Takin' it to the streets
January 15, 2007
BY DAN JEDLICKA
The new tough-looking Nitro finally gives Dodge dealers a mid-size sport-utility vehicle that is smaller and more economical than the Dodge Durango.
The Nitro has the aggressive styling that characterizes Dodges. Crossover vehicles are all the rage, but the Nitro is no crossover. It's a pure SUV based on the softer-looking Jeep Liberty, which is shorter, narrower and a little taller.
The Nitro is actually small for a mid-size SUV and thus isn't big enough to accommodate a third-row seat. But its squared-off styling allows good front and rear room for four or five tall adults, besides a large cargo area. And its exterior dimensions allow easy maneuvering in traffic and tight quarters.
Nitro list prices range from $19,225 to $26,970. The spunky looking SUV comes in entry SXT form with rear-drive or part- or full-time four-wheel drive, in mid-range SLT form with rear-drive or part- or full-time all-wheel drive and as the top-line R/T, with the same drive setups as the SXT and SLT.
The Nitro is offered with a 3.7-liter V-6 with 210 horsepower or a 4-liter V-6 with 255 horsepower. The 4-liter engine is standard for the R/T.
The SXT has a standard six-speed manual gearbox or $825 four-speed automatic, which has a rather notchy shift gate. The SLT comes only with the four-speed automatic -- and the 4-liter V-6 mates only with a standard, more modern five-speed automatic.
The Nitro can tow up to 5,000 pounds with the 4-liter V-6 and a trailer tow package.
The base SXT is pretty well-equipped, with front bucket seats, console, air conditioning, tilt wheel, AM/FM/CD/MP3 player, fold-flat front passenger seat and split-folding rear seat, rear wiper/washer and poindows, mirrors and door locks with remote keyless entry.
The SLT adds cruise control, six-way power driver seat, power and heated foldaway outside mirrors, larger 17-inch (vs. 16-inch) alloy wheels, fog lights and a cargo tray that slides 18 inches rearward and can hold up to 400 pounds.
About that tray: It raises the cargo floor height and doesn't much affect loading and unloading. It can be used as a temporary table but is one of those items that helps sell a vehicle in a showroom while turning out to be seldom used by most folks.
The R/T, which starts at $25,310 with rear-drive, is the star of the show. Besides its five-speed automatic and higher-horsepower V-6, it has a sport suspension and large 20-inch chrome alloy wheels, which wear wider 50-series tires.
As for safety, all Nitros have traction control, anti-skid and roll-mitigation systems, tire-pressure indicator, anti-lock disc brakes and curtain side air bags.
The many desirable options include an $850 power sunroof, $730 leather upholstery/heated front seats for the R/T, $1,250 DVD entertainment system and $195 satellite radio.
The $395 running boards, available for the SXT and SLT, are a good idea because the Nitro floor is rather high and thus requires extra effort to get in and out. However, the boards are rather narrow and thus not very useful for those with large shoe sizes.
The 3.7 V-6 gives lively in-town acceleration, but average 65-75 mph passing on highways. The 4-liter engine provides stronger highway performance.
The Nitro weighs about 4,000 pounds, so sparkling fuel economy shouldn't be expected. The 3.7 provides 18 mpg in the city and 24 on highways with the manual and automatic -- or 17 and 23 with the automatic and all-wheel drive. The 4-liter engine delivers 17 city, 21 highway.
The 3.7 needs only 87-octane fuel. The 4-liter can use 87-octane fuel, although Dodge recommends 89-octane for the best performance.
The Nitro handles well for a tall SUV and has a comfortable ride, although the ride of the SXT and SLT occasionally gets rather bouncy. The nicely weighted steering is accurate and the brakes are OK, with good pedal feel.
Outside door handles have push-button operation, which you'll either like or find bothersome. Inside door handles are more stylish than practical. Front cupholders are nicely placed in the console, but rear cupholders are near the floor behind the front seats and thus call for an awkward reach.
Occupants sit high in the quiet interior, although driver vision is hindered by thick roof pillars. Front seats provide good lateral support in curves. Gauges can be easily read, and the climate system has large controls. The audio system has a mixture of small and large controls.
A small storage area atop the dash can be handy, but has no cover to prevent objects from falling out of it during sudden stops. The glove compartment is small, but the center console bin is deep.
Rear seatbacks can be flipped forward to sit flat and enlarge the generous cargo area, which has a tall, wide opening.
The Nitro has the looks, general performance and versatility to be a success. It shows that mid-size SUVs can be appealing, despite the rush to crossover vehicles.
2007 DODGE NITRO
Brassy look. Roomy. Rugged. Comfortable.
Rather high step-up. Average highway performance with smaller V-6. So-so fuel economy.
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