Saturday, September 10, 2011

rental car review: Dodge Caliber

It's been a good couple years since I posted a rental car review, but it's also been a couple years since I actually rented a car. Without further ado, let's tear into the Dodge Caliber I drove for a week in California.

I had the car for a week including a sojourn down to Los Angeles and back as well as plenty of running about in the Bay Area. The Caliber is adequate. That really feels like a suitable word for the vehicle. It is neither good nor bad. It's like the handrail on an escalator. It does it's job, but you would never actually buy one. The engine was terribly under-powered, though this is true of most rental vehicles. They are almost always base trim and base engine models since people who rent cars are short-term users who are not exactly investing in the long-term health of the vehicle. As a result, fuel economy in practical terms suffered due to a rash of peddle mashing. I am sure the car is capable of better fuel economy, but it should not have to be so carefully coaxed from the engine. At first, the steering felt stiff, but that was only in comparison to the rather soft minivan steering at home. I eventually came to decide that the steering felt properly stiff. To go with the suitably stiff steering was also very good engine braking. There seemed to be no easily findable light switch for dome light in the front. At the very least, it was not where it should have been, which is on the ceiling in the middle just aft of the top of the windshield. And the rear hatchback cover, to hide what you are keeping in the trunk does not actually cover the entire trunk. There are rather auspicious gaps on both edges that are a couple inches wide.

It was hardly all bad. There was only one DC power port, but they more than made up for it with an AC outlet (for prongs and everything) under the middle armrest. I could plug my normal phone charger straight into the car and it was glorious. The audio jack was also in plain sight instead of being squirreled away into some dank corner. Though once I realized the car came with Sirius satellite radio, the audio jack saw very little use. In terms of user functionality, it made for a good road-trip car for me. I had plenty of room, was able to almost get my seat perfect, no headroom issues, and only lacked some lumbar support. A second person would have also been fine as there was certainly plenty of trunk space for more bags. However, I am not sure if persons three and four would have been a good idea. It's not because of the rear seat leg room, which I never tested, but because the additional passenger/baggage weight would have only further bogged down the under-powered engine.

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