New & Used Dodge Nitro: In Depth
2011 Dodge NitroEnlarge Photo
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The Dodge Nitro is a compact sport-utility vehicle that was first released for the 2007 model year. While it found a unique place in the market, it never sold well enough to be the more mainstream model that the automaker had hoped.
Essentially a niche vehicle, with a macho, tuner look and a nod upward to Dodge's larger Durango, the Nitro offered a more truck-like, boldly styled alternative to models like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester, Kia Sportage, Chevrolet Equinox, and Hyundai Santa Fe, among many others. The Nitro was very closely related to the Jeep Liberty, although a bit longer and with a suspension that was more oriented toward on-the-road handling.
The Dodge Nitro might have sounded like a great idea at the time that it was conceived—in the DaimlerChrysler era of Dodge history—but for the most part the Nitro is already looked back on as a misstep that didn't fit neatly into the market and simply didn't match well with the needs of most utility-vehicle shoppers. With an old-tech base 3.7-liter V-6 and four-speed automatic transmission, the Nitro had barely adequate acceleration and plenty of coarseness, although the larger 4.0-liter engine and five-speed automatic provided a much better experience—with fuel efficiency no lower.
There were a lot of potential factors limiting the Nitro's popularity, and these might continue to limit the model's appeal on the used-vehicle market. EPA fuel economy numbers were likely a limiting factor to its popularity—at just 15 or 16 mpg in the city, 21 on the highway. Handling is competent enough for a rather tall vehicle, but the stiff, busy ride also limited its appeal.
That said, the Nitro has no shortage of versatility. Passenger space was ample overall, while the back seats flipped forward to expand cargo space; the the front passenger seat folded flat for longer cargo, and in later/higher-trim versions the cargo floor slid back (Load 'n Go) for easier loading. But hard plastics and substandard trim bits didn't give it much cabin luster.
From an exterior design standpoint, the Nitro still stands out—as a daring statement in a class of conformists—and that remains a plus on the used-vehicle market. Penned with inspiration from hot rods and an initial advertising campaign centered around adrenaline, the boxy, upright Nitro was imbued with some of the look of Dodge trucks, as well as, arguably, some of the attitude of the brand's Charger sedan and Challenger coupe. The huge 20-inch chrome-clad wheels in some of the trim levels added to the flashy look.
Features were never scarce in the Nitro, either. It offered some leading-edge features for its time—things like rear park assist, remote start, Bluetooth connectivity, and even a MyGIG entertainment system and navigation with real-time traffic.
Sales of the Nitro were reasonably strong at first, then they plunged especially after the introduction of the more mainstream Dodge Journey crossover—a model that remains a much better pick for families. The Nitro was quietly discontinued after a short run for the 2012 model year.