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First drive: Dodge Caliber - on sale July


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To get on the shopping lists of more mainstream buyers, Dodge is tackling the fiercely competitive C-segment dominated by the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and VW Golf.

It’s no easy task, so Dodge has gone for impact. The new Caliber is certainly noticeable and isn’t going to blend into the background when lined up against the competition. Tall and chunky, its exaggerated styling gives it the look of a much larger SUV-meets-MPV style vehicle.

But apart from the large front grille, there isn’t much to make this recognizable as a Dodge – which surely would be one of the main reasons for buying one. And when it comes to the interior, things go from bad to worse.

The American carmaker is promoting the fact that the Caliber is priced around 10% less than equally equipped competitors in Europe – and it shows. Rough-feeling plastics and poor fit make the cabin feel cheap, although it does have some nice touches like a double-deck glovebox with an air conditioned compartment, and illuminated cup holders.

Three engine are available from launch. While the gutless 1.8-petrol should be avoided, the 2.0-litre diesel (sourced from VW) is the best choice. It works well with the six-speed manual gearbox and offers decent pace and good in-gear performance.

There is also a 2.0-litre petrol engine but, more interestingly, Dodge plans to launch an SRT4 version next year which will be powered by a 2.4-litre turbocharged engine with 300bhp.

Due to its height and relatively high ground clearance, the Caliber doesn’t enjoy cornering, with too much body roll, while the light steering doesn’t help either – lacking any feedback to the driver.

Even at low speed corners it can lose grip fairly easily and it doesn’t take much to provoke tyre squeal.

Dodge aims to sell around 7,000 to 8,000 in a full year with a 50/50 split between diesel and petrol – retail sales are expected to lead the way.

Strengths: Stand out stylingbr
Weaknesses: Cheap feeling interior, steering too light
Opportunity: Gives Dodge a presence in c-segment
Threat: An unknown quantity for most
USP: Dodge answer to the Focus
Price: £11,495 - £15,430
Engines: 1.8-litre 148bhp petrol; 2.0-litre 154bhp petrol; 2.0-litre 138bhp diesel
Performance: 0-62mph: 9.3-11.9sec; top speed: 115-122mph
Transmission: Five speed manual, six speed manual, six-speed CVT automatic
Efficiency: 34.8-46.3mpg (comb); 192-161g/km CO2
Rivals: Peugeot 307, Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra, Mazda3

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