2008 Dodge Caliber SRT4, Part One

The Dodge Caliber SRT4 has six forward gears, but I never once felt the need to use all of them. Was there more mileage to be gained? Sure. But it was a lot more fun to shift down to second and feel the car pull forward. I was driving like a 17-year-old, which is the only way to drive if you're going to enjoy this car. Try driving it like an adult and you're going to hate it.

For example, I've heard that adults love to parallel park. I'm barely an adult—I'm just turning 25. But when I got behind the wheel of the Caliber, I figured I should experience the car through adult eyes. And that meant I had to try to parallel park the SRT4.

If parallel parking is an aspect of your grown-up life, I'm here to tell you that you're not going to want the SRT4. The greenhouse slopes downward at the back, leaving a small rear window. The tiny window between the C and D pillars is completely useless. Bad-weather parallel parking is especially dicey. There's so much power flowing to the front wheels that it's hard not to spin them when trying to drive off of a small block of ice to realign the sporty hatch.

Once I got the SRT4 parked, I did a walk-around to assess the vehicle's visual impact—once again, through adult eyes. You know what hurts adult eyes? Non-functional scoops and vents. The stock Caliber hood gets three big holes and only one of them, the center hood scoop, actually does anything. The wannabe adult in me also didn't particularly care for the illuminated cup holders. They look pretty but are too large to fit my coffee.

Taking the car to Target made me feel better. Adults love Target. The SRT4 carries over a reasonable amount of storage from the base Caliber, including the Chill Zone storage above the glove compartment. This feature can keep water bottles cool—perfect for 14-degree Chicago weather. The interior contains the cheapest cut plastics I've seen in a long time, but at least it has a built-in iPod dock for when the kids want to play their spiffy tunes.

Wait, what the hell? I don't have kids. What am I thinking? It wasn't until I pulled into my local mall's parking lot for coffee that it hit me: I was taking the wrong approach to the SRT4. I have Nate to thank for setting me straight. Nate's responsible for making sure people don't park their cars at the mall and walk somewhere else. It's the kind of adolescent job that requires an adolescent mindset. He heard the turbo whirring from down the street and was there to greet me with his camera phone when I shut the door. He was pumped.

Nate loves to talk about cars and, specifically, about his early '90s CRX. At least I suspect it's an early 90's CRX, but neither the paint nor the body panels match. Though slightly older than 17, Nate possesses the spirit of a driver unrestrained by the concepts of ergonomics, mileage or contemporary trends in automotive design.

Talking it over with him, something in me changed. Remember I'm not yet 25, I'm 24. I could suddenly see the SRT4's appeal. The designers manage to take the not-quite-SUV looks of the Caliber and transform them into not-quite-sports-hatch. If you're into the import scene, the four-banger with that little turbo manages to produce an exhaust note both loud and, dare I say, somewhat more refined than the coffee can hanging off of Nate's Honda.

When I started driving the SRT4 like a teenager, it was a much better experience. Take off at every stoplight? Why not. Like the original SRT4, this version lacks the reassuring handling dynamics of its European competitors. But it doesn't make any promises in that area. It goes fast in a straight line, which is exactly what it's supposed to do.

There was only one problem. When you drive like a kid, you're only looking to avoid cops. When you drive like an adult, you look out for things like potholes. One of my driving companions during the week I had the SRT4 claims he saw the pothole that destroyed the front right tire, but I'm convinced it materialized only microseconds before we merged onto the freeway.

By the time we pulled into the gas station, you could hear the air escaping the tire at maximum velocity. My adult self really started to kick in and was understandably disappointed when I discovered that the car didn't have a spare tire. Adult self did like Chrysler Roadside Assistance, which sent over a flatbed truck promptly.

Youth, apparently, does have its drawbacks.

2008 Dodge Caliber SRT4, Part One