NEW FOR 2009:

– Manual transmission discontinued
– SE adds body-colour fascias and fender flares, floor mats and rear dome lamp
– SXT adds standard Stain Repel fabric and available UConnect hands-free connectivity
– SLT adds standard leather upholstery and optional Stain Repel fabric
– Tip-start standard on all models
– Exterior colours: Deep Water Blue and TorRed added; Electric Blue and Modern Blue discontinued

For 2009, the Dodge Nitro is relatively unchanged, save for some extra features. The major difference is the retirement of the six-speed manual transmission; all Nitro models now use automatics.

The Nitro comes with a choice of two engines: a 3.7-litre V6 with four-speed automatic in the SE, SXT and SLT, and a 4.0-litre V6 with five-speed automatic in the R/T. The SE and SXT are front-wheel drive but can be optioned to part-time four-wheel drive, while the SLT and R/T are four-wheel only.

Features on the SE include 16-inch steel wheels, air conditioning, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, power locks with keyless entry, floor mats, fog lamps, power mirrors, CD/MP3 stereo with auxiliary input, Sirius satellite radio, roof rack side rails, cloth seats, fold-flat front passenger seat, 65/35 split-folding rear seat, tilt column, tire pressure monitoring lamp, power windows with driver’s auto-down, variable intermittent wipers, and intermittent rear washer/wiper.

The SXT adds 16-inch alloy wheels, outside temperature gauge, deep-tint sunscreen glass, cruise control, 115-volt outlet, and illuminated vanity mirrors.

The SLT adds 17-inch alloy wheels, overhead console, electronic vehicle information centre, garage door opener, two-tone instrument panel, auto-dimming rearview mirror, Load ‘n Go rear sliding cargo floor with tie-down rails, heated leather-faced seats, six-way power driver’s seat, leather-wrapped wheel with audio controls, tire pressure monitoring display, and auto up/down driver’s window.

The R/T adds 20-inch chrome-clad wheels, 3.55:1 axle ratio, body-colour rocker sills, two-tone cloth seats with coloured inserts and R/T stitching, and performance suspension.

A sister vehicle to the redesigned Jeep Liberty, and sized under the Durango, the Nitro has a firm ride on the street that translates into more off-road capability than is normally found in most vehicles this size. The 3.7-litre benefitted from the now-discontinued manual transmission and can be wheezy when pushed hard, while the 4.0-litre is a fun ride.

A downside to the Nitro is its relatively narrow width which, when combined with its wide console, can hem in larger front-row passengers; the rear seat technically holds three people, but not comfortably. Brimming with cargo space, the Nitro’s upper lines contain the ingenious Load ‘n Go floor, a pull-out cargo bed that extends 46 cm (18 inches) and holds up to 181 kg (400 lbs). You can load heavy objects without breaking your back, fill the cargo area without brushing your legs against a dirty bumper, or even use it for a seat when changing into boots in the great outdoors. A shallow bin under it keeps small items, such as a laptop computer, safe from prying eyes.

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