The Dodge Nitro has been in production in the USA for just five model years from 2007 - 2011. It was the first compact sport utility vehicle from Dodge after the 1990 discontinuation of the Raider. Dodge utilized the underpinnings of the second-gen Jeep Liberty but made its ute longer to increase rear passenger room and cargo space. At present, the Nitro faces the same demise as its bygone predecessor as appreciation for the SUV never really kicked off for the Ram badge, with sales slumping in 2009 and only slightly improving thereafter. Dodge's car-based crossover, the Journey, debuted in 2009 and was appraised below the Nitro, rendering it as the more popular pick. As the Nitro's direct competitors, the Ford Escape, GMC Terrain, and the Chevrolet Equinox further depleted its appeal as the superior American ute. So, is there any reason to invest in one?
Though slight in size, the Nitro's rugged and adventurous character still shines through. Its prow houses squared wrap-around halogen headlights divided by a body-color crosshair grille with chrome accents. Above the chrome-clad 20-inch, cast-aluminum wheels are pronounced body-color fender flares and protruding wheel arches augmenting the aggressive look. The Detonator and Shock trims both feature accent-color hood stripes.
In terms of their overall dimensions, the Nitro is lengthier than the second-gen Jeep Liberty in comparison, and it's lifted higher off the ground. It measures 178.9-inches in length, making it two inches lengthier, its wheelbase spans 108.8-inches which is 2.7-inches longer than the Jeeps, too. Height measures in at 70.5-inches and width at 73.1-inches. While the Nitro clears the ground at 8.1-inches, the Liberty clears 7.8. RWD variants weigh in with a curb weight of 3,982 pounds with AWD versions coming in at 4,162-lbs.
There are two powertrain configurations proffered within the latest lineup; the Heat comes equipped with the entry setup as standard - a 3.7-liter SOHC V6 engine with outputs of 210 horsepower and 235 lb-ft of torque. This mill is tethered to a four-speed automatic gearbox and either a rear-wheel 2WD system or optional part-time 4WD system. In the Detonator and Shock is a 4.0-liter SOHC V6 motor with 260 hp and 265 lb-ft which are ceded through a five-speed automatic gearbox also to either a RW- or AW-drivetrain. This setup is available for the Heat and is the recommended option as the added potential improves overall performance notably.
All three trims leave the factory floor equipped with a sport suspension to offset their heft and bulky dimensions, resulting in improved handling in urban conditions. It's there where the Nitro performs best, too, as ride comfort is decent on kept streets and typical speed bumps, undulations, and abrasions are dealt with adequately. It does tend to shudder at top speed and it can feel on the verge of losing stability sometimes. It isn't the most comfortable SUV out there, however, and most of the offerings from the competition provide far better ride quality and composure. 4x4 versions get a part-time transfer case which allows the driver to switch between two-wheel and four-wheel drive when so desired, but it's also not the greatest off-road ute and will only tackle the mildest of conditions adequately.
As with most SUVs, the Nitro's fuel economy showing is as cringe-worthy as your favorite horror spoof film. With the 3.7L unit, four-ratio auto and in 2WD guise, it should return the best mileage figures of 16/22/18 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles. Those numbers drop to 16/21/18 mpg with the larger mill in play in that same guise, losing only one mile per gallon on combined cycles with 4WD. All are outfitted with a 19.5-gallon gas tank, which, when full, should fuel the cruiser for up to around 350 miles.
The standard spec sheet is a little sparse considering how much the Nitro costs. In the base model, there is remote, keyless, and illuminated entry, electronic accessories, air conditioning with air filtration, fold-flat front-passenger seat, and a 60/40 split-fold-flat and reclining rear bench. The media center comprises a CD/MP3-compatible radio with an audio jack and six speakers. A slightly upgraded infotainment setup with nine speakers is thrown in along with a few other specs if the larger mill is opted for. Racine or Pinnacle cloth upholstery can be chosen, both in Dark Slate Gray.
In the Detonator, there's the enhanced entertainment apparatus and an overhead console with a trip computer, temperature, and compass display. Dark Gray Racine fabric is standard fare, and Alias cloth is available in various colors including Red, Orange, Yellow, or Light Slate Gray.
Inside the Shock, the interior boasts an electric sunroof and Dark Slate Gray Caprice Vinyl upholstery. Axis Perforated Royale leather surfaces in the same hue is optional.
A 6.5-inch touchscreen is available for all but the entry variant.
In terms of driver-assist technologies and safety specs, all trims get ESC, ERM, a tire pressure warning lamp, and brake-aid and all-speed traction control. There are only four airbags in total; advanced multistage front airbags and supplemental side-curtain units. All 4.0L-equipped variants also get speed control.
The Dodge Nitro hasn't undergone review by the NHTSA and achieved underwhelming results from the IIHS's reviews. It scored top ratings of Good for the moderate overlap front and roof strength tests, Marginal for the side test, and Acceptable for the head restraints and seats. J.D. Power accorded the newest Nitro vehicle with a low quality and reliability rating of 64 out of 100.
Pricing for the 2011 Dodge Nitro is relatively expensive considering its mediocre performance and how few features it has. The Heat carries a base price of around $22,245, the Detonator follows at an MSRP of $26,245. Finally, the top-tier Dodge Nitro Shock's price exceeds $27,000. Opting in the 4.0L in the starter car and the 4x4 system on any of the variants will cost extra. The US has a lot of well-rounded and capable automobiles on offer in this segment and the Nitro unfortunately doesn't hold up against its rivals in almost any regard. If anything, its 5,000-pound maximum towing capacity should prove useful; otherwise, we'd look elsewhere.