The Dodge Nitro is distinguished by its squared-off styling with exaggerated fender flares. The Nitro looks and feels larger than its size. It's on the smaller end of the midsize SUV class but larger than the compact SUVs. The Underneath, the Dodge shares its basic structure with the Jeep Liberty.
Nitro features a high seating position and good cabin space. Its Load n Go cargo system makes loading heavy objects easy thanks to a rear cargo floor that slides rearward out over the rear bumper and can hold 400 pounds. And the rear seats and front passenger seat fold totally flat in seconds.
The Nitro comes with either two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, with a choice of V6 engines. The newer 4.0-liter V6 is better than the old 3.7-liter, with 50 more horsepower and fuel economy that's only about one mile per gallon less. The 4.0-liter engine only comes in the sportier R/T model, and it also benefits from a five-speed automatic transmission versus a four-speed in the other models.
Three types of upholstery are available: basic cloth, a handsome stain-repellant cloth, and beautiful perforated leather. No matter which covering, the seats are very comfortable. The cabin is quiet thanks to heavy use of sound deadening material, and visibility out the rear and to the front corners of the Nitro is excellent.
The Nitro gets suspension, steering and brake revisions to make the vehicle more linear and precise for 2009. Dodge says retuned springs, shocks, anti-roll bars and steering gear valve, plus stiffer rear axles, improve steering and handling, while a retuned brake booster, low rollback calipers and a revised brake pedal improve pedal feel. Dodge has also discontinued availability of a manual transmission, as well as the all-wheel drive system that was offered on SLT and R/T models.
The 2009 Dodge Nitro comes as three models, SE, SLT and R/T. All are available with rear-wheel drive (2WD) or a part-time four-wheel drive (4WD) system that should not be left engaged on dry pavement.
Nitro SE 2WD ($22,240) and 4WD ($23,900) come with a 210-hp 3.7-liter V6 and a four-speed automatic transmission. Standard equipment includes cloth upholstery, air conditioning, remote keyless entry with power windows and door locks, 115-volt power outlet, flat folding front passenger seat, 60/40 folding rear bench seat, AM/FM/CD with MP3 with six speakers, Sirius satellite radio, auxiliary input jack, tilt steering column, slate-colored molded front and rear fascias and fender flares, folding power mirrors, theft-deterrent system, rear window washer/wiper, roof rails and P225/75R16 tires on steel wheels with wheel covers.
Nitro SLT ($24,560) and SLT AWD ($26,220) add Yes Essentials cloth upholstery that Dodge says is stain, odor and static resistant; leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls; six-way power adjustable driver's seat; heated exterior mirrors; vehicle information center; auto-dimming rearview mirror; universal garage door opener; fog lights; Load 'n Go cargo storage system with tie-down rails; 115-volt power outlet; chrome interior accents; cruise control; compass; tinted windows; body-colored front and rear fascias and fender flares; and P235/65R17 tires on aluminum wheels.
Nitro R/T 2WD ($24,560) and R/T AWD ($26,220) feature a 4.0-liter V6 making 260 horsepower, mated to a five-speed automatic transmission with manual shift capability. The R/T comes with a sport suspension with P245/50R20 Goodyear Eagle tires on chromed aluminum wheels. The R/T is equipped like the SLT.
Options for all models include leather upholstery with heated front seats ($830); power sunroof ($895); rear park assist ($250); a Travel Convenience Group ($820) with an alarm, heavy-duty engine cooling, a Class III trailer hitch receiver, a wiring harness and a full-size spare tire; a Chrome Accents Group ($1,210) with chrome on the side steps, fuel filler and door sills; and Dodge's UConnect Multimedia Suite ($2,145), which has a navigation system with voice command, an iPod adapter, UConnect Phone wireless cell phone link, 6CD changer, and a 30-gigabyte hard drive to store music and photos. R/T and SLT offer a Convenience group ($1,345) with rear obstacle detection, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Dodge's UConnect wireless cell phone link, remote engine starting, eight speakers and a subwoofer. The SLT can be ordered with chrome alloy wheels and the R/T sport suspension ($1,505).
Safety equipment that comes standard on all models includes dual front air bags, head-protecting curtain air bags, and a tire-pressure monitor. Active safety features include ABS with brake assist, traction control, and electronic stability control with Trailer Sway Control.