I am a pretty low-maintenance chick. I rival most guys in how fast I can get put together and out the door. Still, I don't think anyone would mistake me for a dude. That being said, I have been really attracted to the recent Dodge offerings. I really like the Charger and I think the Dodge Magnum is just plain cool! So, I am perplexed by the fact that most of the people I see driving these particular cars are men and most of the Dodge advertising is decidedly masculine. Actually, the marketing goes to almost a "Larry the Cable Guy" mannish extreme. When I had the chance to drive the very bold-looking Dodge Nitro, I was pretty pumped-up, but a little afraid that it wouldn't have anything for me.
I am pleasantly surprised by this mid-size SUV. The exterior styling holds true to the Dodge brand by sporting a tough-looking grill and the requisite horn badge. The interior is equally manly with motorcycle-inspired gauges and a minimalist set of controls. It is not until I look a little more carefully that I find some really cool features that appeal to my functional and feminine side.
Let's start in the cargo area. Dodge has developed what they call a Load and Go floor that slides out over the bumper so that I can more easily load cargo and then slide it back into the cargo area. Not only do I start imagining the possibilities with my kid's bikes and other gear, but I am practically giddy to find that under the sliding floor rests a respectably sized storage area where I could stash extra coats for the kids or even some diapers and wipes. I am sure Dodge was not thinking diaper-mobile when they designed that feature but, hey, it works!
Another feature that might easily be overlooked is a new high-tech seating fabric that is available for this SUV. It is called Yes-Essentials fabric and it embeds anti-static, anti-bacterial, stain resisting, and stain releasing properties into the fibers of the cloth. Embedding is a much different process than coating the fabric with protectant like 3M's Scotchguard, which is an, uh-hem, old technology that has been around since 1956. The Yes-Essentials technology is oh-so 2006. What does all that resisting and releasing stuff mean? Well, basically, this fabric will take just about any mess kids can throw at it - literally. I test a combination of ketchup and milk: The milk beads up immediately and can be dabbed up and the ketchup is easily removed with a couple of baby wipes. Even the smell is gone - ingenious.
The Nitro has a great set of safety features. The basics are front and rear side curtain airbags, an electronic stability program, and anti-lock brakes. Dodge actually goes beyond the basics with rollover mitigation technology that will apply the brakes when it senses a potential rollover situation, a brake assist that helps the vehicle stop in a shorter distance, and a tire-pressure monitoring system, all standard.
The more obvious technology available in the Dodge Nitro also makes me happy. One of the first things I notice is a jack near the radio that allows me to plug in my iPod - sweet, no more radio transmitter. My teenager also appreciates the fact that there is a set of auxiliary inputs and an A/C plug on the back of the center console so that his Xbox can be used with the rear-seat video system. Last but certainly not least, Dodge introduces their new MyGIG system in the Nitro. MyGIG is an "infotainment system" that not only offers navigation and satellite radio, but also has a 20 Gigabyte hard drive that allows the user to load their CDs, photographs, and personal address book into the memory of the system. I can even load videos into the MyGig system and watch them on the 6.5" navigation screen (obviously, only when I'm not driving the car!). Loading MyGIG is relatively easy - I can rip from CD, DVD or even a USB flash drive. I'm admittedly a techie chick, so this feature thrills me to the bones.
Are there any drawbacks? Well, yes, the Nitro is a SUV, so its step-in height is challenging for some of my littlest passengers. The rear seats are also a little stiff for long rides, but they do offer a recline feature which makes it easier to fit child car seats. The gas mileage is not horrific but at 18/24 for the manual transmission, it is not great either. Overall, Dodge has done a pretty good job on making a "take life by the horns" car that will also suit the needs of women and moms like me. Long live the diaper-mobile!
*For more information on the Dodge Nitro and its safety features visit Cars.com.
LET'S TALK NUMBERS
LATCH Connectors: 2
Seating Capacity (includes driver): 5
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times