INDIANAPOLIS – Expect an October arrival for the ’08 Dodge Caliber SRT4, which starts under $23,000, Chrysler LLC says.

The high-performance derivative of the auto maker’s lone small-car offering, the Dodge Caliber, will begin “trickling” into dealerships from Chrysler’s assembly plant in Belvidere, IL, says Jim Yetter, senior manager-Dodge car marketing.

But the production pace will pick up quickly thereafter, he adds, noting the SRT4 is designed to roll off the same Belvidere, IL, assembly line as the base Caliber and their C-segment platform-mates, the Jeep Compass and Patriot cross/utility vehicles.

Chrysler is mum on anticipated volumes. Yetter says only that the auto maker will respond to market demand.

But, he adds, Belvidere’s capacity will be “maxed out” with the addition of SRT4 production.

The plant currently is running three shifts per day.

Says Yetter: “The whole thing with SRT is to build a vehicle people would want and manage that volume.”

The Caliber SRT4, which features a 285-hp turbocharged 2.4L DOHC I-4 based on the largest member of Chrysler’s World Engine family, promises to go from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in approximately six seconds. And it can go from 0-100 mph (161 km/h) and back to a dead stop in 19 seconds, Chrysler says.

The SRT4’s top speed is 155 mph (249 km/h). Peak torque is rated at 265 lb.-ft. (359 Nm).

Starting at $22,995, including a $560 destination charge, it is competitively priced against its primary market rival, the ’07 Mazdaspeed3, which features a turbocharged 263-hp DOHC 2.3L I-4 with a peak-torque rating of 280 lb.-ft. (380 Nm). The Mazdaspeed3 starts at $22,935, including $595 destination.

Original plans called for the Caliber SRT4 to launch as an ’07 model with a 300-hp turbocharged engine. A desire for balanced performance led to the horsepower reduction while a program delay pushed the car’s debut into model-year ’08.

But Chrysler’s performance engineering unit – Street and Racing Technologies – made the most of the delay. It seized on the wider time window to enhance content.

A hallmark of SRT products is a race-inspired interior. But the initial iteration of SRT4, which featured a large speedometer and a smallish tachometer off to the side, fell short in that area, says James Finck, senior manager-SRT body, interior and electrical engineering systems.

Finck recalls: “There were a few enthusiasts who spoke up and said, ‘We missed it. We’ve got to get the bigger tach. It has to be in the middle.’”

Now, the SRT4’s oversized tachometer dominates the real estate between the speedometer and the temperature/pressure gauge.

Other key instrument panel features include “performance pages.” Packaged with an optional reconfigurable display, a driver can monitor lateral and longitudinal G-forces as easily as fuel economy and tire pressure. Acceleration times and braking distances also can be displayed.

Meanwhile, Yetter throws cold water on the notion the base Caliber might someday be equipped with a turbocharged World Engine. To preserve the exclusivity of SRT, features such as turbocharging are more likely to remain the exclusive property of the high-performance brand, he says.

But Chrysler is committed to moving the price of entry downward by introducing a B-car to North America, Yetter says.

Chrysler has a deal with Chery Automobile Co. Ltd. that will see the China-based auto maker build small cars for North American market. Those cars are expected to have Dodge badges.

emayne@wardsauto.com