The Dodge Nitro enters the compact sport utility vehicle market aiming to round out the automaker's lineup of cars and larger SUVs. It will slot below the Durango SUV and offer a step up from the smaller Caliber hatchback.
The Nitro will compete with the BMW X3, Nissan Xterra and Saturn Vue. Of those, the Nitro offers the largest maximum cargo capacity — 75.6 cubic feet with folding seats in their lowered position. At 178.9 inches from bumper to bumper, the Nitro is on par with the BMW X3 (179.7 inches) and Nissan Xterra (178.9 inches), but more than 2 inches shorter than the 181.3-inch Saturn Vue.
The Nitro, based on the Jeep Liberty, features Dodge's distinctive crosshair grille and comes in base, SLT and high-performance R/T versions. All come with a standard electronic stability system with rollover mitigation.
Stylists apparently were aiming at a burly image for this SUV, as the wheels, grille, hood and even door handles appear almost one size too large for the rest of the body. Sharp, angular lines give the vehicle a muscular, chiseled look. A high beltline makes the greenhouse area seem smaller than on other SUVs, a feature fans of the Dodge Magnum might find to their liking.
The Nitro, which has a 108.8-inch wheelbase, rides on 16-inch wheels, with 17-inchers optional. The Nitro R/T comes with 20-inch wheels, which are an option on the SLT trim level.
The Nitro's seats are billed as supportive and firm — a feature Dodge says makes them more comfortable on long trips. Cloth or leather seat upholstery is available, depending on the trim level. The Nitro seats five in two rows, and brushed-metal-look accents are used on the gearshift, door handles, climate controls and center console.
Both the front passenger seat and backseat fold flat for storage. On the Nitro SLT and R/T, a sliding cargo floor is standard to aid in loading packages.
Options include a navigation system with real-time traffic update, a backseat DVD video system, a six-CD changer and remote start.
Under the Hood
Dodge offers a choice of engines and transmissions on the Nitro. The base model carries a 210-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6. That engine offers a choice of six-speed-manual or four-speed-automatic transmissions and produces 235 pounds-feet of torque. The R/T model comes with a 260-hp, 4.0-liter V-6 and a five-speed-automatic transmission; it produces 265 pounds-feet of torque. A part-time four-wheel-drive system is standard with the manual transmissions; full-time all-wheel drive is standard on automatic models.
The suspension is a new independent design up front and a new five-link, solid-axle rear arrangement. Dodge says it's tuned to provide a level ride when loaded or towing. As a performance driver would expect, the R/T version features firmer springs, shocks and other items to improve its cornering and traction.
Four-wheel antilock brakes are standard. The Nitro adds a traction control system that applies those brakes to wheels that slip during acceleration to get them grabbing the road again. An electronic stability system with rollover mitigation is also standard, as are side curtain-type airbags. Front side-impact airbags are not available.
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