- The Washington Times - Friday, May 29, 2009

From the day Dodge first introduced us to its all-new Nitro, they promised it would never be another sleep-inducing, mild-styled midsize sport utility vehicle. They never broke their promise.

Dodge hasn’t altered the appearance of its three-year-old Nitro, so it’s hard to break that promise. The only thing new on the exterior is its Deep Water Blue Pearl paint. But the fact is the 2009 Dodge Nitro remains a chiseled piece of masculine Dodge bravado that looks fresh and is easily appreciated by those drawn to overconfident looks.

It’s the outrageous wheel arches bulging with pumped, two-fisted confidence that provide the eye-popping wake-up, sit-up and take-notice quality that shows just how bold a midsize utility vehicle can be. My test vehicle, the Nitro R/T, presented a forceful expression with its 20-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels. Short front overhangs and wheels pushed to the corners injected the Nitro’s assertive stance with added purposeful capability.

The Nitro 4x4 tester had a base price of $25,920. The R/T package and other options drive the bottom line to $33,580. Powering the Nitro R/T 4x4 was an optional 24-valve, 4.0-liter V-6 engine. This performance-oriented power plant coupled to an automatic five-speed with overdrive was rated to produce 260 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 265 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,200 rpm. Fuel economy typical of the 4x4 midsize SUV category was at 16 miles per gallon city and 20 mpg highway. The 4.0L is also offered in 2WD and gets EPA ratings of 16/21 mpg.

Dodge offers the Nitro in SE and SLT trims that are standard-equipped with a 12-valve, 3.7-liter V-6 mated to a four-speed automatic. The 3.7L generates 210 horsepower and 235 lb.-ft. of torque. The 2WD version is rated 16/22 mpg; the 4WD at 15/21 mpg.

The midsize Dodge can be ordered with the trailer tow group, allowing the vehicle to tow up to 3,500 pounds. With a weight-distribution hitch, the tow rating goes to 5,000 pounds. Without any tow equipment, the Nitro can only trailer 2,000 pounds.

Don’t let the big-block boxy look of the Nitro fool you. This SUV with a base curb weight of 4,204 pounds is surprisingly easy to maneuver around town and in tight spaces with its curb-to-curb turning diameter of 36.3 feet. That measurement is more in line of what a sedan would do.

“User-friendly” is a design strength that Dodge designers wanted to achieve for its Nitro. One of the biggest convenience elements in the Nitro is its Load ‘N Go cargo floor that is standard on SLT and R/T Nitro models. The sliding cargo floor extends 18 inches outward, so that you don’t have to reach far or nearly climb into the rear when unloading items from the cargo section. The sliding floor can hold 400 pounds of stuff. If you don’t have the bed of a pickup truck available for carrying longer items, then don’t sweat it. The Nitro has fold-flat second-row seats and a fold-flat front passenger seat.

Chassis improvements have been made to the 2009 Nitro. Dodge says it has retuned the springs and shocks and added stiffer rear-axle shafts for a more precise steering and linear feel when driving. A performance-tuned suspension on the SLT and R/T gives a firm ride. A sport suspension on the SE is designed to be responsive yet comfortable. Electronic stability control is standard for 2009 on the Nitro, as are anti-lock brakes and traction control, front airbags and side curtain airbags.

AutoPacific announced in May that owners named the Dodge Nitro as the “top recommended” vehicle in the midsize SUV segment.

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