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Easy To Dodge This Nitro

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Easy To Dodge This Nitro
By Jim Bray
Jun 16, 2007

Maybe it's me, but I just didn't get this vehicle. In fact, it rubbed me the wrong way in nearly every way.

And yet, when I searched the Internet to learn how widespread my opinion may be, I seemed to be a voice in the wilderness among an automotive press that appears to think the Nitro is a step in the right direction for Dodge.

The new for 2007 Nitro SUV is based on a stretched version of the Jeep Liberty (which I thought was pretty good) and is being billed by the manufacturer as a vehicle that'll give you an "adrenaline rush" when you connect with it. "With its powerful stance, chiseled lines and unmistakable Dodge crosshair grille, it'll definitely get you noticed."

Well, if getting noticed is all you want out of life, then maybe you'll love the Nitro, with its "baby Hummer-wannabe" looks and admittedly great-sounding exhaust note. But I found it one of the most annoying vehicles I've driven - not that I've come anywhere close to driving all the world's most annoying vehicles, I'm sure.

Why? It started right off the bat, when I first opened the door and climbed up into the Nitro's cabin. I'm not a big guy; heck, on a good day I might reach 5'7", yet while trying to enter the Nitro's driver's seat I'd smack my head against the top of the door frame every time, until I began ducking instinctively, like an abused child, as a defense mechanism. And you have to push a big button on the exterior handle to open the doors, a real atavism.

Then there's the driver's seat, in which I could never find a comfortable position regardless of its power operation and the presence of an adjustable steering wheel. I couldn't get the seat low enough for my stubby little legs, nor could I get it close enough for the gas pedal to be within reasonable reach. Yet the brake was plenty close. And in corners it felt as if I were about to be tossed into the door, or across the console. I was grateful for the shoulder belts.

The front head rests are intrusive, too.

My SLT trim level Nitro came with the smaller 3.7 liter V6 engine and it was fine. Rated at 210 hp @ 5200 rpm and 235 lb-ft of torque @ 4000 rpm, it manages to propel the vehicle along fairly well, though I'm sure the R/T's standard 4.0L V6's 255 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque would be even better. I loved the exhaust note, but is that really the best selling point for a utility vehicle?

The V6 was tied to a four speed automatic (a 6-speed manual is available on the entry level Nitro) and it shifted okay. It wasn't as smooth as the trannies of many other SUV's I've driven, but it felt in keeping with the rest of the experience.

My tester also featured part-time four wheel drive, with a single-speed transfer case (that means there's no low-range setting for those planning to do really hard-core off-roading). It splits the power evenly between the front and rear when you crank the console-mounted switch, and it came in handy during the mild off roading we did, taming some twitch on gravely sections of "roadway".

The Nitro's bouncy suspension, independent up front with a solid axle five link rear, is quite rubbery and gave the feeling that we were going to flip over like a turtle every time we hit a relatively tight corner or curve. I was glad there was plenty of headroom inside the cabin or, were it not for the seatbelts, we would surely have bounced right out the nicely sized, one touch open/close sunroof.

My tester's 17 inch wheels featured disc brakes with ABS all around; they worked fine, with good pedal feel. Nitro also features an electronic stability program and all-speed traction control.

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