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Countdown to Caliber!

Dodge City: Caliber hatch, Nitro SUV (below) and Charger sedan (bottom).

Dodge brand to make its Australian return sooner than expected in September 2006

2 Nov 2005

DODGE will become Australia's 43rd passenger car marque when the American brand is launched Down Under earlier than expected next September.

The first Dodge sold here since the 1972 Phoenix sedan will be the front-wheel drive Caliber five-door hatch – Chrysler Jeep Australia/Pacific’s first small-car contender since the unloved Chrysler-badged Neon sedan was discontinued in July 2002.

Caliber will go on sale throughout Chrysler’s 62 dealers nationwide in September – a month before Dodge’s official launch at the 2006 Australian International Motor Show in Sydney.

Before then, however, the five-seat Caliber is expected to make its Australian debut in concept guise at the Melbourne International Motor Show in early February.

Although not yet "officially" approved for Australian sale, the mid-sized Nitro off-roader will be the second Dodge model to go on sale here, in mid-2007.

"Dodge will be launched here earlier than expected," Chrysler Jeep Australia/Pacific’s general manager of marketing and product strategy, Mike Ross, told GoAuto at last week’s Chrysler 300C launch.

"Originally, it was to be in late 2006, then the launch was pushed back to 2007. But now we’re looking at a third quarter release with an official launch in Sydney." As previously reported, Chrysler hopes the Dodge range, which will be positioned as a "lifestyle" brand alongside its existing Chrysler and Jeep line-up, will grow to eventually comprise the reincarnated Charger sports sedan.

Based on Chrysler’s 300C and powered by similar 186kW V6 and 254kW HEMI V8 engines, the four-door Dodge flagship is built alongside the US-market 300C and Dodge Magnum in Chrysler’s Ontario (Canada) plant, which is currently running at full capacity.

The Dodge flagship went on sale in the US this year following its unveiling in production form at the Detroit show in January, but is not yet confirmed for right-hand drive production.

GoAuto believes right-hand drive Charger production approval depends largely on UK demand.

For starters, however, Caliber will provide Chrysler Australia with an entrant in the high-volume, but fiercely contested, small-car segment, which is much larger than the luxury segment the 300C will enter this month.

Chrysler Jeep Australia/Pacific has confirmed it will offer all four of the Chrysler Group’s recently announced "World Engines", including 104kW/169Nm 1.8-litre, 112kW/190Nm 2.0-litre and 127kW/224Nm 2.4-litre four-cylinder engines with vdual ariable valve timing.

The latter is expected to be mated exclusively to a front-biased electronically controlled AWD system with variable torque distribution in a first for Chrysler Group.

A 100kW/310Nm 2.0-litre 16-valve direct-injection four-cylinder turbo-diesel for European Calibers is not yet officially approved for Australia but, along with the 2.4, is expected to join the line-up in 2007.

41 center imageChrysler Jeep Australia/Pacific national sales manager, Brad Fitzsimmons, said Caliber would be positioned as a Mazda3 and Subaru Impreza-type niche model within the local C-car segment, and as such will command a price premium over budget small cars.

"Caliber won’t be priced under $20,000," said Mr Fitzsimmons, who stressed that the 1.8-litre manual version would still give the Caliber line-up a sharp entry price.

With a six-speed manual transmission likely to be reserved for the turbo-diesel variant in Australia, other Caliber variants may be available only with the Chrysler Group’s recently announced continuously variable transmission.

Built by Japanese transmission maker Jatco, which is co-owned by Nissan and Mitsubishi, Caliber's CVT will feature a manual-shift function for 2.0-litre variants upwards.

Both front-drive 1.8 and 2.0-litre Caliber variants should be well specified, with the latter dubbed SXT in the US, where it features as standard a six-speaker AM/FM/MP3/six-CD audio system, chrome grille, electroluminescent gauges, power windows/mirrors, leather-wrap steering wheel, remote central locking, remote audio controls, sliding armrest, tyre pressure monitoring, 6.5x17-inch alloy wheels with 215/60-section tyres.

Dubbed Caliber R/T, the US-market 2.4 AWD variant adds, as standard, an AutoStick manual gearshift function, a chrome exhaust outlet and bodyside mouldings, foglights, heated leather seats, sports suspension and 7.0x18-inch alloys with 215/55-section tyres.

The European-spec diesel Caliber gets a six-speed manual transmission, stability control, retuned suspension, heated mirrors, rear foglights, a premium security system, 700-amp battery and firmer power steering.

Finally, a flagship 2.4-litre turbocharged variant, expected to deliver between 170 and 200kW and to be labelled an SRT-4, is also believed to be in the Caliber pipeline.

Meantime, the five-seater Nitro – billed as Dodge’s first medium 4WD – also debuted at this year’s Chicago motor show in February and has been confirmed for production, albeit in left-hand drive form at this stage.

It is powered by the Chrysler Group’s existing 157kW/319Nm 3.7-litre SOHC V6 which, mated to a 42RLE four-speed auto, propels the 1867kg 4WD to 60mph(97km/h) in a claimed 9.6 seconds.

"Nitro is not yet signed off for Australia, but we’re pushing on as if we’ll get it," said Mr Fitzsimmons. "There’s no reason we won’t get it." Also on the Dodge agenda is a yet-to-be-revealed medium sedan to be dubbed Avenger, which will be powered by four-cylinder and V6 engines when the "mini- Charger" eventually goes on sale here in late 2007.

While the Viper supercar and 300C Touring-based Dodge Magnum have been ruled out, other models with potential for Australian sales include the next generation of Dodge 4WDs, including the Durango wagon and Dakota and Ram utilities.

What's coming from Dodge:

Caliber small hatch - September 2006
Nitro medium 4WD - mid-2006
Avenger medium sedan - late 2007
Charger sedan - TBC
Durango/Dakota/Ram - TBC

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