While the roads of America are awash in a sea of full-size pickups and larger than full size SUVs, there seems to be a dearth of interesting domestic choices when it comes to compacts. Enter the Dodge Caliber. Falling somewhere in between a station wagon, a hatchback, and a compact, the Caliber is designed to fill a hole left by the soon to be dearly departed Dodge Neon.

Defined as a "crossover" by the powers that be, the Caliber also is meant to be affordable, falling into the sub 14,000 dollar range for the base SE and remaining in the under 20,000 range even for the top-tier all wheel drive R/T version.

We had a chance to run a Caliber on our recent road trip to Denver. The Caliber served as a chase vehicle for the mighty Duster. The first thing we noticed out on the long road is the distinct lack of the usual gear shifting behavior of an automatic transmission. The reason for this is that the Caliber doesn't have one, at least in the conventional sense.

The Continuously Variable Transaxle, or CVT2 takes a moment or two of getting used to, but delivers smooth running along with a 6-8 percent increase in fuel economy over the same setup with a conventional transaxle, according to the engineers at Chrysler. We kept expecting the one-two or two-three shift, but the engine and transmission spin continuously in harmony based on ever shifting load.