Home > Honda Cars > The Dodge Caliper vs. Honda Fit

The Dodge Caliper vs. Honda Fit

It’s no secret that practicality and space efficiency are sometimes scant in automobiles. And as cars on th road get smaller and smaller, there is an even greater need for interior room. In the North American market, the hatchback goes widely unsung, and this can usually be heavily attributed to an overall deficiency of visual appeal — very rarely does a highly attractive hatch appear on the streets.

However, two automakers tossing their hats into the ring with attempts to redefine the genre are Dodge, with its ’08 rugged and practical Caliber, and Honda, with its hip and spunky Fit. Dodge elected to reflect the avant-garde styling of its flagships — a cross between a shrunken SUV and minivan — with the intent of filling the size gap between Toyota’s Matrix and the Mazda5, while Honda opted to extend a more futuristic design with a size and look that falls squarely between the Toyota Yaris and Nissan Versa. What both Dodge and Honda have done is create a vehicle that adheres to the public’s need for interior space and comfort without the sheer size and gas mileage associated with larger vehicles. Offering both practicality and a look that offers something a bit different from the competition, both the Caliber and the Fit are a perfect match for our head-to-head today. But, which modern hatch will hit the mark this time? Let’s find out…
Dodge Caliber
MSRP (base): $14,560
Engine: 1.8-liter, 16-valve, DOHC, 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 148 hp @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 125 lb-ft @ 5,200 rpm
MPG: City: 24; Highway: 29

Performance – 14/20 Dodge Caliber – Credit: Colin Styker
Dodge’s most recent edition of the Caliber, in base trim, is bolted onto a unique scaffold from the Chrysler group and exits the Detroit factory solely available in FWD. The front suspension is a composite that falls somewhere between rigid and loose, and experiences a fair share of body roll when pushed. The SE and higher-trim SXT muster what they can from the modest 1.8-liter, DOHC, 16-valve, 4-cylinder engine. The result is an amassed 148 hp @ 6,500 rpm, and an accompanying 125 lb-ft of torque @ 5,200 rpm. Unfortunately, the dynamics of this hatchback don’t make an appearance until late in the powerband — perhaps a little too late. In fact, the engine output doesn’t seem to properly correlate to the Caliber’s curb weight. Shy of the SRT-4 package, consumers would do well not to place bets on the drag strip as the acceleration has been cited as quite sluggish. This lazy five-door has a five-speed manual transmission or optional auto-stick, and will creep to the quarter mile in just over 18 seconds.

Exterior design – 16/20
The Dodge Caliber, for all its under-hood deficiencies, boasts one of the most aggressive sketches in its class and lends evidence to the adage that you can’t judge a book by its cover. The design is a well-pronounced derivative of Dodge’s most popular trucks. The muscular, stout fenders with modern lines, black plastic molding, jewel-like head- and taillight clusters, and overall unusual proportions blend together to form a hybrid shape that falls somewhere between a traditional hatchback and crossover vehicle. And if you can look passed the bulbous back-end, the Caliber really does have an appealing, manly look.

Dodge Caliber – Credit: Colin StykerInterior design – 5/10
Delving into the Caliber’s cabin you will find yourself surrounded by cheap cloth fabrics and an overall, under-constructed design. The overbearing use of abrasively rough plastics that don’t sit flush with their backings and the absence of a telescoping steering wheel earn the Caliber low marks in this category. Amidst all of the aesthetic flaws, however, there are a few marvels to behold: The forward-sliding center armrest accommodates pilots of different proportions, an auxiliary power outlet allows for iPod and PDA hook-ups, a removable flashlight in the cargo hold makes for quick finds in the dark, and the actively chilled cup holders located above the glove box mean your drinks stay chilly (but only when you have the air conditioning on). The 60/40-split rear bench has ample legroom for all occupants with a moderate level of lower-back support. There’s also 18.5 cubic-feet of cargo area, which balloons to 48 cubic feet when the seats are folded.

Can the Dodge Caliber hold up to the Honda Fit?
Sound system/goodies – 6/10Dodge Caliber – Credit: Dodge.com
The multimedia outfittings of the 2008 Dodge Caliber straddle the fence, but ultimately find themselves on the more favorable side of things. From the motherboard, the cues seem standard enough with a basic AM/FM radio setup, with an MP3 jack that can be scrapped for an audiophile system with a higher trim level, or replaced by a six-disc in-dash CD changer at the expense of sacrificing the auxiliary MP3 jack. Working your way toward the back puts the premium sound of nine Boston Acoustic (complete with subwoofer) speakers. Chrysler’s unique Music Gate speakers, also available on higher-trimmed models, broadcast the hatch’s wattage externally from the flip-down speakers hidden in the hatch door. Much of the Caliber’s redemption lies in its entertainment package, however, Dodge have yet to equip the Caliber with a navigation system.

Bang for your buck – 15/20
Disappointingly, and based on its abundance of mediocre reviews, the latest incarnation of the Caliber places 11th out of 12 in the Affordable Compact Wagons bracket according to U.S. News & World Report, being narrowly edged out by the Chevy HHR for last place honors. Granted, the Caliber isn’t as fancy or high-tech as some of the vehicles out there, but it still does the job and for a great price. Plus, the exterior design of the Caliber has just the right amount of “different” to make it stand out on the road, in a good way.

Dodge Caliber – Credit: Alain Doss – Doss StudiosDriving experience – 14/20
The Dodge Caliber has been called a “solid daily driver” by some auto reviewers, and if by “solid” they mean providing none-to-little driving excitement, then we really can’t disagree. Not only is ABS not a standard feature, but this hatch plows through corners as if riding in a truck, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, except for the fact that it’s not a truck. Factor in the unpleasant body-roll and the all-too-tight turning radius of the rack and pinion steering and it practically forces you to look at other options in market. But then again, would you really be pushing your Caliber to such extremes on the road to even feel such shortcomings? For the market at which this Dodge is aimed, we doubt those drivers would ever find the glitches we did, and for that reason we’ll agree that, yes, the Caliber really is a solid, practical daily driver — but nothing more.

Overall score – 70/100
Perhaps the Dodge Caliber should have been given another name, something a little less lofty. While it means well, and definitely tries hard, the Caliber leaves far too many gaps in its engineering and design to be filled by competitors, such as the Honda Fit.
Honda Fit
MSRP (base): $13,950
Engine: 1.5-liter, 16-valve, SOHC, VTEC 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 109 hp @ 5,800 rpm
Torque: 105 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm
MPG: City: 28; Highway: 34

Performance – 16/20Honda Fit – Credit: Automobiles.Honda.com
Honda’s 2008 Fit is founded on the same unibody construction shared with last year’s offering and makes good use of its front-wheel-drive setup. This formula, complete with high-resistant MacPherson struts and rear torsion-beam suspension are optimal for this pocket rocket’s street performance. The Fit’s mojo is supplied by a 1.5-liter 16-valve SOHC VTEC 4-cylinder engine that dishes out 109 hp @ 5,800 rpm and an adjoining 105 lb-ft of torque. Now before you get all worked up about the seemingly deficient output compared to the Caliber, consider the Fit’s curb weight and how punchy it is low in the torque band. The Fit can be equipped with a five-speed manual transmission, complete with sport paddle shifters that can also be used in the sport mode on the automatic transmission. Transitioning from cluttered traffic to freeway motoring is effortless and, more importantly, fluid. The Fit posts a 9.0 second 0-60 mph time, and bests its competitor by over a second in the quarter mile.

Sure the Dodge is rugged, but the Honda is technologically advanced…
Exterior design – 15/20 Honda Fit – Credit: Automobiles.Honda.com
The Honda Fit’s externals are more refined and functional than outlandishly chic. Still, the Euro-racer-inspired silhouette, with a rear spoiler available with the Sport trim, is instantly likable. Honda has applied a sharp, sloping nose, blade-esque headlamps and a slightly bulbous hood to present a more “modern” face. Minus the front clip and 14-inch alloys, it fails to distinguish itself in its class, which some say actually works in its favor. The blueprint’s simplicity doesn’t take too many risks, which has been a major downfall for others who have been rather overzealous in that department. Playing off the Mazda5 outline, the Fit mimics the hatch/wagon look to perfection — and with class.

Interior design – 8/10
The cockpit of the Fit is where it truly shows its star qualities, merging sophisticated convenience and comfort with great design. The expert color matching, plush patterned threads and strategic accents complement the already brilliant decor. In short, Honda has assembled a package that’s shockingly worthy of donning an Acura badge. The fuel tank was placed under the front seats so as to make for an Alice in Wonderland-type rabbit hole effect, which frees up 41.9 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats collapsed. Dubbed the “Swiss Army knife” of passenger placement is Honda’s efficient “magic seat” that allows for four different arrangements according to storage needs. As if we needed any more persuasion, there is also adequate hip, head and leg room, an easy-to-decipher HUD and a soothing lighting tint for nighttime driving.

Honda Fit – Credit: Automobiles.Honda.comSound system/goodies – 5/10
Sound in the Honda Fit is marginal for a car in this bracket, but can be improved by shelling out for the Sport rendition, which has a five-mode equalizer and an MP3 jack. The entry level sound system boasts an AM/FM radio and single-disc CD setup, mated to a minimal four-speakers dispelling 160-watts but no navigation package or connection for satellite radio. Beyond this, staples for all models include an air conditioning/air filtration system, power windows and door locks, and an adjustable steering column. The vehicle’s safety rating is ace with its dual-stage, dual-threshold, front-side airbags, side-curtain airbags, ABS, and electronic brake distribution. The car also features cleverly located inertia-absorbing crush zones.

Bang for your buck – 17/20
Coming in just south of $14,000 is a base model that remains competitive with the higher trims of other marques. The Honda Fit covers all shades of versatility, and coupled with its perky performance is arguably one of the hottest hatches to come out of Japan — save for the MAZDASPEED 3, of course.

Driving experience – 16/20Honda Fit – Credit: Automobiles.Honda.com
When unleashed on the blacktop, the Honda Fit showcases its firm ride ability and willingness to be slung into corners. There is a bit of body roll, but it’s nothing too drastic. An excessive amount of throttle will cause the back end to break loose, but it does so in such a predictable manner that it just adds to the pilot’s enjoyment. With responsive electronic steering and a fuel consumption rate of 28 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway, the only visible drawback is the lack of lumbar support on longer outings.

Overall score – 77/100
The Honda Fit brings a strong sense of utility along with a whole trunk-load of work ethic. With a smart design, appealing package and an easy-on-the-wallet price tag, the Honda Fit is most definitely one of the most charming five-doors to hit showrooms in some time.
and the winner is…
When Dodge decided to boot the Neon from its roster in favor of the Caliber following the Neon’s lucrative seven-year run we expected it to be replaced with a car of a similar, if not better, marketing potential. The Chrysler group’s design team excelled in the aesthetic department, but didn’t focus much on anything else — and it shows. Honda, on the other hand, has applied the very same science and overall prowess that has made their vehicles so successful with the Fit. And so it’s not surprise that the Fit really is the perfect fit when it comes to a great hatchback for 2008.
For more information on the 2009 Honda Fit in Miami visit Brickell Honda online at www.brickellhonda.com.


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