Review: 2010 Dodge Nitro

What comes to mind when someone says the word nitro?  TNT, explosions, gold rushes, strip mining?  Well, Dodge played off this when they introduced the Nitro in 2007, and the first time you give the compact SUV a healthy dose of the gas pedal, all of those mental images will come rushing back.  This is the first compact SUV I’ve driven that actually pushes you back in your seat, but feels refined at the same time.  What else has Dodge done in the Nitro’s creation?

Besides the oomph provided by the optional 4.0-liter V6, the vehicle I had for review was an SXT model.  This trim level comes with heated mirrors, automatic dimming rear-view mirror, and a host of other goodies.  When a buyer checks off the box for the 4.0-liter V6, they also get a firmer suspension, which I found to handle rather well, especially for a tall, boxy SUV.  The combination of power and handling works very well, giving the Nitro a sure-footed stance, especially when fitted with optional 20″ chrome wheels.  A lot of SUVs trade power and handling to keep the gas mileage up, but Dodge has definitely provided an option package for those who want to do more than be bystanders in traffic.  While the base Nitro engine is a 3.7-liter V6, which should provide adequate acceleration, the 4.0-liter V6 in the tester was simply thrilling.  Edmunds writes in their review that the Nitro didn’t have enough power, handling, or proper steering, but based on my time with the Nitro, I have to disagree with them.

Commuting through rush hour traffic, the Nitro was a willing and able partner.  A stab of the gas pedal allows the Nitro to squeeze into openings in adjoining lanes, and the visibility from the driver’s seat is fabulous, except for one thing: the side-view mirrors are about an inch too narrow, which requires you to move your head to see the entire lane on either side of you.  An SUV that has power and handling needs steering to make it a complete driving package, and in this regard, Dodge almost succeeded.  The steering effort is almost perfect at commuting speeds from 30 MPH on up, but is a little heavy when navigating parking lots.  As with a lot of other vehicles these days, the Nitro also features a manual mode for its automatic transmission.  A tug of the gear shift lever to the left downshifts, a useful feature when traversing through hilly terrain.  The 5-speed automatic transmission is smooth in its actions, and is set up to give good acceleration from a stop light, but be easy on the gas at highway speeds.

The exterior is boxy but attractive, with a bulldog-like face that lets you know what the Nitro’s purpose is.  The wheels are moved farther out from the center of the vehicle, and require flared fenders, which just add to the aggressive look Dodge was going for when they designed it.  The aforementioned chrome wheels play nicely off of the optional Inferno Red paint, creating a very eye-catching vehicle.  As the ambient light around the Nitro changes, you can see the difference in the paint.  In the sunlight, the paint looks almost orange, but under cloudy skies, the red really shows through.

Inside, this paradigm is continued.  There are no extra buttons or gadgets to play with, outside of the touch screen navigation system and 8-speaker Infinity sound system, both optional.  Most of the interior is rugged plastic, a bit disheartening on a $32,000 vehicle.  Thankfully, Dodge used soft-touch plastics on the center console and arm rests.  They also added cubbies and trays into several areas of the interior, which add to its appeal for drivers who spend a lot of time behind the wheel, which is leather-wrapped and comfortable to hold.  The cloth seats are all fairly firm, but comfortable to sit in for long stretches.  The driver’s seat features only 6-way power adjustments, the seat back angle being controlled by a lever on its side, and no lumbar support.  Behind the steering wheel are stalks for the headlights, turn signals, front and rear windshield wipers, and one for cruise control.  The controls at your fingertips all feel good and are all easy to use, once you have a few minutes to familiarize yourself with them.  Looking over to the center of the dash, the controls are all ergonomically friendly, but too low to be of much use while driving.  Changing the temperature controls is easily accomplished, but requires a stretch of the arm.  The upside is that the navigation screen and accompanying voice prompts is easy to use and doesn’t require much fiddling with while driving.  Once you have everything set, driving the Nitro is void of distractions, even if you receive a phone call.  As part of the optional Navigation Convenience Group, the Dodge Nitro is equipped with uConnect, Dodge’s Bluetooth hands-free phone controls.  The available voice commands are shown on the 6.5″ navigation screen, and make life easier for users who are new to the system.

Despite being classified as a compact SUV, the Nitro has plenty of room for passengers and cargo.  While you won’t want to put three adults in the back seat for more than a few miles, two fit comfortably, with plenty of leg and head room.  Behind the second row of seats, a rather large and square cargo area awaits.  With a false floor useful for hiding valuables or other small items, the cargo area also hosts the subwoofer for the premium audio system.  There’s plenty of room for whatever you might need to haul, especially with the rear seat folded down and four tie-downs on the floor to help keep things in place.

Being based on the Jeep Liberty, the Dodge Nitro has plenty of ground clearance and off-road capability.  Whereas the Jeep means you can go anywhere, the Nitro is more road-friendly, with a smoother ride and more refined drivetrain.  Also, when driving at night, either on or off-road, visibility is good.  The headlights are bright, illuminate plenty of the road ahead, and the high beams extend that view far off into the distance.  As mentioned before, the Nitro I tested featured an upgraded suspension, which while firm, is nowhere near jarring.  You feel bumps in the road, but the SUV never feels out of control, and goes exactly where you point it.  Driving on wet tarmac presented no problems either, as long as the speeds are kept reasonable.  The traction control on the Nitro steps in early to keep drivers out of trouble, but I only encountered it when starting off with too much gusto.  Once up to speed, braking response is progressive, and seemed to be speed-sensitive.  At highway speeds, the brakes require more effort to slow the vehicle, which is expected, but at slower speed they are quite effective and confidence inspiring, a good thing if any Nitro owners have to commute in DC-area traffic, which comes to a sudden halt at the most random of times.

Conclusion:

The Dodge Nitro is a compelling vehicle.  In a segment of underpowered tall boxes with handling that is reminiscent of boating, Chrysler has a vehicle that has plenty of oomph and is capable of handling corners with ease.  While it doesn’t have a lot of convenience features, the Nitro offers a driving experience that commuters should love.  Based on the same platform as the Jeep Liberty, the Nitro is a much smoother and more refined alternative to its corporate sibling.  Dodge should put a little more money into marketing the Nitro, because optioned like the tester I drove, it’s a great people hauler and is a lively partner for driving on almost any terrain.

Competitors: Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Jeep Liberty, Nissan Rogue

As-Tested:

Year: 2010
Make: Dodge
Model: Nitro SXT

EPA Fuel Mileage: 16/20 City/Highway

Base Price: $24,895.00

Options:

$225: Inferno Red Crystal Pearl Coat Exterior Paint
$185: Convenience Group (which includes Remote Start System)
$2,295: Navigation Convenience Group (which includes includes 8 Amplified Speakers Plus Subwoofer, GPS Navigation, Media Center 730N CD/DVD/MP3 Radio, 30GB Hard Drive with 4250 Song Capacity, 6.5″ Touch Screen Display, SIRIUS Traffic, 1-Year SIRIUS Traffic Service, Uconnect Phone with Voice Command, Automatically-Dimming Rear View Mirror w/Microphone, ParkSense Rear Park Assist System, 5-Speed Automatic Transmission, 3.21 Axle Ratio)
$2,395: 4.0-Liter V6 SOHC Engine (which includes 20″ x 7.5″ Aluminum Chrome Clad Wheels, P245/50R20 VSB All Season Tires, Performance Suspension)
$895: Power Sunroof

Total: $30,890

Destination: $745

As-Tested Price: $31,635

Chrysler has an online Window Sticker viewer.  Click here to view the Window Sticker for the actual test vehicle.

View Scorecard

Special thanks to Steve Fransisco and Century Dodge Chrysler Jeep of Mt. Airy, MD for loaning the tester to Road Reality.  Click here to view their web site.

by John Suit

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1 Response to “Review: 2010 Dodge Nitro”


  • I have an ’07 Nitro SLT with 85k miles on it. I’ve been pretty happy so far; no troubles, knock on wood. I just wish Dodge had seen fit to put a little bigger V6 in it or at least something with a little more bottom end.

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