“The Dodge Nitro’s styling delivers something extra; that little something midsize buyers are still searching for - attitude,” -George Murphy, Senior Vice President - Global Marketing.
That’s how the Nitro was described to the press and the public on its debut at the 2005 Chicago Auto Show. Essentially a longer wider Liberty (they rode on the same platform KA) the Nitro was Dodge’s first foray into the midsize SUV game.
The Nitro was originally introduced as a near production ready concept. The main differences on the concept were the on the interior. It featured bright dash inlays that were supposed to spruce up the Black plastic trim that would eventually ordain the interior on the production version. It also had a 7 in screen with a dvd based navigation system.
The production version of the Nitro continued Chrysler’s tradition of bringing concept cars to production with the exterior design mostly unchanged. Built in Chrysler’s Toledo plant alongside the Liberty, the company had invested $600 million to expand the plant for the new models. It came in 3 trim levels shared between 2 engines, 2 transmissions and rear or 4wd.
Base SXT and mid level SLT trimmed Nitro’s came with a 3.7 liter 210 horse V6 and RWD.
The performance oriented R/T trim came with a 4.0 liter 255 horse V6. That got upped to 260 in ‘11. The R/T could also be had with 4WD and a performance suspension. What was interesting was that you could get a standard 5 speed manual paired to the standard 3.7. However, in typical fashion, you couldn’t get the manual on the larger 4 liter V6 or on the R/T trim. A 4 speed auto was available on the 3.7 along with the 5 speed manual; the 4.0 got a Mercedes sourced 5 speed auto.
Europe got the Nitro as well with a VM Motori 2.8 Liter diesel and a few exterior changes regulation wise.
Despite its “street cred” looks, the Nitro proved to be a letdown performance wise. For one, it was heavy, and no one could quite understand why. This resulted in poor gas mileage of 17 city/23 highway. Worse than even some minivans at the time (the Euro version with the diesel turned 22 city/32 highway with the manual). And it was slow with the 3.7 needing nearly 10 seconds to get to 60. The R/T of course was where it was at, doing the same sprint in 6.9 seconds. It performance suspension was a letdown as well with it having slow steering and unsettling body roll.
Most reviews though praised the styling, especially the big 20' wheels who many thought would never make it to production, the quiet ride and its interior storage. But the universal knocks against it were on the crappy ride and handling, especially on the R/T model which supposedly came with a performance tuned suspension, the bad fuel economy and the crappy interior quality. The last 2 could be considered products of the time. Keep in mind this thing came to market right as the recession was beginning. High gas prices and interior quality from a company that was just about to go Bankrupt weren’t a good look. But surprisingly the Nitro lasted from 2007-2011 with a total of 275,510 made over the 4 years. Dodge replaced the Nitro with the Journey, which is not only old but worse in every way except its one of the cheapest vehicles on the market you can get with a 3rd row.