Hard as it is to believe, there was once a time not terribly long ago when American automakers were halfway interested in selling affordable performance cars. Chrysler’s offering in this space peaked with the Neon SRT-4, a vehicle that was the textbook definition of something cheap and generally undesirable exponentially improved by an abundance of power. Its successor — the brick-shaped mini-wagon hot-rod seen above — isn’t remembered quite so fondly. Which means it can be had for a song, even today.
To be honest I forgot about the existence of the Caliber SRT4 the same way I forgot about a number of the songs that topped the Billboard Hot 100 list for 2007, the year it came out. (Unfortunately I did recall “Hey There Delilah,” which still has the uncanny ability to make me want to eject my organs after all this time.) A recent stream the Jalopnik staff did for the GR Corolla jogged my memory. The Caliber SRT4 was a truly wild car, and I think that element of its story has been lost over the years.
Take its wheels, for example. This compact car came with 19-inch alloys from the factory. Big chrome five spokes that sat inside 225-width rubber. You could brush your teeth in these rims, and all four together probably weighed as much as an Omni. The other standout figures obviously came courtesy of the powertrain which, rated at 285 horsepower, was roughly 65 percent more powerful than the 2.4-liter four-cylinder in an ordinary Caliber.
Despite the SRT4's superlatives, critical response was sort of middling. It was the car that gave a young Matt Hardigree an existential crisis. When you hear someone say “SRT4,” you can almost be certain they’re talking about the Neon and not this monument to mid-aughts excess. And so, these are cheap.
I was curious how deep-pocketed enthusiasts view the less-loved SRT4, so naturally Bring a Trailer was my first destination. Only one has crossed the block there — last December — and it happened to be a pretty much brand-new 2008 example that had been stored by a dealer. It went for $27,500. Reminder that this was a $25K car when new; adjusted for inflation, it’d cost $33K today. A pristine, museum-quality specimen of an automobile, on an auction site that manufactures suckers for sport, selling for less than it would have to its first buyer with no reserve. That’s unheard of at BaT.
Outside that bubble, where the normal people are, browsing Autotrader for Caliber SRT4s nationwide generates a handful of reasonably-priced options. Surprisingly stock, clean-looking cars with a lot of miles — though not as much as you’d think — hovering just over the $10K mark. Weed out the super well-traveled and aggressively modified Neon SRT-4s, and comparable examples of those are going for twice as much.
Is a solid Caliber SRT4 worth $12K? Maybe not. Owning it means you’d have to look at it sometimes, and there are few worse places to be than a late-era DaimlerChrysler interior. The torque steer would be dumb, the thing is heavy and unless you exclusively drive on highways, you’ll average miles per gallon in the low-to-mid 20s. I’m not saying this is a good car, but name another with a 155 MPH top speed going for a similar price. The Caliber SRT4 is a turbo feeding the wheels that steer through a six-speed manual, attached to the worst plastic. It’s a laugh, and those are hard to find cheaply in this market.