Performance » 6
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PERFORMANCE | 6 out of 10
SLT is good off the line, but it labors in highway merging or passing
Slow steering lacks feedback
Truck-like roots involve ride and handling compromises
Kelley Blue Book
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."
Poor fuel economy and sluggish handling make the 2008 Dodge Nitro an on-road disappointment.