The 2011 Dodge Nitro midsize SUV sits on the sidelines with the Caliber compact five-door hatchback as the company makes significant updates to the rest of the lineup. The Journey and Durango SUVs have received important updates for the 2011 model year, but that's not true for the Nitro. Now in its fifth model year, the Nitro SUV shares a platform with the equally dated Jeep Liberty SUV.
Offered with two V-6 engines, the Nitro is a five-passenger rear-wheel-drive SUV that makes four-wheel drive available. If all you want in an SUV is a high seating position and flashy looks, the Nitro might work for you. It's less of a sure bet for consumers who also want fuel efficiency, a modern interior, and car-like dynamics from their SUVs. The base engine is a 3.7-liter V-6 that is mated to an old four-speed automatic transmission and makes 210 horsepower at 5200 rpm and 235 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. There's no big fuel economy benefit for not upgrading to the 4.0-liter V-6 engine, and buyers can expect massive discounts on every trim, so why not go for the bigger engine? The 4.0-liter V-6 makes 260 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 265 pound-feet of torque at 4200 rpm. The engine uses a five-speed automatic transmission and has EPA efficiency ratings of 16/21 mpg city/highway in rear- and four-wheel-drive forms. The Nitro with the smaller V-6 engine is rated 16/22 mpg as a rear-wheel-drive SUV and 15/21 mpg with four-wheel drive.
This late in the Nitro's lifecycle, Dodge realizes why people buy the SUV: a bold design. That's why 20-inch wheels are standard whether you try a base model with an MSRP of about $23,000 or the highest trim, called Shock, at $28,000. It's worth repeating that no one should ever pay anywhere close to the sticker price of the 2011 Nitro. Also new for the 2011 model year, the Nitro has four new colors: Bright White Clear Coat, Blackberry Pearl Coat, Toxic Orange, and Redline Two Coat Pearl. Nitros with cloth seats have stain-repellent fabric and there are new leather seats with colored stitching this year. Dodge says the seats are made with more premium materials this year, and that all models have a monochromatic interior.
So there aren't any major changes to the suspension or noise levels of the 2011 Nitro, but you can get hood/fender racing stripes on the Shock and Detonator trims. The Heat 4.0 trim is new for 2011, bringing the 4.0-liter V-6 to the Heat trim level. The Heat 4.0 has an eight-speaker sound system, Uconnect voice command, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and cruise control.
The turning circle is a surprisingly small 36.3 feet. Cargo capacity is also a positive trait of the Nitro -- you can stuff the SUV with 75.6 cubic feet of stuff. The towing capacity is 5000 pounds.
There are probably easier to maneuver and safer vehicles available at the Nitro's price range, but the Dodge SUV does perform adequately. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Nitro a "good" rating in the front and roof strength tests but only a "marginal" rating in the side impact test. The Nitro has not been tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the more stringent 2011 tests, but a 2010 model received five-star ratings (out of a possible five stars) in all categories except the rollover tests, where it was rated three stars.
The Nitro is a simple SUV that's designed for a buyer who has very specific priorities: flashy looks, a high seating position, and available four-wheel drive at an exceptional price. If you've got other desired traits on your mind, look elsewhere.
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