Richard Williamson / Scripps Howard News Service
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Chrysler Group: Short front and rear overhangs, a high belt-line and wheels pushed to the corners with muscular wheel arches add to the 2-ton Nitro's heft.
2007 Dodge Nitro R/T
TYPE: Rear-drive, four-door, five-passenger, mid-size SUV.
PRICE: $22,635 base, $28,945 as tested.
WHERE BUILT: Toledo, Ohio.
KEY RIVALS: Nissan Xterra, Suzuki Grand Vitara, Toyota FJ Cruiser, Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V.
POWER: 4-liter, 260-horsepower, SOHC V6 engine; five-speed auto transmission.
FUEL ECONOMY: 18 city, 23 highway mpg; estimated annual fuel cost $1,988.
CHASSIS: Coil-spring independent front and five-link, coil-spring rear suspension; traction control, electronic stability control, power disc brakes with ABS, power rack-and-pinion steering, 20-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels.
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT: 178.9 x 73.1 x 66.9 inches.
WHEELBASE: 108.8 inches.
CURB WEIGHT: 4,162 pounds.
STANDARD: Body-color grille with bright billets; body-color air dam and sill molding; R/T logo on the front seats with stitching; power windows/locks/mirrors; tire pressure monitor; roof rack side rails; low-back, two-toned cloth seats; supplemental side-curtain air bags in the first and second rows; AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo; fold-flat front-passenger seat; reclining rear seat; power folding mirrors; 12-volt power outlet.
OPTIONS: Preferred package includes two-toned cloth seats, deluxe door trim panel, satin silver bezel instrument panel, 20-inch wheels, Sirius satellite radio ($1,980).
The Nitro doesn't live up to its name, but it's a sensible, attractive SUV
When you give your vehicle a name like "Nitro," you run the risk of overpromising.
Certainly, there is nothing particularly explosive about the new Dodge midsize sport utility derived from the cunningly cute Jeep Liberty. No flames shoot from the tailpipe. There are no massive air scoops on the hood or flanks of the SUV. And the power plant does not inspire drag races.
But the name Nitro might catch the attention of the younger buyers with a sense of irony and a fondness for efficiency.
Despite the name, the Nitro is a very sensible vehicle that shares the deft styling cues of the smaller Dodge Caliber: chamfered edges along the shoulder lines, a bold Dodge Ram grille and a stout, sturdy profile.
Defying the ultra-round or ultra-square models that have dominated the compact SUVs, Dodge designers managed to, once again, carve out a new look. The blunt rear end of the Nitro is designed with curves along the top of the roof that accentuate the breadth of the vehicle.
Short front and rear overhangs, a high belt-line and wheels pushed to the corners with muscular wheel arches add to the 2-ton vehicle's heft. Unique door handles are large and unusually shaped to add to the vehicle's personality.
On the front end, rectangular headlamps wrap the corners beneath a clamshell hood bearing strong character lines.
Beyond the design, major attractants include the "Load 'N Go" sliding cargo floor that can be extended through the rear hatch by 18 inches to ease loading.
Built alongside the Liberty at the Toledo, Ohio, assembly line, the Nitro competes with vehicles such as the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Nissan Xterra, Suzuki Grand Vitara and Toyota FJ Cruiser.
Offered in three trim levels, SXT, SLT and R/T, the Nitro is very affordable, with a base price of $19,885 at the entry level, rising to $27,630 for the top-level R/T with 4-wheel drive. The SUV is sold in rear-drive or all-wheel-drive versions.
Introduced at the Chicago Auto Show in 2006, the Nitro went on sale last September in its inaugural 2007 model year. It was the first mid-size SUV for Dodge since the Raider was mothballed in 1990, though Dodge has certainly enjoyed a lot of mileage from the larger Durango SUV.
All SUVs face growing concerns about fuel economy. But you can improve mileage by choosing the rear-drive version of the Nitro. The version I drove was the more powerful R/T with a 265-horsepower V6 engine and a five-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy was fairly decent at 18 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on the highway for an estimated annual fuel cost of $1,988. We're routinely seeing annual fuel costs of more than $2,000 these days.
You can save even more on fuel with the 3.7-liter single overhead cam V6 engine that comes standard on the SXT and SLT models. The engine produces 210 horsepower and comes an exhaust gas recirculation valve, which helps increase fuel economy. Beyond North America, Dodge is also offering a diesel engine.
Nitro's three available transmissions include a six-speed manual, a four-speed automatic and a five-speed automatic. The six-speed manual transmission is standard on the SXT 4x2 and 4x4 models with the 3.7-liter V-6 engine. The four-speed automatic is optional on the Dodge Nitro SXT and standard on the SLT. The five-speed automatic is standard on the R/T.
The R/T and SLT models ride on performance suspensions with revised sway bars, springs, shocks, bushings, and 20-inch tires and wheels for improved cornering and traction.
The interior of the five-passenger Dodge Nitro is comfortable, but tall passengers might find headroom lacking, according to my 6-foot-5 friend. Legroom for first- and second-row passengers is fairly generous.
The SLT and R/T trim includes chrome detail on the steering wheel, instrument cluster, center console, ventilation controls and door handles.
In addition to a fold-flat front-passenger seat, the Nitro comes with fold-flat second-row seats. Second-row seats recline, which is unusual.
The Load 'N Go slide-out cargo floor can hold up to 400 pounds and is made of a heavy-duty plastic for easy cleaning. Standard on the Dodge Nitro SXT is a reversible load floor.
Although the styling of the Nitro is decidedly masculine, 45 percent of buyers are expected to be females. The targeted age range is 25-45 with median household incomes of $60,000. About 45 percent will have college degrees and 55 percent will be married.
WHAT'S NEW: All-new vehicle for 2007.
PLUSES: Styling, versatility, comfort, pricing.
MINUSES: Rear window visibility, rear-seat headroom, fuel economy.
BOTTOM LINE: Good looker at an attractive price.
Richard Williamson writes about automobiles for Scripps Howard News Service.