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Tested: Dodge Nitro 3.7 R/T

2007-09-21 11:35

Hailey Philander

What's it about?

Last year's re-introduction of Dodge in South Africa, with the Caliber as the initial model, has been a success, judging by the number of these vehicles on our roads.

Surely it's just a bigger and uglier (that underbite-resembling front bumper!) version of the Caliber, with four-wheel drive tossed in for good measure, I thought when local news of the Nitro first broke. Well, yes and no.

Thing is, the Nitro has several things going for it, most notably its aggressive and unconventional styling and its size, which is rather imposing.


Within the Nitro, several elements have been borrowed from its Jeep and Chrysler cousins which formed part of the former DaimlerChrysler alliance.

Nitro shares its basic architecture with the upcoming Jeep Cherokee and its facia could literally have been lifted from any of the Jeep or Chrysler products.

Despite the obligatory hard and robust plastics and ginormous steering wheel, trim levels are high on the range-topping R/T model. Comfort levels are less satisfying, though.

Seats, though clad in leather, are shallow and the lack of height adjustment (or reach adjustment for the steering wheel) makes them horribly uncomfortable. I could blame my short stature, but the problem was also experienced by taller colleagues.

Similarily, I was also transported back to the Caliber's interior every time I bumped my shins against the hard plastic expanse beneath the steering column.

A left foot rest was missed in this vehicle although, even if one were present, it's unlikely it would be used. Its transmission tunnel protrudes into the cabin, leaving a very cramped footwell with the driver having to compensate by resting his/her left foot at a very unnatural angle.

Also, in a vehicle this size, one would expect seven seats or a useable luggage area. Neither were provided. Rear passengers have ample space, though.

Access to the luggage area is annoyingly high (especially when you need to load heavy goods) although the sliding panel in the luggage area's floor, dubbed Load 'n Go, is meant to make storage easier.

Cupholders and storage bins are plentiful in the cabin, but the positioning of some controls - such as the main cabin light switch on the headlamp stalk - perplexed.

For those that appreciate gadgetry, Nitro is equipped with the My Gig multimedia system that incorporates the satellite navigation, Bluetooth and audio systems. It has a 20-gigabyte hard drive for storing data, which can be transferred using its USB port. An auxiliary jack allows for MP3 connectivity.

Under the bonnet

Nitro is powered by the familiar 3.7-litre V6 housed in the current Jeep Cherokee. In Nitro, it produces a claimed 151 kW at 5 200 r/min and peak torque of 314 Nm at 4 000 r/min.

This powerplant provides a healthy dose of urge though, and in a straight line, at least, the Nitro is big and loud enough to give several other road users the heeby-jeebies.

This engine is mated with a four-speed automatic transmission that in the Nitro feels dated and agricultural. The five-speed gearbox, like the one used in the turbodiesel, would have been more welcome.

Driving it

Ride on the Nitro is comfortable but never dynamic, thanks in part to its high centre of gravity. Its occupants sit quite high up too and while this gives you a commanding view of the road ahead, the fact that you're not comfortably seated does detract from the overall driving experience.

Steering feel is also very vague although, those who own Nitros would probably not see its dynamic shortcomings as being too big a problem. Just in case you may need it, Nitro is equipped with ABS with emergency pressure assistance, stability and traction control and rollover resistance.

What is nifty is that the SUV is equipped with part-time 4X4 making it a softroader able to deal with the occasional dirt road and rutted surface. The system has two modes (2WD and 4WD), but no low range. Then again, how much would you want to take those big 20-inchers off road anyway?


The Dodge Nitro 3.7 R/T may be a great idea to those who value image above all else, but I can think of a few other ways in which to spend the R350 000 burning a hole in my pocket.

Not only is the driving position severely inadequate, entry and exit is also not aided by the lack of foot rests or grab handles.

There is no earthly way for females to enter the cabin in a dignified fashion. Flailing arms and legs are something you'll have to become accustomed too and doing this, while wearing heels and a pencil skirt is quite an experience.

Nitro's boxy dimensions certainly are eye-catching and driving around in this SUV will get you loads of attention. But good looks will only ever take you so far and as a total package, Nitro falls short in our books.


  • Styling is not bad, though not to everyone's taste
  • Pricing and level of specification in relation to key rivals


  • Hard plastics scuff easily
  • Driving position

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