2007 Dodge NitroPosted on October 10th, 2007
A mid-sized sport-utility vehicle with stand-out styling
By Nina Russin
The folks at Chrysler have a reputation for introducing products that are as exciting to look at as they are to drive. The Nitro mid-sized sport-utility vehicle, turned heads at the 2005 Chicago Auto show, where the concept car was first unveiled. The production car that followed has the same distinctive front end and clever cargo features. One of this year’s finalists in the Active Lifestyle Vehicle Best Value On-Road, the mid-sized Nitro is a firecracker on wheels.
Easy on the Wallet; Easy on Gas
I tested the Nitro SLT four-by-four, that retails for just under $25,000. While four-wheel drive vehicles generally fall short on fuel economy, the Nitro averages a respectable 17 miles-per-gallon in the city, and 23 on the highway. The standard 3.7-liter V-6 engine (tested) is no barn-burner, but it has plenty of power for merging into and maneuvering through urban freeway traffic. Buyers who want more power can opt for the optional 4.0-liter V-6, that adds another 40 horsepower to the mix.
The four-speed automatic transmission on the test car shifted seamlessly: there was relatively little shift shock when the transmission downshifted for power. The part-time four-wheel drive system was easy to use. The driver engages four-wheel drive by using a switch on the center console. There is no need to lock or unlock the axles.
The standard suspension is an independent coil-spring setup in front, and solid axle in the rear. The solid-axle set-up enhances the Nitro’s towing capability, but unlike some cars, it doesn’t translate to wheel chatter on the highway.
The test car came with 17-inch wheels: an upgrade from the standard 16-inch rims. Power rack-and-pinion steering makes it easy to maneuver the Nitro in tight spaces, without being overly loose at high speeds. The car has a good on-center feel, which is important if one has to avoid a dicey situation on the highway. The wheels feel like a natural extension of the steering wheel, and there is good visibility all the way around the car. A standard tire pressure monitoring system alerts the driver if air pressure drops at any of the wheels. That’s a useful feature here in the southwest where ambient temperatures vary up to 30 degrees, with corresponding changes in tire pressure.
The standard cloth upholstery is comfortable and attractive. In hot climates, cloth can be a more practical alternative, because it doesn’t retain heat. The Nitro upholstery fabric is treated to be stain and odor-resistant. The seat controls allow drivers of most sizes to make themselves comfortable, as does the tilt steering column. The seats provide plenty of lower lumbar support, and the controls for the HVAC and audio systems are easy to reach. All models are MP3 compatible. Instrument panel controls are easy to reach from both front seating positions, and there are redundant audio controls on the steering wheel.
Styling Sets Nitro Apart from the Crowd
Given the option, it’s more fun to have a cool looking car than a boring one. While there are many well-built, functional entries in the mid-sized sport-utility segment, Nitro’s styling is way ahead of the competition. From its distinctive front end with a bright chrome cross-hair grille, to the sculpted wheel wells and strong beltline, the Nitro doesn’t get lost in a parking lot full of cars. It looks fun and youthful: ready for the daily commute or weekend adventures. A standard roof rack with side rails makes it easy to load large cargo up top.
But some of the Nitro’s best attributes are hidden inside: especially the cleverly configured rear cargo area. A sliding cargo floor holds up to 400 pounds. Slide the floor out and sit on it for a tailgate party (the cooler sits in a well underneath the floor), or to load large cargo. There are plenty of tie-down hooks to secure larger items, while the storage area under the sliding floor secures smaller items, and keeps them out of sight. The rear gate opens easily, with a wide access that makes it easy to load from a variety of angles.
Both the second-row seats and front passenger seat fold flat to extend the cargo floor. It’s an easy operation for those who want to load a bike or two in the back, and the cargo floor material makes it easy to slide items forward, without hanging up. A compact spare tire isn’t my first choice for a four-wheel drive truck, but it does keep weight out of the car and maximize room in the rear.
Dodge designers did a great job of surrounding the driver and front passenger with plenty of bins and cubbies for smaller items, and cupholders that hold bottles of water. A 115-volt power point up front and 12-volt power point in the rear come standard. The SLT grade comes with power folding heated side mirrors: a useful feature for drivers who live in cold climates, and who need to pull their vehicles in and out of the garage.
Well-equipped with safety features.
Traction control and electronic stability program come standard on all Nitro models, as well as antilock brakes. All models also come with front, side, and side curtain airbags that protect both rows of passengers.
The Nitro comes with a 3-year, 36,000 miles bumper-to-bumper warranty that includes warranty assistance. It’s a great value for customers that want a reasonably priced sport-utility vehicle that looks sharp and has one of the most functional cargo areas of any vehicle in its competitive segment. The Nitro is currently available for test drives at Dodge dealerships nationwide.
Likes: Sporty styling, inside and out, with an exceptionally practical cargo bay. The sliding rear cargo floor is a feature that most buyers will find many uses for. The Nitro is a fun car to drive, with lots of standard comfort, convenience and safety features.
Dislikes: The undersized spare could be a problem for drivers who use the Nitro to do serious off-road driving.
Price as Tested: $24,905
Horsepower: 210 Hp @ 5,200 r.p.m.
Torque: 235 lbs-ft. @ 4,000 r.p.m.
0 to 60: N/A
ABS Brakes: Standard
Side Curtain Airbags: Standard
First-Aid Kit: No
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 17/23 m.p.g. city/highway
Comments: A full-time four-wheel drive system will be available later this year. At this point, Chrysler does not plan to bring a diesel version of the Nitro to the States.
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