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Intrepidation

Full Test: 2007 Dodge Nitro

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Intrepidation    846

Edmunds Full Test

Dude! Dodge is making that?"

"Huh?"

"That thing you're driving. It's a Dodge?"

"Yup. A Nitro."

And so it goes with the 2007 Dodge Nitro, which, in R/T trim, is perhaps the most striking midsize SUV sold today. We drove Dodge's latest creation from L.A. to Vegas and back and fielded more questions, confused gawks and outright stares than the last Lamborghini we drove home. People in L.A. and Vegas know Lambos, but they've never seen anything quite like Dodge's stubby, flared-fender, fat-tired creation.

It's the proportions that get the attention and, ultimately, make the look work. The high waistline with huge wheels and a wide stance covered by aggressive flares are impossible to ignore — even if you don't like SUVs. The monochromatic paint doesn't hurt either. And don't forget about the fake vent on the Nitro's front-quarter panels, which looks disturbingly similar to the vent on the Land Rover Range Rover Sport. R/T models get a body-color grille, fenders and trim, which further hammer home the in-your-face theme.

But it takes more than a pretty (in your) face to compete in this increasingly popular segment. Here, you've got to be all things to all people: stylish, cost-effective, efficient and practical — big enough to haul the family and its accessories and small enough to not punch a truck-size hole in the wind. Sometimes you'll need all-wheel drive, sometimes you won't, so you better have both. Whatever you do, don't drive like a truck or be small like a car.

Crossover or SUV?

The Nitro's segment-defying looks make it difficult to place in any one category, so here are some facts that help: The Nitro shares most of its underpinnings — unibody construction, basic front and rear suspension — with the Jeep Liberty. Its 108.8-inch wheelbase is 4.4 inches longer than the Liberty, but only a half-inch longer than the Mazda CX-7.

Unlike many contenders in this class, the Nitro is decidedly not car-based. Its live-axle rear suspension and the North/South orientation of its powertrain point more toward SUV-based roots than most of its car-based competition. Its large engines, too, are more reminiscent of SUV heritage.

The Nitro is available with a choice of two engines — a 3.7-liter V6 rated at 210 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque and a 4.0-liter V6 rated at 260 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque. Three transmission options are offered depending on trim level. A six-speed manual is standard on 3.7-liter SXT 4x2 and 4x4 models. A four-speed automatic is optional on SXT models and standard on SLT models. A five-speed automatic is available only on 4.0-liter R/T versions. All four-speed-equipped 4x4 models have full-time four-wheel drive.

Our tester was a 4x2 R/T model. The $2,675 R/T package adds the larger 260-hp V6, five-speed automatic transmission, 3.55:1 axle ratio, 20-inch chrome wheels with Goodyear all-season tires, a recalibrated "performance" suspension, Sirius Satellite Radio, various body trim enhancements and R/T logos on the seats.

Clearly, Dodge is aiming to steal potential Acura RDX, Hyundai Santa Fe, Mazda CX-7, Nissan Murano and Toyota RAV4 buyers with the Nitro. And it might just happen on looks alone.

And then we drove it

We say looks will be the Nitro's primary selling point because it isn't the best driving vehicle in the segment. Its suspension, especially its front suspension, is underdamped, which allows excessive body motion over bumps and freeway undulations. Its steering is slow and doesn't offer much feedback. Basically, it's fairly obvious from behind the wheel that the Nitro, fundamentally, is a Jeep — so it's logical that it's not a sharp-steering, precise-responding machine.

If you find the patience to rev it all the way to redline, the 4.0-liter V6 feels and sounds like it's ready to chew its way straight through the hood. There's ample motivation, though. It makes some noise, but it never felt underpowered.

Still, we'd guess that many buyers will be willing to overlook the Nitro's less-than-stellar road manners in exchange for its striking looks. Plus, on numbers alone, it holds its own in acceleration testing. Our tester hit 60 mph in 7.7 seconds — quicker than the last Mazda CX-7 we tested, but not quite as quick as Toyota's RAV4. The same result held true through the quarter-mile, with the Nitro breaking the traps in 15.9 seconds at 86 mph. The CX-7 was 0.3 second slower, while the RAV4 was 0.7 second quicker.

Handling, as discussed, isn't a Nitro strong point. Timid suspension tuning aside, the Nitro's aggressive stability control system reins it in heavily through the slalom and around the skid pad. We found ourselves fighting the electronic limits far before the Nitro's chassis had given up hope. In fact, its electronic limits are so low that even the conservatively tuned RAV4, which is also electronically limited, bested it in both our handling tests.

The Dodge pulled an embarrassing 0.66g around the skid pad and punched through the slalom cones at a staggeringly slow 58.7 mph — slower than any vehicle we've tested in the segment despite putting the most rubber on the road (245/50R20 all-season tires). For comparison, the RAV4 circled the skid pad at 0.75g and nudged its way through the slalom at 61.4 mph.

Braking, by the numbers, is a Nitro strong point. It stopped from 60 mph in 122 feet — shorter than either the RAV4 or CX-7. Its middle pedal felt good initially, but after four stops we did notice it soften marginally. Braking distances increased by a few feet as heat took its toll.

Practical interior

We were impressed with the usability of the Nitro's interior. Its radio and heating/ventilation controls are all logical and easy to use, with large knobs, which we prefer over buttons. There's an MP3 input exactly where it belongs — on the front of the stereo on our tester. Dodge's new MyGIG multimedia system is optional on the Nitro. MyGIG is a navigation, audio, entertainment and communication system with a built-in 20-gigabyte hard drive to store music and photos, which starts at $1,545.

Instrumentation is arranged logically in three binnacles, with the speedometer in the center, tachometer on the right and fuel and temperature gauges on the left. Other controls, specifically the emergency brake handle, don't feel designed for human use — it's too thin, like grabbing a knife handle. The rest of the interior materials, especially the hard plastic on the dash and in the cargo area, is abundant and looks a little cheap. There are, however, plenty of small bins and storage areas that will accommodate today's gadget enthusiasts.

The Nitro's front seats are comfortable (read: soft) and provide an upright driving position (which we like), but feel a little bit like they're inflatable until you adjust to sitting on them rather than in them. Rear-seat legroom is sufficient for adults.

Perhaps the Nitro's strongest interior feature is its cargo-space versatility. Its 60/40-split rear seat folds flat, as does the front-passenger seat, providing significant space for long items. There's a sliding cargo tray behind the rear seat that extends over the rear bumper and can accommodate 400 pounds. We found the tray only semi-useful, however. Its versatility could be greatly increased with the ability to slide out another 10 inches — even if that cut its capacity in half.

Get yours now

Base Nitros start at a low $19,885 when they go on sale this month. R/T models will be available by the end of the year. Load up a two-wheel-drive Nitro with the R/T package, power sunroof, UConnect hands-free communication system, towing package, AM/FM six-disc CD/DVD/MP3 stereo, eight-speaker audio option and full-size spare tire and you're looking at a $29,570 price tag (including the $660 destination charge). That's $575 less than a loaded Mazda CX-7 that comes with all-wheel drive and handles more like a car than a truck.

Still, the Mazda doesn't have the Nitro's undeniable road presence. The Dodge will get more looks. And sometimes that's all it takes to make any car or truck walk off dealer lots.

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Intrepidation    846

So, they like the looks, the power, and the practicallity of its interior...but not the materials and the driving dynamics. No surprise on either count...it's based of the Liberty after all.

Still, it's a pretty fair review and has it's positive points...and they are probably right in that people may flock to this thing on looks alone, and as long as they don't go tearing up the twisties, they should be fine.

I love it in silver.

Edited by Dodgefan

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FAPTurbo    1,079

Well, whoever buys this expecting to tear up the twisties is an R-Tard.

This is an SUV that isn't trying to really be something else. It really is a Sport Utility Vehicle... it'll haul cargo, ass and get a few looks as well.

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Cory Wolfe    263

I sat in a Nitro just yesterday. The same old boxy design with the same old cheap plastics, both of which you can see in just about every goddamn DCX product. The exterior design is nice other than the headlights and grill... Though, its also applies to the 'same old' thing DCX rocks. There's really not much originality with this Nitro. It's alot of the same old, same old... I did notice it had a 6spd manual, which is nice. Could be a sweet SUV if it weren't the lack of originality, ugly front fascia, and cheap interior. *sigh* DCX will never learn.

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lakefire    0

I sat in a Nitro just yesterday. The same old boxy design with the same old cheap plastics, both of which you can see in just about every goddamn DCX product. The exterior design is nice other than the headlights and grill... Though, its also applies to the 'same old' thing DCX rocks. There's really not much originality with this Nitro. It's alot of the same old, same old... I did notice it had a 6spd manual, which is nice. Could be a sweet SUV if it weren't the lack of originality, ugly front fascia, and cheap interior. *sigh*  DCX will never learn.

210723[/snapback]

that's why the 300c and charger did so poorly right?

Edited by lakefire

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Flybrian    0

Edmunds tends to have two metalities for handling - M3 or LeSabre, in that if it doesn't handle like an M3 (or close to it), it must handle like a '79 LeSabre. They seem to apply this standard across the board to trucks, minivans, and luxury sedans as if everyone wants a vehicle that rides on rails.

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sciguy_0504    0

I think Dodge could have changed some of the suspension settings from the Liberty. It may be a traditional SUV built on a truck frame but I think the exterior leads people to believe it will be at least a somewhat sporty drive.

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Intrepidation    846

I think Dodge could have changed some of the suspension settings from the Liberty.  It may be a traditional SUV built on a truck frame but I think the exterior leads people to believe it will be at least a somewhat sporty drive.

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Something that square looks spsorty to you? It may look more road worthy than a Jeep, but it's easy to tell a CX-7 is more sport based on looks alone.

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Northstar    11

I've warmed up to most of the exterior except for the front end, which I can't decide if I like i or not. The interior is very mediocre and from what I've read the materials are cheap.

Oh, and about the LX cars - without the Hemi, I predict they would have flopped. 1/2 of the sales are Hemis, and we know very few of them would have gone to fleet, and 1/4 of sales are to fleets, so that means only about 1/4 of sales are retail V6 sales, or no more than 3000 per month. Is that really that much of a success? Those numbers tell me the only real reason it sold was because of the Hemi, not because of the interior.

Now, maybe some people still would have bought them if they didn't have to Hemi, but I think a lot of sales would have been lost.

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Flybrian    0

Without a V8, the LX cars would've seen similar (if not slightly smaller) cumulative numbers as the original and 2nd-gen LH- cars, which (IMO) were far better-engineered cars relative to their time.

If the 300 had the same thought and care put into it as the '93 Concorde, New Yorker, and LHS did rather than just HEMIGRILLEHEMIRWDHEMI, it would be likely the best car on the market today. For example, a 4-speaker stereo system on any non-PT Chrysler product is unacceptable.

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Drew Dowdell    4,993

that's why the 300c and charger did so poorly right?

210745[/snapback]

I can see it now... a headline that says "Chrysler admits to lots full of unsold inventory yet not an LX car in sight"

Edited by Oldsmoboi

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Drew Dowdell    4,993

Edmunds tends to have two metalities for handling - M3 or LeSabre, in that if it doesn't handle like an M3 (or close to it), it must handle like a '79 LeSabre. They seem to apply this standard across the board to trucks, minivans, and luxury sedans as if everyone wants a vehicle that rides on rails.

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It's not just edmunds Fly. C&D does it. Motortrend does it.

Personally, I don't want something that rides as rough as an M3. Heck, I drive the Avalanche to take a break from the "rough" ride of the CTS on these awful Pennsylvania roads. Something softer than a CTS but stiffer than a Lacross would be nice.

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BrewSwillis    0

I think Dodge could have changed some of the suspension settings from the Liberty.  It may be a traditional SUV built on a truck frame but I think the exterior leads people to believe it will be at least a somewhat sporty drive.

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The Nitro suspension shares nothing in common with the current Liberty. The relationship with the next Liberty remains to be seen:

Dodge Nitro suspension

The Dodge Nitro features an independent front suspension and an five-link rear suspension, both new (not carried over from the Liberty). The independent front suspension gives the driver an optimum combination of ride, handling and steering, providing a greater sense of control and precision. The solid five-link rear suspension, including upper and lower trailing links and track bar, provides higher lateral stiffness for vehicle responsiveness and outstanding handling. Ample suspension wheel travel is provided to maintain consistent ride quality, especially when the vehicle is loaded or towing a trailer.

The new performance suspension offered on the Dodge Nitro R/T and SLT models features a revised sway bar, springs, shocks, bushings and 20-inch tires and wheels for improved cornering and increased traction.

Effort, feel and response on the Nitro’s rack-and-pinion steering system is tuned to give the driver precise control and positive feedback from the steering force exerted by the tires. The steering linkage design allows for a tighter turning circle.

Source: http://www.allpar.com/SUVs/dodge/nitro.html

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csaba1218    0

You know what. i like this thing, it looks like it would kick your ass, and the fact that it doesn't drive like a Viper well "duh" it's a truck a real SUV not one of these sissy car based body on frame deals with 4 wheel independent suspension and so called car like handling. if you want something that handles like a car buy a car. I bet they will sell lots of these,styling wise it's a love it or hate it kind of approach but it seems those are the cars that sell.Although i wish they would have put some real truck wheels/tires on it but thats an easy fix.

Edited by csaba1218

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Intrepidation    846

I've warmed up to most of the exterior except for the front end, which I can't decide if I like i or not. The interior is very mediocre and from what I've read the materials are cheap.

Oh, and about the LX cars - without the Hemi, I predict they would have flopped. 1/2 of the sales are Hemis, and we know very few of them would have gone to fleet, and 1/4 of sales are to fleets, so that means only about 1/4 of sales are retail V6 sales, or no more than 3000 per month. Is that really that much of a success? Those numbers tell me the only real reason it sold was because of the Hemi, not because of the interior.

Now, maybe some people still would have bought them if they didn't have to Hemi, but I think a lot of sales would have been lost.

210832[/snapback]

So that just means it sells well thanks in part to having a good engine? (also the 3.5 in the Charger is good too). What a foreign concept that people want a nice car with a nice engine. GM could take notes on many of their cars :P

You know what. i like this thing, it looks like it would kick your ass, and the fact that it doesn't drive like a Viper well "duh" it's a truck a real SUV not one of these sissy car based body on frame deals with 4 wheel independent suspension and so called car like handling. if you want something that handles like a car buy a car. I bet they will sell lots of these,styling wise  it's a love it or hate it kind of approach but it seems those are the cars that sell.Although i wish they would have put some real truck wheels/tires on it but thats an easy fix.

210877[/snapback]

:withstupid:

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Flybrian    0

So that just means it sells well thanks in part to having a good engine? (also the 3.5 in the Charger is good too). What a foreign concept that people want a nice car with a nice engine. GM could take notes on many of their cars :P

210888[/snapback]

Chrysler could also take notes on the 2.7l in its Newport.

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Intrepidation    846

Chrysler could also take notes on the 2.7l in its Newport.

210889[/snapback]

Technically a lot of companies could take notes. Chrysler among others should know if they had the good engines in all their cars they'd have a shot at selling a lot better.

But it's not just the engines...it's the trannies too. 4-speeds need to go.

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Flybrian    0

But it's not just the engines...it's the trannies too. 4-speeds need to go.

210893[/snapback]

Chrysler also has a 4-speed in the Newport.

And the real criticism of GM's 4-speeds is the simple lack of another gear in certain applications. Its archaic only in the sense that others offer more gears, not that the 4-speeds are bad in any regard. It should be heavily noted that these old trannies still shift smoother than some manufacturer's 5- and 6-speeds.

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Intrepidation    846

Chrysler also has a 4-speed in the Newport.

And the real criticism of GM's 4-speeds is the simple lack of another gear in certain applications. Its archaic only in the sense that others offer more gears, not that the 4-speeds are bad in any regard. It should be heavily noted that these old trannies still shift smoother than some manufacturer's 5- and 6-speeds.

210895[/snapback]

When I was referring to 4-speeds I wasn't singling out GM. Also while that may be true, the consumer will be more enticed by 6-Speed Automatic more than 4-speed automatic. Also they do tend to help with acceleration.

Edited by Dodgefan

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