It is fast and furious all over again, but this time domestic carmakers are taking the Japanese at their own game. While Chevy is putting a turbo under the hood of their Cobalt, Dodge is also turbo charging the Caliber by adding an SRT4 badge. The SRT 4 starts at $23,000 for its 285 horses. It is definitely a deal that you don’t want to pass, at least if you can hang on to the torque happy steering wheel.
The SRT4 package puts the already angular Dodge Caliber design into a body builder suit. This transformation is mainly visible on the front and rear bumpers. The SRT4 also features body side skirts, a rear spoiler, a massive chromed exhaust pipe, bulky hood, and superb 19-inch alloy wheels. With the cosmetic additions the car looks even lower to the ground (it is actually 28 mm in front and 22 mm in the back). The SRT4 scores a tuner look capable of turning heads during drag racing nights, yet the customizations still feels like a factory job.
The interior has the same design elements of the base Caliber with a few nice SRT touches. As soon as you open the door you notice the superb SRT seats that can be found in all Dodge high performance cars. They add a nice touch to the interior, while still providing good support. These seats add a touch of comfort over the relatively rough ride. The instrument cluster receives a white background and a small LCD, which displays your 0-60 time, braking time, and even peak G-forces. The turbo boost gauge is embedded in the left side of the dashboard within then central console. Not that you will really need to ever look at it, but you can never pack enough gauges into a sport compact. Indeed when the big turbo kicks in, you will know it. Your hands will tighten, trying to get a better grip on the 4 spokes steering wheel. It is conveniently loaded with buttons controlling everything you can think of, but a sporty three spoke steering wheels would have been better to control our turbo SRT. The rest of the interior is functional, but will most likely remind you of the Caliber base (a $14,000 entry-level car). This means hard plastic and an austere feeling.
Dodge fitted a big (Mitsubishi TD04) intercooled turbocharger onto their 2.4-liter, 16 valves engine. The engine produces 285 horsepower and 265 lbs of torque with its polished intake manifold, variable valve timing and other goodies. This may be too much power for a front wheel drive automobile. Although, we think the SRT4 can handle it. Dodge decided to limit the first gear output to 214 lbs of torque, the second gear to 245 lbs, while the third gear and over gives you the full power. Even with those limitations the power can still create some serious torque steer. Of course, that is part of the fun. It can be scary though, especially considering how fast the SRT can build speed on its first two gears. Keep in mind 0-60 comes up in less than 6 seconds. If you want to avoid the torque steer problem and still have some fun, then simply stay away from high rpms in first and second gear. There is plenty of power starting at 4000 rpm, where the turbo kicks in, and before 5500rpm where the engine goes berserk. The SRT4 is a beast that wants to be tamed and that will take some good right foot skills to do so. After all, it wouldn’t be any fun if the engine were any other way.
The car is clearly geared towards drag strip racing. While it can handle corners, the front wheel drive cannot compete with all-wheel drive WRXs and EVOs. As mentioned previously, the torque steer can be brutal when taking off at full power. It is also a deal breaker in slow corners, since the peaky engine can bring on its power at anytime and turn your apex and tires to smoke. Another hint that this car is made for straight-way, is the aluminum pedals positioned in such way that heel-and-toe is only possible if your shoe size is above 15. Too bad though, because the 6-speed GETRAG gearbox is very smooth and even if there are shorter throws out there- this one is pretty tight. Descent ride quality and noise levels make the SRT4 a very good daily driver for the apprentice racer, even though the lack of low-end torque will make it really frustrating to drive within speed limits. The SRT4 feels like a sleeping fury on a leash, press the throttle just a little too much and you better hang on tight to that leash.
The Dodge Caliber SRT4 is a street racer bargain. Starting at $23,000, it is still more expansive than a beat up Civic with $15,000 aftermarket parts on it. But for that price you buy more than raw power, you buy a well-rounded package where everything was engineered to produce a powerful yet reliable pocket rocket. The SRT 4 doesn’t fall short on temperament. It is brutal and scary when pushed to the red line, but it is also a good transportation for four adults and their carry-on.
SRT style in and out
On board computer
Manual gear box
pedals (no heel-and-toe)
cheap interior plastic