If you have about $10,000 to spend on an interesting car, think about one of these.
Let me be perfectly frank, the Dodge Caliber was a terrible car. I always hated the Caliber, and any car it ever spawned - up to and including the Jeep Compass and Patriot. If someone was shopping for a cheap used car and told me they found a low mileage Caliber, I would tell them to walk away and find a Toyota Matrix instead. However, there was one Caliber trim I would think about recommending. Though it was still far from perfect, Dodge did all it could to redeem the Caliber with a turbocharged SRT-4 performance version.
Compared to other hatchbacks at the time, the Caliber SRT-4 was far from the best. The Caliber SRT-4 hasn't really aged well, but sometimes I can swallow my pride and admit when a car is at least interesting. If you are 16 and looking for a first car, or just an enthusiast looking for a fun car for around around $10,000, you could do a lot worse than a Caliber SRT-4. The Caliber SRT-4 was the spiritual successor to the Neon SRT-4, an affordable performance icon. Looking at the numbers, the Caliber SRT-4 doesn't disappoint with its 2.4-liter DOHC 16V turbocharged four-cylinder with dual variable valve timing. This engine, known as the Warhawk, produced 285 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque.
Power was sent to the front wheels through a Getrag six-speed manual transmission. Thankfully, no automatic or CVT was offered. Many outlets at the time put the Caliber SRT-4 on a dyno and found Dodge's estimates to be conservative. Not only did the car make more power than what was stated, it could easily be tuned to produce even more. With a svelte 3,189 pound curb weight, this hot hatchback could hit 60 mph in a rather impressive 5.7 seconds, though most drivers would probably spin the wheels endlessly if they tried to match this time. Even fuel economy wasn't too bad with EPA rating of 19 mpg city and 27 mpg highway.
The Caliber SRT-4 was by no means a slow car, but it couldn't hold a candle to better engineered cars like the Volkswagen GTI. Try to apply power through a corner in the Caliber and it'll respond with copious amounts of understeer and body roll. Although it isn't quite an SUV, the Caliber does ride higher than most hatchbacks. This means it feels like you sit on top of it rather than in it, which is not the feeling you want from a hot hatchback. The interior also not what you want to feel from a hot hatchback. The base Caliber had a very basic, plastic interior, and the SRT-4 wasn't much of an improvement.
Dodge did add some bolstered leather and suede seats, but the interior still feels remarkably low rent. When it was new, the Caliber SRT-4 was sold for just under $23,000. Now, even a pristine example can be found for less than $12,000. It may not be anywhere near perfect, but for this price, it might be worth a look as a first car.