Dodge Nitro Gets Windy City Introduction
A Year After the Concept, Production Nitro Introduced in Chicago
Dodge heads into the 2007MY competing in two new segments with two all-new entries. Along with the just-launched Caliber that we recently drove and reviewed, the Nitro arrives later in the year. Nitro is a traditional, four-door, five-passenger SUV with styling aimed at guys more than women. While the Chrysler Group’s Jeep Liberty, with which the Dodge Nitro shares production space, appeals more to women, the Nitro’s more aggressive attitude is expected to pull in more men. Its official introduction is this week at the 2006 Chicago Auto Show, the same venue that hosted the concept car a year ago.
Among the difficulties with joining a full segment will be getting through the clutter. At least on paper, the Nitro is a strong entry. But the small and mid-size SUV segments include as many as twenty-five entries, depending on definitions, and that means a lot of competition for attention. With its optional 255HP V6, Nitro is near the top in terms of horsepower, and its relationship to Jeep’s Liberty should give it decent off-road capability. Dodge has also given it the ability to tow as much as 5000 pounds, properly equipped. The Nitro also looks to further support Dodge’s performance slant, with an on-road performance-tuned suspension optional for some models.
Nitro: Full of Dodge Personality
Judging from the concept of 2005 and the first pictures, Dodge is again successful in adding to the family with a product styled to fit into the family well. From the crosshair grille back, the Nitro stays true to Dodge’s aggressive style and personality, though some cues from across the SUV market can also be found.
To be offered in three trim levels (standard Nitro, SLT, and R/T), the standard and SLT get the chrome grille, while the R/T gets a body-colored grille. Wraparound jeweled headlights sit just below a clamshell hood. At the rear edges of the front quarter panels are chrome vents, an accent similar to those found larger, luxury SUVs including the Land Rover Range Rover Sport and the new-for-2007MY Cadillac Escalade. Despite the chrome vents and the chrome grille, the Nitro goes without many chrome accents on the exterior, contributing a more purposeful, aggressive SUV look than a pretty one.
The Nitro also has deep body sections and a tall beltline, along the lines of the Hummer H2 and H3. Wheels are pushed to the corners with bold wheel arches; while sixteen-inch wheels are standard, twenty-inch wheels are optional. In the rear, ornamentation is minimal, with beveled taillamps, a lighted license-plate visor, and the Nitro badges.
Family Look to Interior
As Nitro will be offered globally, the instrument cluster is designed for right- or left-hand drive. It also carries a similar theme to that of the Caliber, visible in the upper portions of the center stack and the steering wheel, though it offers a different radio head. The interior makes up for the lack of chrome outside, with brushed silver accents on interior door handles, center console, gear shift, and HVAC controls. SLT and R/T add chrome detail on the steering wheel, instrument cluster, first-row grab handle, and center console.
Storage inside includes a deep center console, door and map pockets, and cupholders in first and second rows. More utility can be found in the fold-flat and reclining front-passenger and second-row seats. The new optional rear Load N’ Go floor slides out eighteen inches and can support 400 hundred pounds and is made of heavy plastic for easy cleaning. A reversible load floor is standard and compact utility table optional.
The standard Nitro can be ordered with vinyl or cloth seats, with leather an option on SLT and R/T models. SLT models get Dodge’s new cloth seats, which they call YES Essentials. This cloth is said to be better at repelling stains, controlling odor, and reducing static electricity. (It is being introduced as an option on the Caliber in summer 2006).
Two Engines, Three Transmissions
The Nitro arrives with reasonable SUV capability as well, including the ability to tow as much as 5000 pounds (when the right option-boxes are checked). Two engines and three transmissions are offered (six-speed manual and four-speed automatic for the 3.7L V6 and five-speed automatic for the 4.0L V6). The five-speed automatic gets a self-shift mode called Electronic Range Select. The independent front and five-link rear suspensions are all new, though a performance-oriented suspension with revised sway bars, springs, shocks, bushings, and twenty-inch tires is optional on the SLT and R/T models.
Among the electronic aids the Nitro offers are standard ABS (with four-wheel disc brakes), Brake Traction Control System, electronic stability control, electronic roll mitigation, and optional side-curtain airbags.