2008 Dodge Nitro R/T 4x4: Exploding onto the mid-size SUV scene
By Mike Blake, Carlisle Events
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
Nitro is an explosive (nitroglycerin). It is also a rollercoaster at Six Flags, New Jersey that is 230 feet high, 5394 feet long and travels at 80mph …diving 215 feet. It is billed as “the most explosive coaster on the planet.”
So when Dodge chose to name its first mid-size SUV Nitro in 2007, it had to present a bold, aggressive, hearty vehicle with explosive performance to match.
Well, its features are certainly attractive enough to succeed on that line, but its power falls just short of its goal to provide dynamite-like potency for a 4350-lb. sports-ute.
Assembled in Toledo, Ohio, Nitro is Jeeplike in its stature, and rightly so, as it is based on the Jeep Liberty, and is the first non-Jeep to share a Jeep platform. Nitro was designed with a rugged squareness that laughs in the face of today’s more-rounded architecture. Its brawny, assertive theme includes exciting colors, chromed fender vents, high beltline and forceful crosshair grille with the Dodge Ram-head logo in the bull’s eye. Rectangular headlamps, clamshell hood and flattened windshield give Nitro an intimidating frontal look, while lots of chrome, boxed rear and muscular wheel arches promote a “this-ute-can-go-anywhere” attitude. This look is enhanced with the optional upgrade (as my test vehicle had) to 20-inch chrome clad aluminum wheels.
Under the hood, Nitro looks for explosiveness from a 260-hp 4.0-liter V-6 engine that muscles out 265 lbs.-ft. of torque. The system provides good pop, but not the explosive thunder the name would imply. A broad, flat torque curve offered generous acceleration in all ranges, but it always felt as though the engine was laboring. On the track, I was able to coax several zero to 60mph runs in 8-seconds flat, and quarter-mile times of a flick under 16.
Mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission, the set-up is EPA rated at 15/city and 20/highway. My test Nitro drank an average of 18.5mpg while driving lots more Interstate miles than town miles. On a test that took me from the southwest corner of Central Pennsylvania to the quaint Little League hamlet of Williamsport and the home of Pennsylvania Technical College, highway fuel consumption topped 22mpg.
In 2WD mode, the Nitro wavers over road contours and at high speed, I found some front-end lift. A forgiving suspension makes for a smooth ride for driver and passengers and while the vehicle exhibited some oversteer and slow-responding corrections in quick-turn maneuvers, Nitro’s stability control puts the sports-ute back on track quickly and confidently. In 4x4 mode, there was enough thrust to take on mud holes, uneven terrain and off-road obstacles in good Jeep fashion.
Inside, the Nitro is less than explosive. Dodge says that Nitro is marketed to 35 to 45 year olds with a household income of $60,000 and it might have cut down on some luxury items the older crowd might have demanded or the younger set might have needed for a truly trick whip.
Cabin seating in the basic $24,665 vehicle is for five in a very Jeeplike atmosphere. The interior is a bit pedestrian, with lower-end plastic, ersatz aluminum and uninspired seating. But my test Nitro came with $5,000 worth of interior upgrades. My cabin was turned into a rolling comfort zone with the MyGig™ multimedia infotainment system with navigation: real-time traffic data update, rear-seat DVD entertainment system, AM/FM/CD/DVD/MP3 audio with eight premium speakers and a subwoofer, remote start, ParkSense™ rear park assist system and UConnect™ hands-free communication; the customer preferred package: cloth seats with color R/T logo, deluxe door panels and performance suspension; a power sunroof and the red seat insert that plays off the premium exterior paint job in striking Inferno Red Crystal Pearl Coat.
Standard cabin items include air conditioning, steering wheel mounted audio controls, power 6-way driver seat, power windows, overhead console, electronic vehicle information center and the Load ’N Go™ slide out cargo floor that moves 18 inches rearward for easy loading and unloading and holds up to 400 pounds.
The rear window could have used a wiper system, and heated seats might have been nice … but there is a real Jeep feel to the Nitro, even with the upgrades, and for the segment it seeks, that should serve Nitro well.
Those add-ons helped push the final sticker on my test Nitro to $32,240, which is a very competitive price in its niche.
Nitro’s safety capabilities are verified as the Nitro achieved 5-star frontal crash ratings for driver and passenger as tested by the NHTSA, as well as 5 stars in side crash examinations for the front and rear seats. Rollover tests managed a 3-star rating. Antilock disc brakes, traction control, stability control and full-length side curtain airbags are standard and the R/T also comes with stability control system and a trailer sway control feature.
The 2008 Dodge Nitro is an explosive choice in the mid-size SUV scene, and is priced to compete.
Visit www.CarlisleEvents.com for more on the automotive hobby.
Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.
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