2009 Dodge Nitro SLT 4X4Posted on August 31st, 2009
Mid-sized sport-utility vehicle is an athlete’s tool box
By Nina Russin
Two years ago, the Dodge Nitro won our ALV of the year award in the best value, off-road category. Jurors were impressed with the sport-utility vehicle’s combination of off-road capability and cargo features, including a sliding load floor that holds up to 400 pounds.
For 2009, Dodge refines the Nitro with some chassis enhancements, and additional convenience features. A four-speed automatic transmission is now standard on all models with the base 3.7-liter engine. Stiffer rear axle shafts, a re-tuned suspension and steering components improve the car’s handling. Revised brake calipers and a re-tuned booster produce better braking response.
The Nitro’s roster of convenience features now includes standard floor mats, a rear dome lamp, and automatic door unlock when the driver shifts into park. Express-down front windows are standard equipment on the upscale SLT and R/T models.
The test car is the four-wheel drive SLT model that retails for $25,920. A 3.7-liter V-6 engine develops 210 horsepower and 235 foot-pounds of torque. The engine comes with a standard timing chain in lieu of a belt. While timing chains can be noisier than serpentine belts, they are also more durable, eliminating an expensive maintenance procedure at about 60,000 miles.
The four-speed automatic transmission produces more shift shock than a five or six-speed transmission, but yields pretty good fuel economy. On my test drive, I exceeded the 17 mpg EPA estimate by about a mile per gallon.
Options on the test car upgrade the standard 17-inch wheels to chrome rims, and add heated front seats. The heated seats are a great feature in climates with severe winters, but I wouldn’t recommend the chrome wheels for buyers who plan to take their trucks off-road.
An optional rear park assist system sounds an audible alarm to warn the driver about obstacles to the back of the car. Remote start allows the driver to crank the ignition outside the car. It’s a useful feature in temperature extremes. I appreciated being able to cool the car down at the height of a 112-degree day.
A multimedia navigation system adds mobile phone compatibility, Sirius satellite radio with traffic alert, and upgraded speakers. An optional power sunroof brings more ambient light into the back of the vehicle.
Test drive in Tucson, Arizona
Anxious to escape a late-summer heat wave, my husband and I decided to drive the Nitro south to Tucson, Arizona. Tucson’s 2500-foot altitude gives the city slightly cooler temperatures than Phoenix, which sits about 1000 feet lower. Our test drive skimmed the west side of the Catalina Mountains. Our destination was the east end of town, near the entrance of Sabino Canyon state park.
The road between Phoenix and Tucson is a high-speed but flat stretch of highway. It seems that our idea of escaping the heat had occurred to many other Phoenix residents: we found ourselves winding through traffic for most of the drive. A patch of construction at the halfway point didn’t help.
The Nitro handles well as high-profile four-wheel drive cars go. The V-6 engine has ample power to keep up with traffic, which in this case averaged about eighty miles-per-hour. The engine reaches peak torque at 4000 rpm: well within range during moderate acceleration. While the engine downshifts hard at wide-open-throttle, I never felt that the Nitro was underpowered when I needed to pass slower vehicles.
Over-the-shoulder visibility is somewhat limited, due to thick B pillars. Side mirrors do a good job of compensating for blind spots in the back corners, without obstructing forward visibility. A standard rear wiper keeps the glass clean in rain and snow.
Four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel antilock braking stop the car in a firm, linear fashion. Steering response is good at all speeds. On-center response is positive enough to keep the chassis flat during quick lane changes.
There is plenty of steering assist at low speeds for maneuvering through parking lots. The Nitro has a 36.3-foot turning radius: adequate for the occasional U-turn.
The standard suspension consists of an independent front and live rear axle. Solid axles don’t have the compliance of independent rear ends, but can keep the vehicle more stable for towing. With a towing prep package, the Dodge Nitro meets our 3500-pound ALV minimum standard.
Chrysler designers excel at interior packaging, due in large part to their minivan experience. The Nitro’s versatile interior will appeal to any weekend athlete that needs to haul large cargo.
While Dodge classifies the Nitro as a five-passenger truck, the back seats only hold two adults. Cupholders behind the center console bin and a tall floor tunnel eat up most of the legroom in the center position. Having said that, the outboard seats have plenty of head, hip and legroom.
All four of the Nitro’s cupholders are large enough for twenty-ounce water bottles. Map pockets in the doors hold documents that won’t fit in the glove box.
The center console bin is quite large, with a removable shelf for small electronic devices. A twelve-volt power point at the base of the center stack and 115-volt outlet in back allow passengers to plug in hand-held devices and computers.
I found both front seats comfortable on drives several hours in duration, with adequate lower lumbar support. A tilt steering wheel helps smaller drivers to maintain good forward vision.
The optional navigation system is easy to use. It includes a locator for emergency services, a ‘Where am I?’ function, and traffic alerts. A small dished bin at the top of the center stack is handy for small items.
The switch to transfer operation between two and four-wheel drive is located next to the gated shift lever. The single-speed transfer case on the four-wheel drive Nitro doesn’t provide an extra set of low gears for uneven terrain. However it does transfer up to fifty percent of engine torque to the front wheels in situations where traction is low.
Sliding cargo floor
Both the SLT and R/T grades come standard with a sliding cargo floor that holds up to 400 pounds. Not only does the sliding floor make it easier to load in heavy items; it’s durable enough to hold a couple of adults for a tailgate party.
A cargo area light makes it easier to load up the back at night. Tie-down loops on the side walls help to secure large items.
The rear seats fold flat using loops at the back of the seat cushions, extending the cargo floor. The Nitro easily meets our bicycle friendly standards. The front passenger seat also folds flat, so the Nitro can hold a surf or snowboard. Standard integrated roof rails make it easy to install a cargo rack.
All models come with standard front and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes, electronic traction and stability control. The user-friendly Nitro is on display at Dodge dealerships nationwide.
Likes: An affordable four-wheel drive sport-utility vehicle with a versatile interior. The sliding cargo floor is a great feature for buyers who need to haul heavy cargo.
Dislikes: B pillars obstruct over-the-shoulder visibility. Tall floor tunnel and rear cupholders reduce legroom in second-row center seat.
Model: Nitro SLT 4X4
Base price: $25,290
As tested: $31,380
Horsepower: 210 Hp @ 5100 rpm
Torque: 235 lbs.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Towing: Yes, when equipped with optional towing prep package.
Fuel economy: 15/21 mpg city/highway
Comments: MSRP does not include a $745 destination charge.
3 responses to “2009 Dodge Nitro SLT 4X4”
Hello,thanks for the post. Infos are pretty usefull and saves me huge amount of time which I have spend on something else instead of googling Thank you
I like the look of the little beast, at least it is making a statement rather than a snore. I do think it is overpriced and underpowered for what it is. I can’t imagine buy this instead of a more capable Liberty.
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