Unlike rivals such as the Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento, the Dodge Nitro doesn't look as if it stepped out of some chic boutique. It is American and it is brash!
Dodge's new Nitro SUV looks so mean it will send Hummers into hiding.
The aggressive appearance is more for show than anything else as the Nitro is actually just your typical soft-roader. It is aimed at the so-called "lifestyle" market and at consumers looking for an ego boost.
Dodge offers the Nitro with a 2.8-litre diesel and two V6 petrol engines. South Africa will only get the diesel and the 3.7-litre V6 and not the 4-litre model.
The striking Nitro is due in South Africa in June and it will add some spice to the SUV segment. When it goes on sale here pricing will start at around R300 000.
The Nitro shares some genes with the Jeep brand as it sits on a stretched Cherokee platform. A switch allows the driver to change from two to four-wheel drive at any speed.
It is a street-smart vehicle and shows loads of attitude. There are all the 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. This is an SUV that oozes testosterone
The oversized look works and will definitely be the main selling point. Photos don't do the vehicle justice as it appears much more intimidating in the metal.
But the Nitro isn't about looks alone. Dodge is pitching it as a practical and comfortable vehicle too, which adds to the vehicle's lifestyle appeal.
Typical SUV storage is plentiful while interior room is good, too. A clever feature is Dodge's LOAD 'N GO floor in the boot area. This gimmick is basically a sliding floor panel which allows for convenient loading and unloading.
Another cool 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
In addition, an available Video Entertainment System (VES) enables rear passengers to enjoy movies, music and external audio/video devices. For example, the system will play DVDs, WMAs, MP3s and audio and video CDs.
An auxiliary audio input jack for MP3 connectivity and play capability is standard on all audio systems.
The interior is simple, functional and straight-forward while offering all the necessary comfort items.
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.
On the international launch we got to sample the 2.8-litre common-rail turbo diesel engine.
This 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. All that torque makes the Nitro a breeze to drive and the ride is smooth. It does a good job on rough roads too where it feels stable and controlled.
Although the vehicle comes across as confident, it isn't as sophisticated as its Japanese or Korean competitors. Steering is a bit vague, 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. It is a package that will sell and create excitement around the Dodge brand. The vehicle is tough and could go off-road if required.
The Nitro also isn't just another SUV - there isn't anything on the road that looks like it. It is smug and means business.