Dodge is grabbing the SUV segment by the horns with the introduction of its mean-looking Nitro in South Africa. It is the second Dodge model to find its way here following the launch of the Calliber last year.
With its brash American looks and boxy styling it definitely grabs the attention too. Its aggressive appearance is on par with that of GM's Hummer.
Unlike rivals such as the Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Santa Fe or Honda CR-V, the Nitro doesn't look as if it stepped out of a chic boutique.
It is smug and means business.
But looks can be deceiving as the Nitro is not out to get its tyres dirty. It is aimed at the so-called "lifestyle" market and consumers looking for something distinctive.
Dodge offers the Nitro with a 2.8-litre diesel and a 3.7-litre V6 petrol.
Pricing kicks of at R314 900.
The Nitro shares some genes with the Jeep brand as it sits on a stretched Cherokee platform.
There are typical Dodge styling cues such as the signature crosshair-grille and other bold design features, which include prominent fender flares, angular bodywork and wheels pushed into corners.
The R/T model, which is only available in V6 guise, gets performance suspension and 20-inch chrome-clad aluminium.
At the rear of the Dodge Nitro is a simple, one-piece tailgate. The spare tyre is located underneath the vehicle.
Boot space is good and a clever feature is Dodge's LOAD 'O floor in the boot area. This gimmick is basically a sliding floor panel which allows for convenient loading and unloading.
But otherwise one shouldn't be fooled by the oversized exterior appearance as interior room is cramped for front passengers.
It is also difficult getting a comfortable driving position as the seat is not height adjustable while only the steering wheel's tilt can be adjusted.
Legroom for the driver is especially tight with no place for your left foot to rest.
Comfort features are plentiful while a cool optional gizmo is the Nitro's MyGIG multi-media infotainment system.
It incorporates the sat-nav, bluetooth and audio system and includes a 20-gigabyte hard disc drive for storing of map data, photos or up to 1 600 songs. It comes with a USB port that allows for the transfer of photos onto the hard drive
An auxiliary audio input jack for MP3 connectivity and play capability is standard on all audio systems.
Leather trim is an optional extra at R10 000 on the ST versions while the R/T models are available with leather heated seats.
Under the skin
The Nitro's 4x4 drivetrain allows the vehicle to tackle slippery or loose surfaces, and it is not aimed at full-on bundu-bashing.
The part-time all-wheel-drive system has a single-speed transfer case and two modes (2WD and 4WD part-time), delivering a maximum 50/50 per cent front/rear split of torque.
The 2.8-litre second-generation CRD engine is available with a six-speed manual transmission or five-speed automatic transmission. Maximum power is 130 kW at 3 800 r/min and peak torque is 460 Nm at 2 000 r/min. Dodge claims that fuel economy is as low as 8.6 litres per 100 km (combined cycle).
The sweet diesel engine is more than capable to get the 1 855 kg Nitro going.
Although the vehicle comes across as confident it isn't as sophisticated as its Japanese or Korean competitors. Steering is a bit vague too while the ride is more soft than dynamic.
The 3.7-litre 6 petrol engine provides performance of 151 kW at 5 200 r/min and 314 Nm of torque at 4 000 r/min. It is available with a four-speed automatic transmission.
Safety features include anti-lock brakes with emergency pressure assistance, stability control, traction control and rollover resistance.
In general it is a decent vehicle which you buy for its road presence and its arrogant appeal.
The Nitro is a package that will sell and create excitement around the Dodge brand.
Dodge Nitro 3.7l SXT, four-speed automatic: R314 900
Dodge Nitro 2.8l CRD SXT, six-speed manual: R349 900
Dodge Nitro 2.8l CRD SXT, five-speed automatic: R359 900
Dodge Nitro 3.7l R/T, four-speed automatic: R339 900
All Chrysler group products come standard with a three year / 100 000km warranty and maintenance plan.