SRT4 Raises Dodge Caliber to Another Level
Caliber Gets 125HP per Liter
Introduced with the help of Dodge NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne at the 2006 Chicago Auto Show, about the time standard models began arriving at dealerships, the SRT Group introduced its take on the Caliber, and your faithful VehicleVoice and AutoPacific correspondents were on hand for the introduction.
Along with developing the current Viper RT/10 coupe and convertible, SRT has been hard at work since it was formally created in 2002, adding horsepower, suspension, braking, and interior/exterior styling cues for top-line takes on models including the old Neon, Crossfire, 300C, Magnum, Charger, Grand Cherokee, Ram, and now Caliber. SRT is made up of a group that is passionate about what they do, and it shows in the lineup.
While the standard Caliber tops out at 172HP, the Caliber gets a turbocharged version of the 2.4L DOHC 16v four-cylinder engine tuned to 300HP and 260 lb-ft of torque. SRT promises a sub-six-second 0-to-60-mph time. The engine is mated to a standard six-speed manual transmission, but the package is offered only in front-drive form. Pricing has not been announced, but executives told us that this decision to go front-drive only is in part to keep the Caliber’s price reasonable. Among the goals of SRT is to bring their benchmark performance models to market at the lowest possible price, and adding the AWD system would drive the Caliber SRT4 price too close to that of entries like Subaru WRX STi and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX. Both of those cars require an investment of $32,000 or more.
In creating SRT versions of Chrysler Group products, SRT engineers work in five key areas. They give the models aggressive and sporting exterior cues that are functional as well as indicative of the extra power. For the Caliber SRT4, this includes a unique front fascia that is moved slightly forward to make room for the intercooler as well as for the more aggressive look, a wide center inlet to get more air to the radiator, and ducts alongside the foglamps that direct airflow for cooling the brakes. The hood scoop is functional, as are the extractors on either side of the scoop. In the rear, the lower vertical strakes direct underbody air flow for better stability at speed and the integrated spoiler (60 percent larger than that on the standard car) is tuned for smoother air flow and downforce.
Inside, SRT cars take what the group calls race-inspired cues. The Caliber SRT4 takes its inspiration from the Neon SRT4, of which Dodge sold 25,000 between 2003 and 2005, including a separate boost gauge and the silver finish on the center stack and interior trim. Sport seats with aggressive bolsters are a must for this type of package, including Caliber SRT, which also gets a leather-wrapped steering wheel and aluminum pedals with grippy rubber studs.
The exterior styling changes support the three key mechanical areas SRT updates: ride and handling, braking, and powertrain. Ride and handling upgrades to the Caliber SRT4 includes nineteen-inch cast aluminum wheels with hubs and bearings adapted from Chrysler’s mid-size cars for strength. The front suspension is still MacPherson strut, but it gets new suspension knuckles, tuned dampers, and revised spring rates in the conversion from Caliber to Caliber SRT4. Front and rear sway bars specific to the model help reduce body roll in cornering, the stability program is calibrated for the more powerful model, the power rack-and-pinion steering is specially tuned, and ride height is lowered by a half inch. Braking modifications include recalibrating ABS, larger vented brake rotors and front brake calipers from the Chrysler 300, Magnum, and Charger, with rear calipers from larger mid-size cars (all calipers painted red, of course).
The heart of any SRT product is the powertrain. For Caliber, this meant modifying the 172 HP 2.4L world engine to get 300HP and 260 lb-ft of torque. Much of this was accomplished by adding a turbocharger and intercooler, but there are also upgrades to the engine meant to generate the power and ensure long-term reliability. Just a few of these changes include an engine block machined for increased water and oil flow and cast pistons travel within iron cylinder liners (cooled by oil squirters). High-temperature exhaust valves are used on the aluminum cylinder heads, a high-flow pump developed specifically for this model feeds injectors, and there is an external oil cooler.
SRT Stays On Target
All in all, SRT has created several successful products, and I’ve been lucky enough to get at least a couple of miles behind the wheel of most of them. Whether it is an SRT4, an SRT8, a Viper, or a Ram SRT-10 that you find most appealing, the ability of this group to identify goals and maintain focus is impressive. SRT stays true to working within the five key areas they’ve identified for creating the performance models, while still allowing the personality and intent of these varied products to shine through.
Dodge SRT products do not lose their Dodge personality during the transformation at SRT, and the same is true of SRT’s work with Chrysler- and Jeep-branded products. The 300C SRT8 maintains its Chrysler luxury-oriented personality, even driven back to back with the Charger SRT8. The Dodge Ram SRT-10 and Viper SRT-10 are beasts just barely under control, while the Crossfire SRT6 is a nicely balanced, quick sporting coupe. The Neon SRT4 was a fine example of a factory-built tuner’s dream, complete with various states of tune and other personalization options to choose from.
Understanding that to create a sporting or performance version of a volume car means modifications to engine, brakes, ride and handling, and interior and exterior styling is not difficult to figure out. Implementing the philosophy in a manner with just the right touch is their success, and for SRT the magic is in the details and the fine-tuning of each product. There is no reason to expect less of the Caliber SRT4, and we look forward to getting behind the wheel.