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May 12, 2007

Dodge Nitro 2007

The 2007 Dodge Nitro is an all new mid-size SUV monster. Dodge redesigned the full-size Durango in 2004, and since then has been planning the Nitro. There are many mid-size SUVs out there, and Dodge wanted the Nitro to be distinctive, in order to keep up its reputation for bold styling. The result is a very squared-off vehicle, with larger fender flares.

The Nitro looks and feels larger than its size, with a high seating position that SUV owners enjoy, and good cabin space. It features a cargo storage system whereby the rear seats and front passenger seat fold totally flat in seconds; additionally, the cargo floor slides rearward out over the rear bumper, and can hold 400 pounds, making the loading of heavy objects much simpler.

The Nitro comes in either two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, with a choice of V6 engines, one old and one new version. The new 4.0-liter V6 is better than the old 3.7-liter, with 50 more HP and fuel economy that's only a few miles per gallon less. However the 4.0-liter engine only comes in the top-of-the-line R/T model, which costs about $2700 more than the most popular SLT but a five-speed automatic also comes with the R/T, and that transmission is better than the standard four-speed in the SLT.

There are three types of upholstery: cloth, a stain-repellant cloth, and perforated leather. No matter which interior option, the seats are very comfortable. The cabin is quiet thanks to heavy use of sound deadening material, and visibility out the rear and to the front corners of the Nitro is excellent.

For a base price of $19,225, a Nitro owner gets many safety features that are usually optional on other vehicles, such as front and rear side airbags, side curtain airbags, an electronic stability program with traction control and brake assist, and a tire-pressure monitor to cap it all off.

Model Lineup

The 2007 Dodge Nitro comes as three models, each with a choice of two-wheel drive (2WD) or four-wheel drive (4WD).

There are three models of the new 2007 Dodge Nitro: the SXT in 2WD, $20,735 with part-time 4WD), SLT ($22,635 and $24,145) and R/T and with full-time 4WD); all prices plus $660 delivery.

The SXT ($19,225) comes with a 210-hp 3.7-liter V6 and a choice of 6 speed manual transmission or 4 speed automatic ($1000). The 4WD model ($20,735) uses a part-time four-wheel-drive system. Standard equipment includes cloth upholstery, air conditioning, remote entry with power windows and door locks, 115-volt power outlet, flat folding front passenger seat, 60/40 folding rear bench seat, AM/FM/CD with MP3 and six speakers, traction control and brake assist, slate-colored molded front and fender flares, folding power mirrors, rear window washer/wiper, and 16-inch wheels.

The SLT ($22,635) and SLT 4WD ($24,145) come standard with the auto trans. The SLT adds stain-resistant cloth seats, power six-way adjustable driver's seat, leather steering wheel with audio controls, overhead console, cruise control, heated mirrors, compass, auto-dimming rearview mirror, vehicle information instrumentation, tinted windows, body-colored front and rear fascias and fender flares, and 17-inch aluminum wheels.

The R/T ($25,310) has a new 4.0-liter V6 making 260 horsepower, joined to a five-speed automatic. The R/T 4WD model ($26,970) has a full-time four-wheel-drive system. The R/T comes with a sports suspension with 20-inch wheels and Goodyear Eagle tires. The R/T is equipped like the SLT, though it also has Satellite Radio.

Options for all three models include a power sunroof, foglamps, full-size spare tire, and trailer tow package. Full-time 4WD is an option on the part-time 4WD SXT and SLT models. Options for the SLT and R/T include leather upholstery, navigation system, remote start, hands-free phone, luxury sound system with eight speakers plus subwoofer. The optional Multimedia Info-tainment System features navigation, audio, entertainment and communication wrapped into one, along with voice-command and a 20-gigabyte hard drive to store music and photos.
Dodge Nitro Reviews

Dodge publicity makes a big thing about the Nitro's looks, citing its so-called athleticism. We're not sure. We might call it brawny, but mostly it just looks boxy. The exaggerated fender flares are the only rounded parts in the styling. Every other angle is square-ish. It looks and feels larger than mid-size, which some will find to be a good thing.

From the front, it's unmistakably Dodge. It's got that big crosshair grille, which looks much better in body color (R/T) than chrome (SXT, SLT). The horizontal headlamps, turn signal slits and foglamps are a tidy fit in the massive face.

However it doesn't appear as if much attempt was made to have the front bumper/fascia be tidy; it's got edges all over the place, including a valley that might hold a three-foot-wide license plate, or maybe a bumper sticker that says, "I'm a Dodge so I'm in your face!" Under that, there's a wide air intake for the power steering cooler, whose thin fins are exposed to flying stones because there is no screen.

Taking a cue from the faux portholes on the Buick Lucerne, or possibly the tradition of a Mercedes-Benz sports car, there's a trapezoid-shaped insert, black plastic with three chrome ribs, located just forward of the mirrors. It's intended to look like a cooling slot. It's a nice touch, and for such a small piece it goes a long way toward relaxing the Nitro's blocky shape.

In silhouette, with its relatively upright windshield, very high beltline and rectangular windows, plus short front overhang, its shape is reminiscent of, say, a '62 Dodge Power Wagon. But from the rear three-quarter angle, the lines around the rear glass are reminiscent of its bigger cousin, the Jeep Commander. We like the cleaner black, rather than chrome, around the windows.

Our test Nitro R/T was equipped with standard 20-inch chromed aluminum wheels, and they sure are showy. The much narrower sidewall on the 20-inch tires doesn't appear to offer much defense against flats.

Interior Features

The SXT comes in a basic cloth, but the cloth in the SLT and R/T is something called YES Essentials; it claims to repel stains, control odors and reduce static electricity. The optional perforated charcoal leather with red stitching in our test R/T was beautiful. The front buckets were very comfortable and supportive, with excellent bolstering.

The steering wheel is a handsome four-spoke, with a big center hub and thick spokes at 9:00 and 3:00 o'clock, smaller spokes at 5 and 7; the info center buttons are under your thumb on the big spokes. There are three big main instruments: speedo in center, tach on right and fuel and temp on left. They're very good looking and especially legible, with the digital information still visible in the sun because the three pods are thoughtfully shrouded. Chrysler does gauges right, and generally blows GM out of the water when it comes to handsome style and function.

There's good front seat legroom, and it feels like there's even more because the dashboard is narrow, making the cabin feel nothing like that in a minivan. The dash also has an insert over the center stack, about 6 by 9 inches with grippy rubber at the bottom, and it's perfect for, well, things. The glovebox is the full width of the passenger side.

Rearview visibility is very good, with just windows back there, no attempt at swoopy styling with sheetmetal. And again, because the front fenders have no rise or real shape, it's easy to see the front corners of the vehicle, making parking a relief compared to many vehicles this size.

The square theme continues with the center stack and its instruments and buttons for the sound system and climate control, although nowadays many cars look like that, which isn't bad, just almost natural. Everything is clean, easy to operate, and easy to understand. We especially like the door handles, an intelligent ergonomic design: they're like a half loop, and you simply slip three or four fingers of the hand against the door inside the handle, fingers facing forward so there's no twist of the wrist, and pull.

Between the seats, along with the gearshift, transfer case, and emergency brake lever, there are two fixed cupholders and a small recess for change. There's a shallow tray in the top of the center console storage bin, and a deep compartment under that; as one lady on the press launch said, it's big enough to stash her cat, on road trips.

But the Nitro really rises to the occasion behind the front seat. The Load 'n Go function quickly and easily flops the 60/40 rear seats and front passenger seat totally flat. With the liftgate raised, the carpeted (washable vinyl on the SXT) cargo floor slides rearward 18 inches, out over the bumper, saving a loader's back. It can hold 400 pounds.

Under half of the cargo floor there's a four-inch-deep compartment that can store things such as jumper cables and tools, or hide a laptop.

For the past couple of years, Dodge has been working hard on making their SUVs quiet, and the Nitro succeeds. The 3.7-liter engine is rather loud, but the Nitro's sound-deadening material muffles it well.

Finally, the air conditioning might be fine on a normal day, but it seemed marginal for hot conditions.

Driving Impressions

After long cruises in both the Dodge Nitro SLT 4WD and R/T 2WD, we prefer the R/T.

The 3.7-liter engine in the SLT is slightly harsh and too slow, and the four-speed automatic transmission needs another gear; we floored the SLT once at 40 mph, and the tranny didn't kick down and the vehicle felt wimpy. The suspension takes bumps with a jolt, especially at lower speeds and mostly at the front wheels. And when we turned off the stability control and drove it aggressively around a hairpin turn, the front end washed out as badly as anything we've felt in a long time, on its Goodyear Wrangler tires. This was surprising, because the Nitro is a rear-wheel-drive design.

The R/T costs about $2700 more, but it's def. worth it. It's better looking, with more of its trim in the same color as the body, although the 20" chrome wheels are a bit expensive (as a $1405 option on the SLT, too bad you can't get 17-" size on the R/T and save the money). Chrysler's R/T models are considered higher performance, but in this case it's not hot-rod high performance.

The 4.0-liter V6 is a new single overhead-cam engine. It's rated at 260 horsepower, 50 more than the engine in the SLT, and it provides 265 pound-feet of torque at 4200 rpm. That's a lot of horsepower and torque, and we can't say that the R/T really feels like it has that much.

The R/T engine is quieter than the 3.7-liter in the SLT, and it gets nearly the same mileage: 17 city and 21 highway in 2WD, with 89 octane recommended but 87 acceptable. We got 16.7 mpg driving the R/T very hard.

The five-speed automatic transmission makes a difference in smoothness over the 4-speed. However in manual mode, it doesn't do well. It responds to a shift by the driver (at least this driver) about half the time. As a result, passing on highways is unnecessarily dangerous. The upshifts near redline (6000 rpm) are also a bit slow. And the shift mechanism is not comfortable, either.

The handling of the R/T is reasonable, and considerably more direct than the SLT; quality tires help quite a bit. But it's the ride that's much better, in this 2WD model. In theory, the R/T's tuned suspension should be much more firm, and surely it is a better vehicle overall, but it's also a lot more comfortable.

mcnabb (kaleos) in louisiana...........:Racing:
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