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2007 Dodge Nitro Road Test
Dodge Nitro has tough-guy look
By Bill Roebuck
The all-new 2007 Dodge Nitro, to be in dealerships shortly, is a tough-looking, smooth-driving midsize SUV. Its appearance is intended to be masculine and aggressive, say the designers, in an effort to make the Nitro appealing to men. Sure, they won't mind selling a few to women, but guys are definitely the target market for this vehicle, and the last thing Dodge would like to hear is the Nitro being called a 'chick car'.
Overall, at first glance, the Nitro looks more like a Jeep than a Dodge.
The Nitro has a large, squared-off front end, a prominent grille, sporty-looking side air vent accents, and the option of bright 20-inch wheels. With its chrome wheels and grille, it's got bling, but it's well under control.
There's four trim levels: SX, SXT, SLT and R/T, starting at a base price in Canada of $23,290.
The base powertrain is a 210-hp, 3.7-litre V6. The R/T gets a beefier 260-hp, 4.0-litre V6. SX and SXT models are rear-wheel drive, and SLT and R/T are full-time four-wheel drive. The base transmission is a six-speed manual, or you can order a four-speed automatic. A five-speed automatic comes on the R/T but not on the other models.
No problem, though as the four-speed automatic was up to the job, and didn't seem to perform noticeably differently from the five-speed in the R/T. However, our test drive was fairly brief. A week-long evaluation, to come later, may reveal some differences. Also I was unable to test the Nitro off-road, but given its Jeep-like characteristics, I expect it would perform well there too.
Underneath, there's a new coil-spring independent suspension at the front and a new five-link coil-spring at the rear. An optional performance suspension is offered on the SLT and is standard on the R/T.
I tested models with both engines and each had plenty of get up and go. They're quick, with good low-end torque. Towing capacity is as much as 2,270 kg (5,000 lb).
As is characteristic of many vehicles from the Dodge and Chrysler camps these days, the Nitro has high shoulders at the sides, making the windows look small. It's not so noticeable from the inside, though, although rear visibility when backing up is restricted.
Window trim and door handles are black, and there's minimal use of chrome on the sides -- it's reserved for the front and the rear. The big exterior mirrors were tested in a wind tunnel to reduce drag and as a result, don't generate wind noise at highway speeds.
The front wheels have been pushed out to the corners of the vehicle, so there's barely any front overhang. The fender flares around the front and rear wheels are muscular, like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his Mr. America days, not like his pudgy politician self today. In the 1970s, the Guinness Book of World Records called him "the most perfectly developed man in the history of the world." With its in-your-face design, I think that's the image that the Nitro's designers were looking for.
The fender flares, front bumper and rocker panels are dark grey on the base SE and SXT models. I think they make the Nitro look like a toy -- too much cheap plastic. The body colour versions on the upscale SLT and R/T models look a lot classier.
Those fat fenders give the SUV a wider body appearance that makes it look larger than it really is. It feels like a big truck, but drives handily, like the midsize it is.
Inside, the steering wheel is fat and grippable, and dials and buttons are large enough for easy use. The interior look is clean and crisp, with controls positioned nicely for ease of use.
The three-pod instrument panel is based on those on motorcycles. The gauges are black with grey and white graphics and orange pointers.
Both the front and second-row offers generous head and leg room, and seats are comfortable and hold you in place well on twisty roads.
The second row seats split 60/40 and fold flat, level with the cargo floor. As well, the front passenger seat folds flat, making it easier to carry long items like a surfboard. The cargo floor has two sides, so either carpeting or hard plastic can face upwards, depending on what's best for your load. A 10-cm deep storage bin beneath the lid can stow items such as jumper cables.
Cargo capacity is 1,846 litres with the rear seat folded down, or 909 litres with the seats raised. Our tester was equipped with an optional Load 'N Go cargo floor that slides out 45 cm over the rear bumper to ease the loading of cargo. It'll hold up to 180 kg. Personally, I'm not sure how useful this option is, as it doesn't reach all the way to the back of the seats, and it sticks out in your way when you're loading the vehicle.
The centre console has a storage box for CDs and a rubber-lined tray beside the shifter for your cell phone or other small items. A 115-volt AC inverter outlet is standard, great for recharging all the electronic toys everyone seem to need these days. There's also a pair of 12-volt outlets, one on the instrument panel and one in the rear cargo area.
Both cloth and leather seats are offered. The SLT and R/T models have YES Essentials cloth seats as standard equipment. This is a special fabric that repels stains, controls odours and reduces static electricity. Whatever the kids spill on the seats, don't worry, as you can wipe anything off without leaving a stain, even ketchup. The fabric doesn't feel much different than the standard cloth fabric in the base Nitro.
Entertainment options include a new MyGIG Multimedia Infotainment System that uses a touch screen or voice commands to control music or images stored on its 20-gigabyte hard drive.
Safety features include standard ABS brakes, all-speed traction control, tire pressure monitoring, multi-stage front airbags and side airbags, and electronic stability control -- the Nitro claims to have more than 25 safety and security features in all.
The Nitro is a comfortable, easy-to-drive SUV that feels tough and durable. Although its aggressive styling likely will appeal to guys, anyone could enjoy driving it.
Bill Roebuck is the Editor of CarTest!
Posted Oct. 2, 2006