Feed a Focus a diet of protein shakes, red meat and plenty of gym time on a butch LA beachfront and perhaps in time you’ll have something like the new Dodge Caliber – a lower medium hatch fit for Venice Beach.

It’s a clever concept, appealing to those who adore the tough 4×4 way of doing things, but don’t fancy the stigma and tax bills that come standard with running a mudplugger.

Dodge Caliber spec

Better still, the Caliber isn’t irrelevant when it puts the dumbbells to one side and takes a swim across the Atlantic. Instead of a hopeless large-capacity petrol engine mated to an equally inefficient automated gearbox, under the bonnet you’ll find a powerful, frugal and low polluting 138PS Volkswagen diesel.

If not a costs champion, the Caliber looks competitive on paper. However, on acquaintance things take a sharp downturn for the worse.

The interior, quite frankly, looks and feels cheap. There’s too much hard sharp-edged plastic and a steering wheel you wouldn’t find in the cheapest bargain basement Korean supermini.

Things are little better following a drive. While offering punchy performance in a narrow power band when on boost, it was all too easy to be found outside that powerband, demanding frantic gear changing. When said boost does arrive, it’s overwhelming for the Dodge’s chassis, with excessive wheel tugging needing a firm hand to keep in control.

The Caliber’s handling trails a talented pack, and the lack of steering feel blunts progress.

The gearbox also misses the mark, and is angled away from the driver and notchy in change. Neither is handling as accomplished as almost every other competitor in this cut-throat segment. Then there’s excessive noise from the VW diesel engine that intrudes along with road noise.

Overall, then the Dodge will win admiring glances from onlookers – but behind the wheel it is a poor substitute for a Focus.