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


Review and photos by Chris Chase

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Ottawa, Ontario – I’m always impressed when a car manufacturer attaches a particularly cool or creative name to a new vehicle, especially when so many cars and trucks are being given meaningless made-up handles that inspire little more than frustration in those (namely auto writers) who have to remember them.

A few of my favourite truck names are Nissan’s Pathfinder and Jeep’s Liberty and Wrangler, all monikers that really fit the go-anywhere and tackle-anything nature of the vehicles they belong to. Nitro, on the other hand, sounds like a great name for a truck that emphasizes the “sport” in sport utility vehicle. So wouldn’t it be great if Dodge’s newest SUV did?

An truck based on the aforementioned Jeep Liberty sounds like a good idea, as the Liberty’s a good one. But here’s the problem: with a name like Nitro implying things like fire and explosions and painful burns if you get too close, it’s easy to expect this new Dodge to pack some punch.

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

Powered by the same 3.7-litre V6 used in the Liberty, the Nitro is neither punchy nor explosive. Rather, it’s quite average in terms of acceleration, thanks to the motor’s 210 horsepower. With close to 1,900 kg (about 4,150 pounds) to haul around, the engine has to work pretty hard to get out of the hole quickly, and reserve power for highway passing maneuvers is limited too. The engine gets noisy when pushed, though not too many truck-ish vibrations make it into the cabin. Of course, there’s the R/T model, with its 260 horsepower, 4.0-litre V6, big 20-inch wheels and a “performance” suspension; without having driven the R/T, I get the feeling that’s the version best suited to the Nitro’s name.

Fuel consumption was disappointing: driving about 100 km dropped the gas gauge to an indicated three-quarters of a tank remaining, which seemed normal, until I filled the tank to the tune of 20 litres of gas. That’s nice easy math, but the result – 20 L/100 km – is hard to accept, even in cold winter weather. The Ford Edge I drove the week previous – which weighs about the same as the Nitro but boasts 55 more horsepower from a 3.5-litre engine – used about 15 L/100 km in similar city-driving conditions.

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

Even the GMC Sierra Crew Cab (with a 320-horsepower V8) I picked up after the Nitro used just 17.5 L/100 km in my mostly city driving routine.

At least engine and road noise are nicely muted on the highway, but crosswinds tend to make themselves heard as they search for the path of least resistance over and around the Nitro’s boxy body. That squared-off profile makes the Nitro a handful at high speed on a windy day, too. The Nitro’s throttle and brakes are easy to modulate for smooth driving, and the light, if overboosted, steering and tight turning circle make it an easy vehicle to navigate tight parking lots with. The ride is best described as truck-like, with a suspension setup that makes no attempt to create car-like comportment on the road. You feel every pimple and dimple on the road and hear most of them too.

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

My SXT tester’s almost all-black interior was a little dour, with the only relief being the grey inserts in the seat fabric and a silver shifter surround. Combined with the low-rent feel of the plastics that make up the interior, the atmosphere in here is purely functional, especially considering my tester’s light option load. An SXT 4×4 model, standard features were limited to air conditioning, cruise control, a six-speaker stereo, deep tint glass and floor mats. Add to the SXT’s $27,625 base price another $1,120 for the four-speed automatic transmission (a six-speed manual is the base gearbox) and the MSRP climbs to $28,745 before freight and taxes. The SE and SXT models are the strippers of the Nitro line, with the SLT and R/T getting more standard features.

The Nitro is comfortable enough, but the front seats hit my back the wrong way, especially up near the shoulder blades. Headroom is great front and rear, and outboard back seat passengers get lots of legroom – perhaps more even than those up front, where the transmission tunnel shifts the pedals, and the driver’s feet, way off to the left. A major gripe of mine against many vehicles applies here: there are no grab handles for the front seats. This is a major no-no in any vehicle that requires occupants to climb up to get in. Ergonomically, the only problems are HVAC controls that are mounted far too low on the dashboard to be accessible without having to reach, and the lack of a “dead pedal” left-foot rest for the driver.

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

The Nitro’s cargo area is terrific, though, owing to its upright rear end. There’s lots of space, even if the lift-over height is a little high for easy loading of heavy stuff. While the SLT and R/T models get Dodge’s useful Load’n’Go sliding cargo floor, my SXT and the even more basic SE model make do with a cargo floor panel that can be flipped over; on the backside is a raised perimeter to keep your stuff from sliding around too much.

The simple stereo sounds good, but turning the volume up to any significant level elicits very annoying rattles from the front doors. There were also a couple of minor shakes and rattles that came out when traversing rough roads.

The Nitro is aimed primarily at men, but interestingly, the only bystander who commented on the truck while I had it was a middle-aged woman driving a Chevy Venture. She liked the Nitro’s extroverted styling and said it was nice to see an SUV that looked a little different. I think so too, mostly, though the best thing I can say about the unpainted fender flares and bumpers is that they look like they’d be cheap to replace; the body-coloured fenders that SLT and R/T models get are more attractive to my eye.

There’s nothing wrong with the Nitro that’s likely to turn off shoppers looking for an SUV that’s based on real truck underpinnings. The unique styling is a welcome change from the ordinary; just don’t expect to be blown away by the driving experience.


Pricing: 2007 Dodge Nitro SXT 4WD


Specifications

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Competitors

  • Buyer’s Guide: 2007 Chevrolet Equinox
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2007 Ford Escape
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2007 Jeep Liberty
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2007 Nissan Xterra
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2007 Suzuki Grand Vitara


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