2007 Dodge Nitro SLT
2007 Dodge Nitro SLT. Click image to enlarge


Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

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Photo Gallery: 2007 Dodge Nitro

Second opinion by Paul Williams

When the Dodge Nitro was first introduced, the company held a “sneak preview” for the press. After we got a chance to look at it, a company representative went to the microphone and told us that while the new SUV shared some components with the Jeep Liberty, it wasn’t going to be “a chick car like the Jeep is.”

You could see the execs turn white as we all scribbled that down, and I haven’t seen that particular fellow up at a microphone since. But that moment of candor sums up the company’s marketing strategy for the Nitro: just as GM stated that you can’t sell an “old man’s car” to a young buyer, Dodge knows that selling a “feminine” car to young masculine buyers isn’t always all that easy. And so while the company doesn’t mind selling a whack of Libertys to women, it wants to hedge its bets by aiming its Nitro at men, and picking up some female buyers along the way.

2007 Dodge Nitro SLT
2007 Dodge Nitro SLT. Click image to enlarge

Even so, don’t consider the Nitro to be just a Liberty with testosterone styling. While they’re built alongside each other and share a similar front suspension, the Nitro has a longer wheelbase and its own rear suspension. R/T models receive a 4.0-litre V6 with 255 horsepower, but other models – including my mid-level SLT tester – use a 3.7-litre V6 with 210 hp. (Alas, a 2.8-litre diesel remains strictly for European markets.) Don’t feel cheated by the smaller V6, though; it’s a peppy little engine, even in this relatively heavy trucklet, and it returned 13.6 L/100 km for me in combined driving. It also has a great growl – dare I say it’s masculine? – when you step on the gas. While the base SE and SXT come with a six-speed manual, my SLT came only with a four-speed automatic, thankfully missing the pointless gimmick of a manual shift feature.

2007 Dodge Nitro SLT
2007 Dodge Nitro SLT. Click image to enlarge

The company says that the SLT, like the R/T, will eventually have full-time four-wheel drive, but it will be added later in the model year; my tester had a part-time transfer case that’s also used in the SE and SXT. Unlike the full-time system, which runs in a 48/52 front/rear torque split at all speeds, the part-time system should only be engaged in 4×4 on loose or slippery surfaces, and kept in rear-wheel mode for all other driving. When the model was launched, I had the opportunity to take it on relatively light off-road trails in the desert and it handled what was asked of it, including sand and rough gravel trails; it’s not a rock crawler like the Wrangler is, but it’s a good combination of on-road manners with the ability to take you over heavily-rutted cottage trails or out in the “back forty” when necessary.

The ride is very firm – there’s a price to be paid for its off-road ability – and it’s choppy, but not as much as with the shorter-wheelbase Liberty. It tracks very well on the highway, with no need for numerous corrections, and it has a very tight turning radius, making it simple to park. Coil springs handle the duties at all four corners; the independent front suspension is matched with an all-new solid five-link rear. The brake pedal feels too soft for my liking, but it brings the Nitro to a straight, firm stop nevertheless.

2007 Dodge Nitro SLT
2007 Dodge Nitro SLT. Click image to enlarge

For some time now, Dodge’s stylists have gone with the “love it or hate it” school of design, and the Nitro is definitely a graduate. I’m quite taken with its chunky appearance, especially on my black tester where the chrome grille and side vents gave it a bit of flair; the only thing it needs is chrome door handles to give the slab sides more definition, instead of the black plastic ones it borrows from the Wrangler. The R/T’s 20-inch wheels make the Nitro look even better, but I’d prefer to stick with the SLT’s 17-inch versions, which give a more comfortable ride and are much less expensive to replace.

2007 Dodge Nitro SLT
2007 Dodge Nitro SLT
2007 Dodge Nitro SLT
2007 Dodge Nitro SLT. Click image to enlarge

Inside, the Nitro’s fit and finish is generally good, save for some plastic flashing that hadn’t been smoothed off the dash. The chairs are comfortable and set high, and the reclining second-row seats provide plenty of leg- and headroom, even with the front seat slid all the way back, although a fold-down centre armrest would be a welcome addition. As with the Liberty, though, the Nitro’s relatively narrow footprint and wide centre console translate into front footwells that are long enough for stretching out, but claustrophobic from side to side.

My tester was optioned with leather seats, but there’s no way I’d order them, not when the model normally comes with YES Essentials upholstery. This revolutionary fabric, exclusive to DaimlerChrysler for the next few years, resists stains, doesn’t hold odours, and has anti-static properties. I watched a demonstration where a Dodge representative ground ketchup and mustard into the seats, and it was still easy to scrub it clean. To me, leather seats are always too hot, too cold or too slippery, and their sole benefit of not absorbing spills is now a moot point with the introduction of the new fabric.

2007 Dodge Nitro SLT
2007 Dodge Nitro SLT. Click image to enlarge

I have some quibbles with the Nitro: the vent handles are too small and fiddly, and aren’t easily moved around, especially when you’re wearing gloves; and while the centre console storage box is nice and deep, it has a shallow removable storage tray on top. Removing it and setting it on the seat is a step too many, and should be replaced with a double-lidded box for instant access. The heater controls are big, simple dials, but they’re a bit too low on the centre stack. This is supposed to be a rough-and-ready man’s-man truck, but among its rivals, both the Toyota FJ Cruiser and the Hummer H3 are miles ahead in chunky, easy-to-grasp controls.

Where the Nitro does shine is in its cargo abilities. The SLT comes with Dodge’s new and brilliant “Load ‘n Go” system. Open the hatch, squeeze a handle, and the cargo floor pulls out a maximum of 46 cm (18 inches); release the handle, and it locks into several positions along the way. The panel will hold up to 181 kg (400 lbs) and has six tie-downs built into it. With the floor pulled out, you don’t have to strain your back reaching in with a load, and your pant legs don’t brush up against a dirty bumper. It can even double as a bench seat, such as when you’re putting on boots or skis; a pocket under the floor lets you store items such as a laptop, away from prying eyes.

2007 Dodge Nitro SLT
2007 Dodge Nitro SLT
2007 Dodge Nitro SLT. Click image to enlarge

The rear 65/35 seats fold flat, without removing the head restraints, opening the cargo area from a length of 87 cm (34 in.) (with the load floor inside the vehicle) to a length of 170 cm (67 in.). Drop the fold-flat front passenger seat – included on every trim line – and you can slide in cargo to a length of 263 cm (103.5 in.) which will easily let you bring home a stack of 8-foot lumber.

There’s no question: despite a few flaws, I could definitely live with the Nitro. In the Dodge line-up, it’s roomier than the Caliber, but it’s more manageable and gets considerably improved fuel economy over the Durango. It feels more substantial than the Liberty, looks better, and is much easier to load. It may not be a chick car, but this chick likes it.


Second Opinion: Dodge Nitro SLT

The SLT Nitro with leather trim, sunroof and upgraded audio lifts the price of the Nitro to $34,065. But the interior is considerably brightened compared with the SE, with the inclusion of the two-tone leather surfaces and two-tone panels in the doors. The sunroof also livens up the cabin. However, it’s been a while since I’ve encountered a vehicle with so many issues.

For me, the lack of telescoping steering column made it very difficult to establish a comfortable and safe driving position. Either one’s arms are stretched out, or the seat is too close to the steering wheel. The lack of a dead pedal causes your left foot to dangle in the narrow footwell. The low roof makes it easy to bang your head getting in. The rear speaker in our SLT vibrated, even though the sound was not loud. The gearshift lever is too far away, and the 4WD Lock option is not recommended for highway or around-town driving, which, for all intents and purposes, makes the Nitro a rear-wheel drive vehicle in normal driving (full-time AWD comes standard with the R/T, along with a 4.0L engine, and is optional on the SLT).

The brakes grabbed at slow speeds causing a creaking sound, and the transmission clonked, also at low speeds. The 3.7L V6 is noisy under acceleration and seems at its limit in the 1,887 kilogram (4,151 pounds) Nitro. Handling is truck-like, and fuel economy poor (I achieved 12.0 L/100 km on the highway at a steady 110 km/h. Transport Canada rates the Nitro’s highway mileage at 9.5 L/100km, so that’s a big difference). The Nitro is neither sporty nor seriously off-road capable.

On the positive side, after 14,000 km, our test Nitro had no rattles. Its big, 74L gas tank gives you decent range, despite the high fuel consumption. Visibility is good, all round, and the big outside rearview mirrors are excellent. The standard stability control and traction control contribute to a stable driving experience, and were put to the test in some very poor road conditions on our highway run. Cargo area is good and the rear seats fold flat; you can fit a lot in a Nitro although reaching over the big rear bumper can be difficult without the Load ‘n Go sliding tray. But overall, this vehicle doesn’t seem ready for prime time.


Pricing

  • Base price: $29,890
  • Options: $3,050 (Leather-trimmed seats, $765; power sunroof, $1,050; security alarm, $185; six-disc DVD MP3 radio, $455; eight amplified speakers plus subwoofer, $420; full-size spare tire, $175)
  • Freight: $1,200
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Price as tested: $34,240 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives


Specifications

  • Click here for complete specifications


Crash test results


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