23 mpg combined during a week-long 280-mile test.

BIG BRAKES, PLUS HANDLING AND WEIGHT DISTRIBUTION MUCH IMPROVED

Having previously driven an R/T AWD model with second-gen CVT, this SRT4-specific six-speed is more performance-oriented and exceeded my expectations in terms of smoothness. SRT4 models also get the same gargantuan electronic-assisted anti-lock disc brakes that Charger police cars get, so stopping is not an issue.

The 2008 SRT4 got the steering adjustments the last one so desperately needed. Its rack and pinion kit is more sensitive and more accurate, especially at slow speeds. SRT’s choice to keep the steering lightweight and tactile, however, comes at the expense of a limited-slip differential, a device that helps transfer torque to both drive wheels simultaneously and helps out in performance driving situations. Instead, the SRT4 employs an electronic brake differential-type system that makes good use of those big ABS stoppers by applying pressure to counteract wheel slippage and torque steer in corners and hard starts. Driven sensibly in normal situations and you’ll barely notice it. Kick it up a notch and you will feel some slight tugs at the steering wheel. And, when you’re finally ready to enjoy all the tire smokin’ goodness that SRT models boast, the electronic nannies can be switched off by a button on the dash.

The old SRT4 had a 63 front / 37 rear weight distribution so the newer version offers better balance with a 59/41 split. The updated MacPherson suspension is also a big improvement over the previous model. Granted, the SRT4 is not as quick and nimble through a slalom course as, say, a Mazdaspeed3 or Mini Cooper S. That’s not to say it’s not fun to drive, it’s just a bit trickier and you need to be smooth.

HATCH MAKES IT A PRACTICAL PERFORMER

The SRT lineup does a great job being rewarding for drivers, but the Caliber SRT4 goes even further by offering a level of practicality at a price point that active buyers will appreciate.

Inside the tall hatch are numerous Caliber standards like multi-stage front, side curtain and window curtain airbags, air conditioning, power mirrors, windows and locks, solar control glass, AM/FM/6CD/MP3 stereo, glove box with cooling zone, 60/40 rear folding seats and more.

Options on the vehicle I drove included SRT option group II, which includes a 115V power outlet, tire pressure monitors, hands-free communication, a universal garage door opener and a soft tonneau cover for the cargo area.

Painted 19-inch alloys with 225/45R Goodyear all-seasons come standard. My tester wore the optional polished aluminum 19×7.5-inch SRT wheels and summer performance tires.

PLUS

Six-speed manual Massive 19-inch wheels with big brakes Fast but also functional

MINUS

No limited slip differential Not as nimble as the competition Still a cheap interior

PERFORMANCE DISPLAY FEATURE

Unique features of the SRT4 include a turbo boost gauge and upgraded speedo. Another noteworthy feature is the neat-o performance display that’s integrated into the instrument cluster and shows current acceleration, braking, G-forces, eighth- and quarter-mile times and more. The interior is a bit plasticky, but the plush leather-trimmed SRT seats are unbelievably comfortable.

Mopar also makes parts for the Caliber too. Items like a stiffer front strut tower brace, air intake, headers, exhaust and a striking body kit are some of the factory-engineered customization options that currently exist.

THE VERDICT

Did I mention the 2008 SRT4 is a bargain? The 2009 model truly stands out on crowded streets and in busy parking lots. Despite a few small flaws, I still really enjoy this car. It’s fast and functional – something other SRTs don’t or can’t offer – and less pricey than most of its direct import competitors. Its size and shape definitely give this five-door an edge. Yet, I can’t help wanting for an SRT4 in all-wheel drive.

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