2007 Dodge Nitro Performance

$3,586 - $4,906

2007 Dodge Nitro Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2007 Dodge Nitro was new.


Performance: 5.9

With a selection of V6 engines that are powerful for this class, "the five-seat Nitro is a blast to drive in a straight line," says Cars.com, "but it suffers from trucklike ride and handling that has no place in an SUV designed for onroad performance."

Reviewers found ample power in the two V6 engines Dodge has offered in the Nitro. Car and Driver explains, "all Nitros feature standard V-6 power, with base and SLT models featuring an adequate, if uninspiring 3.7-liter, 210-hp engine and the R/T featuring a much-more-like-it 4.0-liter worth 260 horsepower." But the vehicle's handling disappointed nearly every reviewer who got behind the wheel. "Its suspension, especially its front suspension, is underdamped, which allows excessive body motion over bumps and freeway undulations. Its steering is slow and doesn't offer much feedback," complains Edmunds.

The Nitro is close to being a clone of another DaimlerChrysler product, and most of its flaws are carried over from its corporate cousin. "Don't be fooled: you're looking at little more than a re-skinned Jeep Liberty," Automobile Magazine explains. Kelley Blue Book says that they "found ourselves wishing it had been built from scratch. As it is, the Nitro's Jeep Liberty-derived architecture demands sacrifices in ride and handling." Likewise, Edmunds says, "it's fairly obvious from behind the wheel that the Nitro, fundamentally, is a Jeep -- so it's logical that it's not a sharp-steering, precise-responding machine."

Despite its Jeep roots, the Nitro is not an off-road vehicle. Though it can be equipped to tow a class-leading 5,000 pounds, the Detroit News notes that "it features car-type unitized construction and is not offered with a two-speed transfer case, which is critical for serious off-roading." The Nitro has enough trouble handling even rough roads, where "hitting a bump or dip in the road results in an exaggerated response from the suspension that can toss occupants around in their seats," according to Cars.com. Buyers should make no mistake -- they are buying a tough-looking SUV, not a tough-acting one. Edmunds sums up the attitude of most auto writers well in saying that "looks will be the Nitro's primary selling point because it isn't the best driving vehicle in the segment."

Acceleration and Power

In a class where four cylinders is the rule and a V6 is usually a costly upgrade, the Nitro offers two V6 engines and a variety of drivetrain configurations. The base engine, a 3.7-liter V6 found on SXT and SLT models, is "adequate, if uninspiring," according to Car and Driver. Despite the size of the engine, its 210 horsepower is nearly identical to the output of much smaller engines found on many competitors' small SUVs. "It feels raspy at anything over 3500 rpm," notes AutoWeek, and offers acceleration that Edmunds classifies as merely "adequate." SXT models mate the 3.7-liter engine with a very primitive six-speed manual transmission. SLT models combine the same engine with a four-speed automatic, which is optional on the SXT. Reviewers were unimpressed with this automatic, with Automobile Magazine finding it "rough and clumsy."

R/T models are equipped with a 4.0-liter V6 putting out 260 horsepower, which most reviewers found much more satisfying. "Only when equipped with the 4.0-liter engine does the 2007 Dodge Nitro feel truly quick," according to Edmunds. "On numbers alone, it holds its own in acceleration testing. Our tester hit 60 mph in 7.7 seconds -- quicker than the last Mazda CX-7 we tested, but not quite as quick as Toyota's RAV4. The same result held true through the quarter-mile, with the Nitro breaking the traps in 15.9 seconds at 86 mph. The CX-7 was 0.3 second slower, while the RAV4 was 0.7 second quicker." This engine comes paired with a five-speed automatic with manual shifting capability that reviewers liked better than the other transmission options. Automobile Magazine explains that "the 4.0-liter's five-speed manu-matic shifts nicely."

Fuel efficiency is not a strong suit of the Nitro. The smaller of the two engines is rated by the Environmental Protection Agency at 16 miles per gallon in the city and 22 in highway driving. The 4.0 engine gets only 16 miles per gallon in the city and 21 on the highway -- both surprisingly poor numbers for this class.

Handling and Braking

Reviewers find the handling dynamics of the 2007 Dodge Nitro disappointing. Common complaints were slow, unresponsive steering, and a suspension that struggles to keep riders comfortable over bumpy roads.

"Steering feel, especially with the available twenty-inch chrome wheels, grows awfully numb at speed," complains Automobile Magazine. Car and Driver cited "vague steering," while AutoWeek called it "numb." Cars.com feels "The rack-and-pinion power steering system provides too much assist for my taste when traveling at highway speeds" and Edmunds says that "handling around corners is unimpressive for a small SUV, as even the sporty R/T model exhibits slow steering and significant body roll." In the vehicle's favor, the Detroit News says that "the compact exterior dimensions of the Nitro -- it's shorter than a Chevrolet Cobalt sedan -- makes this SUV relatively easy to park."

SXT models ride on 16-inch tires with a performance-tuned suspension, while SLT models package the same suspension with 17-inch tires. This suspension package was not well-liked. "Soft suspension damping allows too much body motion over bumps," according to Edmunds. R/T models ride on a sport-tuned suspension and larger tires, but perform no better in reviewers' eyes. "Its big, 20-inch diameter wheels did nothing to soften the bumps of travel along less-than-perfect roads, and they did even less to help correct the Nitro R/T's sway-to-left-sway-to-right handling," comments the Washington Post. "Ditto the SUV's sports suspension, which seemed to take a timeout on streets and highways with imperfect surfaces."

The Nitro is available with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. A part-time four-wheel-drive system is standard on 4x4 models with manual transmissions, while a full-time four-wheel-drive system is included on 4x4 models with automatic transmissions. "The part-time system should only be engaged when driving on slippery surfaces (RWD is used under normal driving conditions), but the full-time system includes a center differential and operates without driver intervention," reports Cars.com.

The standard anti-lock brakes performed well in testing, but were still cited as a negative by many auto writers. "The brakes stop the Nitro without incident and are fairly linear, but the pedal itself has an uninspiring, spongy feel," explains Cars.com. Edmunds agrees, saying, "the brake pedal has a long travel and a somewhat vague feel (typical of a trucklike vehicle), but stopping distances are convincingly short -- that same Nitro R/T tester stopped in 122 feet from 60 mph."


Properly equipped, the Nitro can tow a best-in-class 5,000 pounds. Towing capacity on the un-enhanced Nitro is 2,000 pounds. A Trailer Tow Group is  available and includes heavy-duty cooling systems for the engine and steering, a class III hitch and full-size spare. This increases towing weight to 3,500 pounds. An available weight-distributing hitch increases the maximum capacity again, to 5,000 pounds, placing it at the top of the class for small SUVs.

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