2009 Dodge Nitro SLT

2009 Dodge Nitro SLT

26.11.2009: Road Test Text Iain Shankland / Images: Iain & Gail Shankland When I saw the Dodge Nitro at the Toronto International Auto Show a couple of years ago, and I thought it was a great-looking truck in a manly sort of way. I knew right

Road Test Text Iain Shankland / Images: Iain & Gail Shankland

When I saw the Dodge Nitro at the Toronto International Auto Show a couple of years ago, and I thought it was a great-looking truck in a manly sort of way. I knew right away it would be the kind of vehicle people would either love or hate immediately. Unlike the swoopy offerings from Mazda (CX-7) and Acura (RDX), the Nitro is as square as a brick. The front end is completely upright and square, making the Hummer H2 look aerodynamic. The sides and front windshield are equally upright, adding to the drag co efficiency (cd) of .39 and a wind resistance-be-damned attitude to the truck. With its big bulging wheel wells and beefy tires, this truck has a real presence – it’s not going to disappear amongst all the other SUV’s in the parking lot that’s for sure!

Chrysler are on a roll with their vehicles these days and the Nitro just keeps that steam roller momentum going. While other manufacturers are trying to think outside the box and come up with something different, Dodge asks the question: “What’s wrong with the box? Let’s make a truck that looks like a box!”  And wouldn’t you know it – it works.

First Impressions

Walking up to the Nitro you can’t help but notice how high the sides panels are compared to the size of the windows. I start to grin. Grabbing the big beefy door handle and pressing the pie plate sized button, I opened the door with anticipation. Unlike so many SUV’s on the market today, you actually have to step up into this truck. The test vehicle is an SLT - the middle version in the range of Nitro offerings, and the one Dodge say is going to be the most popular among purchasers. There’s an R/T version that delivers a bigger engine along with 20” (51cm) rims and tires as standard equipment.

Grabbing the steering wheel, I swing myself up and into the truck. The first thing I notice is how comfortable the seat is – for some unknown reason I wasn’t expecting it to be so comfortable. The next attention grabber was the windshield - it’s right there - none of this way-out-beyond-my-reach windows. Obviously this will be a benefit to off-roaders, since the driver can see right to the end of the hood.

The leather seats are heated and very easy to adjust to get comfortable. They’re a combination of power and manual adjustments - the driver’s 6-way power adjustments control the seat cushion, while the seat back is manually adjustable, front passenger makes do with entirely manual adjustments. Even without lumbar controls, the seats proved to be very comfortable and offered plenty of support, especially in the thigh, lower back and upper back areas. The two-tone black and grey leather seats match nicely with the black interior and silver accented center console finish. Overall, the manliness of the exterior is carried consistently to the interior with satisfactory results.

The fat leather-wrapped steering wheel is the perfect size, and incorporates controls for the audio and vehicle information systems.  While the steering tilts, it unfortunately does not telescope. I found the placement of the gas pedal too far away in relation to the reach of the brake pedal. Ideally the pedals would be adjustable; this would no doubt ensure a more comfortable seating position, and while it didn’t detract from the driving experience, I always felt I was just a little too close to the steering wheel.

Directly in front of the driver is a three-dial cluster that houses the speedometer in the center and the tachometer on the left – incorporating the information center (outside temperature, fuel remaining till empty, odometer and trip meter, compass, radio station and CD track numbers etc.). The dials are very tasteful in appearance, and just a bit different from your everyday applications. The turn signal incorporates a lane-change feature: tap it once and the signal flashes 3 times; I found this feature particularly helpful since the indicator stalk had a tendency to make a cracking sound when you used it, making you think you’d just broken it.

In the center of the dashboard is a good-sized storage spot that was perfect for a couple pairs of sunglasses - the rubber mat that was incorporated there meant you didn’t have to worry about them flying all over the vehicle. Below this storage spot are the HVAC vents and the stereo system. The unit in the test vehicle is the optional 368-watt Infinity 6-disc in-dash AM/FM/CD/DVD-audio/MP3/WMA player with an auxiliary jack that has eight amplified speakers, plus a subwoofer.

The cost of $900 [$875 Cdn] is an absolute bargain with its outstanding clarity and the subwoofer that never overpowered the rest of the speakers. The unit itself is easy to operate and use at a glance, with large round buttons for the volume and station tuning – not that I used them much because the buttons on the steering wheel are very easy to use and logically laid out.

Below the stereo system is the manual climate control that is fantastic in its simplicity. Could it be that manufacturers are finally getting it? Three large, easy to read and operate buttons can be used with the thickest of gloves or chunkiest of fingers. The wide centre console that separates the driver and front passenger has the gear shifter and a traditional parking brake, a storage area for an MP3 player, as well as the obligatory cup holders.

The arm rest incorporates a two-stage storage bin set up with a small removable plastic shelf and below it a deep storage compartment. The glove box is very small – ridiculously so, although this seems to be the new trend, although to Dodge’s credit there is a knee airbag in the lower part of the dash, so it’s not just a waste of space or bad design. Additionally, there are the useful door map pockets that can handle more than just a map, so these also make up for the lack of space in the glove box.

Turning the key, there’s a delay and then the engine starts – weird. For the entire test I was always caught off guard by this little idiosyncrasy. Firing up the engine, it rumbles to life and almost sounds like a V-8! Sweet. I move the shifter into drive and prod the throttle. Nothing. Then we move forward. The drive by wire throttle moves a good centimeter or more before the truck gets the hint that we want to go … now. It’s something that takes a bit of getting used to – especially backing out of a parking spot in a busy parking lot – you don’t want to give it too much welly or you’ll be driving into another vehicle. However, I’m sure once you drive the Nitro for more than a week or so you’d get used to it and it wouldn’t be an issue.

If you like the solid feel of a truck-based SUV, then the Nitro is for you. It’s very solid and manly and feels like it is made from one solid piece of steel. While I half-expected it to feel claustrophobic with the windows that look like gun-slits, it was never an issue, and I never even gave it a second thought. The very large side view mirror on the driver’s side felt too close, and because of its size and positioning it created a bit of a blind spot and I almost ran over a couple of pedestrians who were ”hiding” behind the mirror and the very thick A pillar.

The steering is nicely weighted – heavy but not too much so. Throttle response once under way was very good and instantaneous. Entering the motorway was effortless, with the Nitro responding to the required urgency of my right foot. I never had the urge to drive faster and faster in the Nitro, which goes against my natural instincts - much like the Mazda MX5 or the Dodge Charger, I enjoyed the drive more and didn’t feel the urgency of just trying to get to my destination as fast as humanly possible. The suspension is tight, but definitely not on the sporty side.  There is however, a sports suspension available as an option on the SLT (standard on the R/T) that might be worth considering, even though I’ve never had the urge to put the Nitro up onto two wheels (I’m not sure I’d like to push it close to its limits)!

I was extremely surprised to find that wind and road noise were very reasonable - especially with the Nitro’s blocky appearance and big nobly tires. Driving at highway speed with the sunroof fully open was another pleasant surprise - we didn’t even have to raise our voices to carry on a normal conversation – something that really stood out as exceptional. With the roof closed and all the windows up, the Nitro was bordering on whisper quiet – very unexpected in such a square truck.

The rear doors are a bit smaller at the bottom than the front, and that combined with the seats being a little bit higher made rear seat entry/exit a little bit of a stretch. Anyone with very large feet may find it a little awkward getting them in and out of the door space, however once inside the rear passengers have an abundance of head and shoulder room, and leg and knee room was exceptional. Foot space is also very good since the driver’s seat sits high, however the various bumps in the floor may hinder some with very large feet. There’s plenty of foot space for three passengers in the back thanks to a completely flat floor.

The rear seat back splits 65/35 and locks perfectly flat after pulling a strap and tumbling the seatback forward. The rear seats also recline a little for added comfort. The rear cargo area is very large with 909 litres with the seats up and 1846 litres with them folded flat. I measured a total of 1.78 metres in length, 61cm wide and 89 cm high with the seats folded for maximum cargo space. With the rear seats up the length shrinks to 61cm while the width and height remain the same.

With the front passenger seat folded flat along with the rear seat back, I measured a very usable 2.64 meters in total length, with 2140 litres of cargo space. Unfortunately the rear window in the back gate doesn’t open independently of the rear hatch; otherwise that number could have been so much longer. Optional on the base and SXT, but standard in the SLT and R/T is the Load ‘N Go floor; the floor slides out 45.8cm to aid in loading and unloading heavy and awkward cargo and has six built in tie downs.

This impressive feature can hold up to 182 kg and works well for big heavy items, however, we found it a hindrance if we used it for groceries or the like because the bags would fall off into the area the floor creates when it’s pulled out; apparently it would be better to simply leave the sliding floor in its regular position for smaller items. Another bonus of the Load ‘N Go floor is the small amount of hidden storage it creates beneath, albeit only about 10cm in depth.


Standard such are: 4-wheel disc brakes; ESP (Electronic Stability Program) that includes ABS/all-speed Traction Control/ BA (Brake Assist) and ERM (Electronic Roll Mitigation); side impact door beams; dual-stage front air bags and dual knee air bags; front seat-mounted side air bags; front and rear side curtain air bags; driver and front passenger seatbelts with pre-tensioners; anti-theft engine immobilizer system; Sentry Key Theft deterrent; automatic door locks; TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitor System) with display; LATCH system and remote keyless entry.

The Conclusion

What’s not to love about the Nitro? From its huge flat grill and headlights to its building-block look – it’s a winner. It’s completely different from everything else we see on the road today except the Hummer H1 & H2, but does a better job of it. The safety features and standard features at a very reasonable price make it irresistible. Next week we’ll look at the R/T version of this SUV.


Masculine truck look and feel
Solid build quality
Load ‘N Go floor
Another Home Run from Dodge/Chrysler


Poor fuel economy

Immediate Competition:

Hummer H3, Jeep Liberty, Kia Sorento, Nissan Xterra, Suzuki Grand Vitara

By The Numbers…

Please visit your local dealer for the latest prices and incentives.

          3.7 Litre Magnum V-6 engine, 4-Speed automatic transmission, part-time or automatic 4WD
Horsepower (Kw):     190 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque (N.m.):     359 @ 4,200 rpm
0-100 kph:         8.4 seconds

Cargo Capacity:
    Behind Front Seats: 909 litres  //  Behind Rear Seats: 1846  litres
Towing capacity:     2,273 kg

Fuel Consumption:

The 3.7 Litre Magnum V-6 is listed at:  City: 13.5 L/100 kms  //  Highway: 9.5 L/100 kms 
I averaged 14 L/100 kms in mostly highway driving.

Copyright © 2009 by Iain Shankland – www.twitter.com/Road_Test  

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26.11.2009 / MaP

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