To fill the mid-size-SUV gap in its lineup, Dodge took a Jeep Liberty, redesigned and lengthened it, and christened it the Nitro. A base SXT starts at $19,885 and comes with the Liberty's 210-hp, 3.7-liter V-6 that is bolted to a six-speed manual (a four-speed automatic is a $1000 option). The mid-level SLT starts at $23,295 and has the same V-6 with the automatic standard. It also receives nicer interior bits and body-colored fender flares. The Nitro R/T seen here has a sobering base price of $25,970, and for that you get a torquey 4.0-liter V-6 that makes 260 horses and a five-speed automatic driving the rear wheels (four-wheel drive is a $1510 option across the line). That pairing provides enough oomph to power the R/T to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds.
The Nitro instantly stands apart from its Jeep sibling with its slash-'n'-burn urban styling that would appear right at home in the latest Diddy music video. Our R/T came with flashy paint that accentuates its huge fender flares, filled with look-at-me 20-inch chrome wheels wrapped in thick Goodyear Wrangler HP mud-and-snow rubber.
It's less flashy inside. The supportive two-tone seats with bright red inserts will get your attention in an otherwise tasteful and well-executed interior. Switchgear is properly placed, and despite a narrow footwell, leg- and footroom are plentiful. Behind the second row is the slick Load 'n Go floor that aids packing big, bulky items into the 50-percent-larger cargo area.
Despite the new look, the softly sprung Nitro drives and handles just like a Liberty, providing a meager 0.66 g of grip, thanks to a stability-control system that can't be turned off. Braking from 70 mph is a bit better at 177 feet.
The Nitro makes a strong visual statement. But what we see is a pricey Liberty.
PRICE AS TESTED: $28,720 (base price: $25,970) ENGINE TYPE: SOHC 24-valve V-6, aluminum block and heads, port fuel injection Displacement: 241 cu in, 3952cc Power (SAE net): 260 bhp @ 6000 rpm Torque (SAE net): 265 lb-ft @ 4200 rpm TRANSMISSION: 5-speed automatic with manumatic shifting DIMENSIONS:
Wheelbase: 108.8 in Length: 178.9 in Width: 73.1 in Height: 69.9 in Curb weight: 4143 lb C/D TEST RESULTS:
Zero to 60 mph: 6.9 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 19.8 sec
Street start, 5-60 mph: 7.3 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 15.4 sec @ 90 mph
Top speed (governor limited): 114 mph
Braking, 70-0 mph: 177 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad*: 0.66 g FUEL ECONOMY:
EPA city driving: 17 mpg C/D observed: 18 mpg