Dodge Nitro? Sounds pretty explosive. What’s it all about?
It’s a Land Rover Freelander-sized SUV designed to appeal to the macho man that Chrysler believe is lurking in every buyer. So it’s a pretty appropriate name. The Nitro’s a good looking motor in the metal too. It’s got terrific presence with that big flat front; a bit like a Discovery 3 that’s been through a boil wash, even down to the clamshell bonnet and vents on the front wings. So things start very promisingly.
I sense there’s a ‘but’ coming along…
Be patient, there’s more good stuff. The Dodge is being aimed at buyers on a budget so prices will start at less than 20 big ones. That puts it firmly in Korean territory and it’s being pitched at motors such as the Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento. Like those cars it’ll come with plenty of standard kit such as air-conditioning, ABS, ESP and electric windows all round. And they’ve come up with a clever Load ’N Go boot floor that slides out so you don’t have to lean into the car with heavy objects. Top models will even get a 20 Gigabyte hard drive for storing music and photos.
Photos? Why would you want to store those in your car?
Lord knows. But Dodge bosses seem very chuffed with the idea, probably because no one else has thought of it. And it’s a handy way of diverting attention from the interior plastics which are very Korean in their quality – or rather lack of it. The base spec SE model is lined with swathes of the stuff. The mid-level SXT and top-spec R/T versions get buffed silver trim which lifts things a touch. But despite these woes, there are other irritations such as a dash that comes down so low the front seat passenger can’t stretch their legs out without resting their shins on the glove box.
That doesn’t sound ideal. What’s it like for drivers?
You sit very high in the Nitro so it feels like you’re on the car rather than in it. The dash is cleanly laid out and the three binnacles for the main dials look good. The steering wheel adjusts for rake but not reach and the pedals are offset too so the driving position isn’t terribly adjustable although averagely comfy. Because the front chairs don’t slide back very far, there’s a reasonable amount of room in the three rear seats. A six-footer can sit behind another six-footer in comfort although they wouldn’t want to cross continents.
Speaking of which, what’s it got under the bonnet?
Don’t you mean hood? This motor is as all-American as waffles and syrup. So the ‘entry’ model gets a stonking great 3.7-litre V6 motor. And it needs it too. The Nitro tips the scales at a porcine 1888kg. So despite that 210bhp it feels a bit gutless. The four-speed auto box doesn’t help. Fourth gear is effectively an overdrive so with the other three ratios widely spaced, changes are jerky and they make the engine sound thrashy.
What, no manual?
Not on that petrol model. Thankfully 95 per cent of the Nitros sold in the UK will feature a 2.8-litre V6 diesel, but we haven’t driven that yet. It’s a new engine and will have a choice between a five-speed auto gearbox and six-speed manual. With plenty of torque it’ll probably suit the character of the car and be much more in line with pricey British fuel.
The Nitro gets some things very right and others very wrong. The basic premise of a decent looking motor with a butch image for a very competitive price is spot on. It’s reasonably comfy to cover miles in with a decent ride and an impressive lack of road and wind noise. But it’ll never get the juices flowing for keen drivers. The steering doesn’t have much of a relationship with the front wheels and a high seating position means you never feel at one with the car.