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Dodge Nitro


The recently-tweaked Dodge Nitro seems almost dainty...

Think Dodge as a car brand and your head starts swimming with iconic American muscle cars like the Duster, Viper or Challenger, or Ram pick-ups overloaded with cubic inches and testosterone.

Even with that signature bling-bling, cross-hair grill, standard 20 inch wheels (yes, really), and slab-side styling, the recently-tweaked Dodge Nitro seems almost, well, dainty.

Dodge New Zealand choose not to receive the fuller figured Ram products here, leaving that game up to parallel importers. Instead, the brand has a more unisex appeal in New Zealand, striking accord with both adventure-focussed couples and urbanites that enjoy the Yankee look. But don’t want a car with an obesity problem.

The Nitro fits that bill, just. In terms of size, it sits above the popular compact SUV segment filled with the likes of Honda’s CR-V, and below the bulkier metal like the Toyota Prado. The benefit there is you get a generously-sized wagon that’s still manageable on the road, and the pocket, with its $46,990 starting price.

New for 2010 the Nitro has received a minor makeover of its interior, so the trims have been improved and there are more soft touch surfaces. There’s still work to be done under Chrysler’s new leadership from the Fiat group to enhance the quality of Americana in here. I reckon it’s best in the entry-level SE spec; the cloth is attractive and stain / odour resistant, which might sound gimmicky, but it’s great for those with kids, or pets.

The convenient size and V6 power unit under the bonnet makes the Nitro a strong tow vehicle if that’s your thing. There’s muscle to cope with over 2.2 tonne of braked trailer, or impressively, a 1600kg unbraked load. But it’s not without compromise in the day-to-day in that the engine generates its peak power just 800rpm shy of its redline (151Kw @ 5200 rpm), so the resulting torque is also quite late (314Nm @ 4000 rpm). Under full load the engine’s less refined than modern low torque diesel options, and the vehicle only offers a four-speed automatic transmission, so economy won’t be best in class.

The ratios are well-spaced for a four-speeder, however, similar drive trains in the Chrysler group now receive six-speed autos. This bodes well for the Nitro and it could be worth waiting till current four-speed stock has been shifted.

One of the pitfalls of American vehicles is their suspension is often too vague for our twisty roads, and despite some sporty springs, this remains true here. It does all work better in this than the Nitro’s Jeep-branded brother, the Cherokee, which also utilises this chassis, but you have to expect some roll through corners. Pretty standard stuff for a ladder chassis vehicle and, as per US regulatory guidelines, the Nitro has an intelligent anti-roll mitigation system that works in conjunction with its standard electronic stability control program.

Key to the Nitro’s appeal, aside from some unmistakable styling, is the value for money proposition. First and foremost, you get the benefit of an excellent part-time all wheel drive system, a sturdy, rugged chassis that won’t fall apart if you are a bit rough with it. All stuff you don’t usually expect in something this size. And it commands attention on a styling front. Want more? Well, there’s plenty of handy features going like rear parking assistance, a tyre pressure warning, MP3 compatible audio and cruise control.

Despite targeting the urbanite with chrome bits and huge wheels, I see the Nitro as something to facilitate an active outdoors lifestyle. It’s not the most refined SUV going, but Dodge don’t make any apologies for that. Maybe it’s not that dainty after all.

See the Dodge Nitro for sale.

Auto Trader New Zealand