The Nitro, a compact 4x4 offering from Dodge, emerged onto the scene in 2007. Sharing its platform with the Jeep Liberty and assembled in America, the Nitro was Dodge’s first compact 4x4 since the Dodge Raider was phased out of production in 1990. Making its first appearance at the Chicago Auto Show in 2005 with an aluminium-inspired interior design, the Nitro created significant buzz in the car world. In its first year on offer, Nitro posted impressive sales numbers, but in the years following the sales declined, until the car was discontinued in 2012.
Throughout its production, Nitros were available with rear-wheel drive standard as well as with an option for part-time four-wheel drive. Priced relatively inexpensively, the Nitro was Dodge’s entry-level 4x4 until 2009, when the Journey replaced the Nitro in Dodge’s range as their entry-level car. However, after that the Nitro continued to be produced and sold in Australia and internationally.
Though it shares its platform with the Jeep Liberty, the Nitro is actually wider, lower, and longer than the Liberty, and is preferred by many car owners for those reasons. With a class-leading towing capacity, the Nitro proved to be a powerhouse of American engineering. Various trims were offered across the model years, and the Nitro’s commanding presence and impressive performance made the original vehicles quite popular.
Plenty of interior room is matched with attractive styling for a great look and feel. Under the bonnet, two options give plenty of power, even if they don’t exactly offer spectacular speed. Lower ground clearance is a problem if you plan to go off-roading, but otherwise shouldn’t affect the ride. Overall the drive is smooth and comfortable, the exterior design attention grabbing, and the price is right. The Dodge Nitro is a great 4x4 for the adrenaline-seeker who wants power and style but can’t afford to sacrifice space.
In America the Dodge Nitro came equipped with a wide range of engine options across various trims (SXT, SLT, and R/T, followed by the aggressively named Heat, Detonator, and Shock trim levels), and they can be found on the import second-hand market. In Australia, however, there were only two options under the bonnet for the Nitro, named the SX and the SXT.
The SX came with a 2.8-litre V4 diesel engine with an output of 130kW and an impressive 460Nm of torque. The diesel option was only available with a 5-speed automatic transmission. Alternatively, the SXT had a 3.7-litre V6 petrol engine with an output of 151kW and 314Nm. That 4x4 was offered with a 4-speed automatic transmission. No manual transmissions were offered in Australia, although they still may be found on the pre-owned market.
Impressive safety kit came standard on base-level Nitros. The package featured electronic roll mitigation, side curtain airbags, and traction control. In addition, a unique feature of the Nitro was its “Load ‘N Go” sliding cargo floor. Adapted from the Saab 9-5 wagon, this technology allowed the floor of the Nitro to be extended via the rear hatch by up to 457 mm in order to ease loading.
The styling on the Nitros let other drivers know that this was not a car to be messed with. Highly pronounced fenders, aluminium piping, and a muscular, imposing appearance are the hallmarks of the Nitro look. Basic cloth, stain-repellent cloth, and leather were offered in the different trims. Air conditioning, comfortable seating for five, power mirrors, and remote keyless entry were just a few of the standard features. Options included alloy wheels, cruise control, an overhead computer, power driver’s seat, and a power sunroof, depending on the model year.
The Nitro faced stiff competition from the already crowded 4x4 market. The Land Rover Freelander and the Jeep Compass were main competitors during the Nitro’s production. Around the same time that the Nitro was on the market, the Freelander featured a 2.2-litre V4 option and a 3.2-litre V6 option. The former had an output of 118kW and 400Nm of torque, while the latter hit 171kW of power and 317Nm of torque. The Jeep Compass on the other hand featured a wide variety of trims including 2.0-litre diesel engine with 103kW of power and 310Nm of torque and a 2.4-litre petrol version with 125kW and 220Nm of torque.