2008 Dodge Nitro Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 23, 2008

If you judge the 2008 Dodge Nitro's performance based on its looks, you'll be disappointed when you hit the road.

TheCarConnection.com’s SUV experts looked at reviews of the 2008 Dodge Nitro and have compiled this conclusive review from the most respected sources on the Web. The editors at TheCarConnection.com also drove the Dodge Nitro, and have added driving impressions and details where they help you to make a better purchasing decision.

The 2008 Dodge Nitro certainly proves the power of style. One look at this five-passenger mid-size SUV and you swear this truck was fast, agile, and ready for a street shoot-out. Especially when looking at the high-line 2008 Nitro R/T with its big 20-inch wheels, you'll agree this SUV has true street presence.

The Nitro's looks deceive. Under the exciting bodywork is a Jeep Liberty. The Liberty is not known for terrific on-road prowess, and neither is the 2008 Nitro. To be as blunt as the Nitro's styling, this Dodge rides stiffly, and the expected handling benefit from the buttoned-down suspension never materializes, as the standard stability control steps in early to curtail any potentially dangerous antics. Too bad the 2008 Dodge Nitro can't deliver what its looks promise.

Review continues below

However, if you love the styling, the Dodge Nitro offers three models; Nitro SXT, Nitro SLT, and Nitro R/T. The R/T gets a 4.0-liter SOHC V-6 that delivers 260 horsepower. The lesser models pick up the Liberty's base 3.7-liter V-6 that produces just 210 horsepower. All models include fold-flat front passenger and second-row seats, which recline for added passenger comfort. There are two cargo floor configurations: a reversible load floor standard on Dodge Nitro SXT and Load 'N Go cargo floor standard on the SLT and R/T. The Load 'N Go is a heavy-duty tray on wheels that you can load gear on to and then slide into the cargo area.

Safety features are plentiful, and they include anti-lock brakes, stability control, Electronic Roll Mitigation, and side curtain airbags. These features add peace of mind to the Dodge's excellent performance in government crash tests. Part-time four-wheel drive is available, but it lacks a low range. While the Dodge Nitro may have a Jeep under its skin, this SUV is not intended to go off-roading.

Options include a MyGIG Multimedia Infotainment System with navigation that features real-time traffic data updates, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, AM/FM/CD/DVD/MP3 audio with premium speakers and a subwoofer, remote start, ParkSense, and UConnect for Bluetooth phones.

On the road, the 2008 Dodge Nitro isn't the model of refinement. There is wind, road, and engine noise. The ride gets particularly choppy at freeway speeds, and the steering is so vague that constant corrections are required to keep the Nitro pointed where you want it to go. Of course, it's not that the Dodge Nitro is unsafe--it's just not a great driving vehicle. The interior is basically comfortable, but some editors from TheCarConnection.com find the seating position a bit too high. Material quality is acceptable, but much of the plastic feels subpar compared to the class leaders.

Similarly, the Acura RDX is a gem on the road. Some may like its more modern styling, and the quality that is systemic with the Acura helps justify its price premium over the 2008 Dodge Nitro R/T.

Two other worthwhile alternatives are the Toyota RAV4 and the Sport model of the Toyota Highlander. Both offer better performance and more refined interiors, but neither can match the Dodge's style.

8

2008 Dodge Nitro

Styling

The 2008 Dodge Nitro is a definite attention-getter, and for all the right reasons.

While some vehicles are built with an emphasis on a plush ride, and others place performance above all else, the 2008 Dodge Nitro is essentially an exercise in bold, look-at-me styling.

The exterior of the 2008 Dodge Nitro is, if nothing else, unmistakable. Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show overwhelming approval for the direction Dodge has taken with the Dodge Nitro. Car and Driver christens the look "slash-'n'-burn urban styling that would appear right at home in the latest Diddy music video," especially the R/T version that comes "with flashy paint that accentuates its huge fender flares." This 2008 Dodge comes in three trim levels: the base SXT, mid-level SLT, and top-of-the-line R/T model. Exterior differences between the three are noticeable, and Cars.com points out that "the nearly vertical grille is silver on SXT and SLT trims, but the crosshair portion of the grille is body-colored on R/T models," and Kelley Blue Book says that "base SXT models get dark, unpainted bumper fascias, moldings and fender flares." Regardless of which trim of the Dodge Nitro you look at, all boast a "bad-boy road presence" and "brash exterior styling," according to Edmunds. They write that "whereas most compact and midsize SUVs are defined by soft, rounded forms, the 2008 Dodge Nitro has such a square jawline and such exaggerated wheel flares you can't take your eyes off it." Even Cars.com reviewers, who claim a "normal aversion to overly aggressive-looking SUVs," admit that they are "fond of the Nitro's Tonka-tough appearance."

The interior of the 2008 Dodge Nitro doesn't quite match the tough appearance presented on the outside, but reviewers appreciate the styling. Car and Driver says that the Dodge Nitro is "less flashy inside," though "the supportive two-tone seats with bright red inserts will get your attention in an otherwise tasteful and well-executed interior." Cars.com writes that "the Nitro's cabin is a bit austere" and features "a three-pod gauge cluster" that "sits atop a skinny dashboard that falls away rapidly from the driver and front passenger." Those gauges win praise from ConsumerGuide reviewers for being "large and easy to read," and they add "all controls are simple, clearly marked, and logically placed."

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2008 Dodge Nitro

Performance

Poor fuel economy and sluggish handling make the 2008 Dodge Nitro an on-road disappointment.

The 2008 Dodge Nitro looks fierce, but it doesn't offer quite the performance that its aggressive styling would indicate.

For the 2008 Dodge Nitro, two engines are available. ConsumerGuide lists the available engines as "a 210-hp 3.7-liter V6" that "is standard on SLT and SXT," while Dodge Nitro "R/Ts have a 260-hp 4.0-liter V6." Neither engine is particularly well received in reviews read by TheCarConnection.com, but Cars.com says that "the larger and more powerful 4.0-liter V-6 that's standard in the R/T goes a long way toward backing up the Nitro's burly exterior with its eager responses." On the smaller V-6, Kelley Blue Book reviewers often find themselves "wishing for either more power or another gear or two," and ConsumerGuide says that the "SLT is good off the line, but it labors in highway merging or passing." Regardless of which engine powers the Dodge Nitro, Edmunds moans that the 2008 Dodge Nitro "can't match the smoothness or efficiency of competitors' smaller engines." In terms of acceleration numbers, Edmunds claims that they pegged a Dodge Nitro R/T "at 7.7 seconds for the 0-60-mph run."

To go along with the two engine choices, for 2008 Dodge offers three transmissions for the Dodge Nitro. ConsumerGuide says "a 6-speed manual transmission is standard on SXT," while "a 4-speed automatic is standard on SLT and optional for SXT," and R/Ts come exclusively with "a 5-speed automatic." Neither the six-speed manual nor the four-speed automatic scores particularly well with reviewers, and ConsumerGuide is quick to point out that the four-speed automatic "takes a deep stab of the throttle to coax a downshift." The five-speed automatic on the Dodge Nitro R/T fares better, thanks to the extra power that it has to work with, and Cars.com says that it "readily kicks down when more of the 4.0-liter's ample power is needed."

Regardless of which engine and transmission option you choose on the Dodge Nitro, Kelley Blue Book says that "each combination is available in rear- or four-wheel drive, with automatic-equipped vehicles featuring a full-time four-wheel-drive system and manual models getting a part-time four-wheel-drive system." Edmunds adds that this 2008 Dodge SUV "can tow up to 5,000 pounds regardless of drivetrain."

One of the major performance drawbacks on the 2008 Dodge Nitro is the fuel economy, which Edmunds claims is "not a strong point for the Dodge Nitro no matter which engine you choose." The EPA estimates that Dodge Nitros equipped with the four-speed automatic will return 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway in 2WD version, while the 4WD drops those numbers to 15/21 mpg. The six-speed manual achieves 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway with either drivetrain, while the EPA says to expect 16 mpg city and 21 mpg highway with the five-speed automatic in 2WD mode, dropping to 15/20 mpg in 4WD.

Aside from poor fuel economy, the 2008 Dodge Nitro also suffers from many ride and handling flaws. Kelley Blue Book writes that the Dodge Nitro's "more truck-like roots involve ride and handling compromises," including "a meager 0.66 g of grip" in Car and Driver skidpad tests. Edmunds offers additional criticisms: "Handling around corners is unimpressive for a midsize SUV, as even the sporty R/T model exhibits slow steering and significant body roll," and "In keeping with the Nitro's modest handling limits, the stability control system is undefeatable and quick to intervene."

The soft suspension responsible for the poor handling comes in handy for ride comfort, at least in the mind of some reviewers. ConsumerGuide finds that "road imperfections are well absorbed in models tested," but most reviewers side with Cars.com, which feels that "driving on rough roads is a jarring experience," and "even relatively smooth concrete highways can make the body start bouncing." One area where reviewers agree that the 2008 Dodge Nitro impresses is in braking ability. ConsumerGuide praises the Dodge Nitro's "good overall brake feel," and Edmunds vouches "stopping distances are convincingly short."

6

2008 Dodge Nitro

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Dodge Nitro holds an impressive amount of cargo, but the interior desperately needs some materials upgrades.

Although the 2008 Dodge Nitro offers a few redeeming comfort traits and respectable storage space, the overall build and materials quality are poor.

The 2008 Dodge Nitro has seating capacity for five, but reviews read by TheCarConnection.com indicate that you're probably better off limiting yourself to four occupants. ConsumerGuide writes that, "though small for a midsize SUV," the Dodge Nitro's "boxy design provides acceptable space for four adults." Up front, Edmunds  that the "liberal use of soft cushioning makes it easy to get comfortable," but many reviews complain about the Dodge Nitro's front footwells, which are "impossibly small," according to Cars.com. AutoWeek backs that opinion, adding "the driver's footwell is cramped and offers no dead-pedal support." In the rear of the 2008 Dodge Nitro is a "split bench seat" that ConsumerGuide calls "comfortable and fairly supportive, though Nitro's narrow cabin means three-abreast seating is best reserved for short jaunts." Edmunds reviewers say "legroom is ample" in the back.

One benefit of the Dodge Nitro's boxy exterior is that it offers a large amount of cargo space. Edmunds says that "the Dodge's spaciousness is a product of its long 108.8-inch wheelbase," which combines with a "large hatch opening and cubic shape" to "make the most of available cargo space," according to ConsumerGuide. Cars.com deduces that, as a result, this 2008 Dodge "has 32.1 cubic feet of cargo room behind the second-row seats," and "folding the rear seats brings 65.2 cubic feet of space and is a straightforward process that doesn't require the two rear head restraints to be removed." One innovative new cargo feature on the SLT and R/T trims is the "slide-out cargo floor (dubbed 'Load 'n Go')" that Edmunds credits for making the 2008 Dodge Nitro "particularly user-friendly as a light-duty hauler." Unfortunately, interior storage does not live up to the spacious rear, as Cars.com notes "backseat passengers don't get a center armrest and the door pockets are tiny." ConsumerGuide reviewers point out "cabin storage is limited to a narrow center console and small glovebox."

Although this 2008 Dodge mid-size SUV scores well for passenger comfort and cargo room, the Dodge Nitro draws more than its fair share of criticism when it comes to build and materials quality. Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com unanimously deride what Edmunds calls the "chintzy interior materials." ConsumerGuide notes that the Dodge Nitro's "cabin is finished in hard plastic," and "unconvincing faux-metal and most other trim bits significantly trail class competitors." Edmunds also writes that "a few plastics stand out as unacceptably low-grade." Kelley Blue Book offers a similar opinion, admonishing the "perceptible amount of average-grade plastics" inside the cabin of the Dodge Nitro.

Out on the road, engine noise and other ambient sounds are noticeable but not particularly obtrusive. ConsumerGuide reviewers claim that engine noise from "the 3.7 V6 is unobtrusive, but the 4.0 produces a ragged note under even gentle throttle applications." Aside from that, however, Edmunds says that the Dodge Nitro "cruises quietly at highway speeds."

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2008 Dodge Nitro

Safety

Strong crash-test ratings and all the usual standard safety features make the 2008 Dodge Nitro a responsible pick for the safety-conscious.

For the safety-conscious among us, the 2008 Dodge Nitro is sure to please. Not only does the Dodge Nitro score very well in crash tests, it also comes loaded with a long list of desirable safety features.

The 2008 Dodge Nitro's sheetmetal looks tough, and crash-test ratings show that toughness is more than skin deep on this 2008 Dodge. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the government agency responsible for crash testing, has subjected the 2008 Dodge Nitro to its full range of tests, and the results are impressive. Edmunds reviewers note that the Dodge Nitro was awarded "a perfect five stars for all frontal- and side-impact categories" in the NHTSA tests, a testament to the care that Dodge engineers took to ensure passenger safety. The other major crash tester in the United States, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), has not yet tested this 2008 Dodge.

Aside from commendable crash-test ratings, the 2008 Dodge Nitro adds a wealth of safety features to its repertoire. Reviewers at Cars.com state, "Side curtain airbags and an electronic stability system are standard," but that only scratches the surface of the Dodge Nitro's safety features. Edmunds elaborates, saying that "antilock disc brakes" and "traction control" also come standard on the Dodge Nitro, and they further note that "the stability control system includes a trailer sway control feature." The trailer sway control is an indispensable feature for those who regularly tow loads on the highway.

One area where TheCarConnection.com finds mixed reviews of the 2008 Dodge Nitro is in terms of driver visibility. On the 2008 Dodge Nitro, ConsumerGuide claims that the "high-set seats provide a commanding view of the road" ahead, but "rear visibility is hindered somewhat by thick roof pillars." Although AutoWeek laments the fact that the "overall seating position is poor," Edmunds lists "good sight lines" as one of the 2008 Dodge Nitro's most appealing features.

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2008 Dodge Nitro

Features

For those willing to pay a little extra, the 2008 Dodge Nitro can be equipped with quite a few desirable features.

The 2008 Dodge Nitro offers nothing in the way of standard features that sets it apart from its major competitors, but when it comes to options, the Dodge Nitro begins to generate some serious excitement.

The standard features list on the 2008 Dodge Nitro varies somewhat between the SXT and SLT trims, and the R/T offers essentially the same loadout as the SLT. Edmunds reviewers reveal that "standard equipment on the base Nitro SXT includes 16-inch steel wheels, a roof rack, air conditioning, a six-speaker CD stereo," and "full power accessories." On the 2008 Dodge Nitro SLT, ConsumerGuide admires a "leather-wrapped steering wheel w/radio controls, cruise control, 6-way power driver seat," and "heated power mirrors," while Edmunds notices that "a 115-volt outlet is standard on the SLT and R/T, thereby enhancing the Nitro's usefulness at the campsite."

Although the standard features may not be anything to write home about, the options on this 2008 Dodge make for a story worth telling. Kelley Blue Book says that "the highlight of the Nitro's optional equipment list is the comprehensive MyGIG navigation, entertainment and communication system," which Edmunds claims "offers navigation, MP3 file storage/playback and Bluetooth functions via a central touchscreen" located on the center stack. Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com praise the Dodge Nitro's MyGIG system, which Kelley Blue Book notes can "reroute the Nitro around traffic accidents" when used "in conjunction with Sirius' real-time traffic data."

According to Kelley Blue Book, "other key options" on the 2008 Dodge Nitro "include a six-disc CD/DVD-Audio sound system, rear-seat DVD entertainment system, premium speakers, SIRIUS Satellite Radio," and "ParkSense Rear Park Assist." Cars.com adds that the optional rear-seat video entertainment system on this 2008 Dodge "features a 7-inch overhead screen," as opposed to the seatback systems used in some other vehicles.

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