Ticked off with apologetic 4x4s? The Nitro is Dodge’s in your face response. Andy Enright Reports
There is a school of thought that will find the Dodge Nitro utterly abhorrent. These are the people who froth at the mouth at gas-guzzling 4x4s, who will see the Nitro’s ostentatious looks and obviously road-going chassis and instantly bemoan the fact that this vehicle represents all that’s wrong with motoring today. Reactionary local authorities may take a similar tack but rest assured – the Nitro makes a good deal more sense than its arriviste looks would suggest.
It’s based on the Jeep Liberty chassis and recent ‘dust to dust’ reports commissioned by CNW Marketing Research of Oregon studied the environmental impact of vehicles from building through scrapping, and found that the Liberty was in the 8th slot . In case you’re wondering, Maybach came in dead last, in company with the Volkswagen Phaeton, Rolls-Royce Phantom, Bentley Arnage, and a trio of Audis. The Toyota Prius ranked number 74 in the 96 cars studied in the report, so you’ll not have too much to worry about next time a Prius driver gives the Nitro a supercilious once-over.
True, the entry level petrol engine is a 3.7-litre V6 that is cripplingly thirsty when you flex your right ankle a bit, but there’s also a very modern 2.8-litre diesel that will be of far more interest to UK buyers. As indeed will be the price of the Nitro. Most would figure that the Nitro would go head to head pricewise with something like a Nissan Murano but they’d be forgetting Dodge’s commitment to sell its cars at prices that read like a misprint. Whereas you could expect to pay around £30,000 for a Murano, the Nitro starts at less than £20,000. Suddenly you’re faced with a vehicle that younger buyers will be looking to trade up to from their Ford Focus. It’s easy to see how the Nitro could shift some big numbers. The other similarly priced vehicles in its class, cars like the Hyundai Santa Fe and the Kia Sorento, have nothing like the Dodge’s street cred.
Just look at the thing. It’s absolutely dripping in attitude, with vents, big flared wheel arches, chromed alloys on the 3.7-litre model, huge door handles that look like the pulls on an industrial freezer, an aggressive high waist with a glasshouse that looks like a gun turret and a front grille that looks as if it’s about to suck in inquisitive children. The split-effect front headlamps are an interesting design touch, as is the big cross detailed Dodge family front end. There’s also possibly the biggest moulded plastic bumper section I think I’ve ever seen, the replacement cost of which doesn’t bear thinking about. Still, were I in my early twenties once again, this is a car that I’d be figuring out how to afford.
"The Nitro is going to score big with its young urban target market"
How does it drive? Who cares? You buy this thing for its looks and its attitude. Sit inside and you’ll feel rather perched atop the thing, the hip point of the Nitro being fairly high. Move away and you’ll feel the weight of vehicle right from the outset. Whilst the 1,888kg kerb weight is enough to steamroller a lot of smaller imperfections in the road and the chassis feels pleasantly rigid, there’s a slight ponderous feel to the front end. Really try to drive through that feeling and the Nitro tracks surprisingly flat and true, thanks in no small part to its thoroughly tarmac-biased independent suspension, plus squat and dive under hard acceleration and braking is also effectively quelled.
The lack of a dead pedal when driving the Nitro in earnest can become a factor. So are the rather chunky windscreen pillars that will have you leaning out of and consequently losing support from your seat right when you need it most, in tight corners or when negotiating roundabouts. The 210bhp 3.7-litre engine isn’t as effective as its rather macho power output suggests. It’s marshalled by a four-speed automatic with a very high top ratio, meaning that for most of your driving you’ll be being shuttled between the remaining three gears. This can make the engine feel rather strained at times and constantly reminds you how much unleaded it’s throwing down its neck. Again that weight is an issue: the 3.7-litre Nitro’s power to weight ratio easily bettered by a vehicle like a 1.6-litre Citroën C2 VTS. Still, this isn’t a vehicle that you’ll buy for its all-out performance.
It’s probably not even a car you’ll buy for its excellent practicality, although getting four of your mates on board in comfort is an asset. What matters for target customers are looks, affordability, a decent stereo system and the fact that not every car park Joe will have one. The Nitro certainly scores on the first three although it may well become a victim of its own success. There’s definitely plenty of scope for pimping your ride too, with plenty of available space for fitting additional subs, amps and LCD screens.
The standard fascia is a little bit American insofar as it does the bare essentials without too much pretence of being built from the sturdiest materials but it’s functional and only the very base SE model looks rather dull. Move on up to the SXT and R/T models and the dash is finished in a metallic plastic that lifts the cabin. The main instruments are clearly presented and are shaded by a trio of cowls and although the steering wheel adjusts for rake, it’s lacking a telescopic column for reach adjustment. Taller or long-legged drivers may find a lack of seat travel an issue and headroom isn’t as generous as you might at first think. That high seating position has a lot to answer for. Rear seat occupants will find little to grouse about and there are some quite smart stowage solutions in the luggage bay.
The Nitro might not be everyone’s cup of tea but it’s easy to see it landing right in the middle of its potentially lucrative target market. If it’s hard to imagine what that would be, transport yourself to a time when you were 18, just starting University and imagine how you’d feel rolling up to the fresher’s ball in this Dodge rather than arriving in a stinking Primera minicab. This could be a genuine hit and really establish the Dodge brand in the UK.