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Arrigo Automotive Group

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2008 Dodge Nitro

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2008 Dodge Nitro

The 2008 Dodge Nitro is a mid-size sport utility vehicle distinguished from other SUVs by its squared-off styling with exaggerated fender flares. It is 22 inches shorter than the Dodge Durango full-size SUV.

It features Load 'n' Go, a cargo storage system whereby the rear seats and front passenger seat fold totally flat in seconds; additionally, the cargo floor slides rearward out over the rear bumper, and can hold 400 pounds, making the loading of heavy objects much easier. The Nitro comes with either two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, with a choice of V6 engines. No matter which of the multiple coverings offered by Dodge, the seats are very comfortable. The cabin is quiet thanks to heavy use of sound deadening material.

2008 Dodge Nitro Trim

The 2008 Dodge Nitro comes as three models, SXT, SLT and R/T. All are available with rear-wheel drive (2WD).

The SXT 2WD and 4WD come with a 210-hp 3.7-liter V6 and a choice of six-speed manual transmission or four-speed automatic. Standard equipment includes cloth upholstery, air conditioning, remote keyless entry with power windows and door locks, 115-volt power outlet, flat folding front passenger seat, 60/40 folding rear bench seat, AM/FM/CD with MP3 and six speakers, and Sirius satellite radio.

The SLT and SLT AWD come standard with the automatic transmission. The SLT adds YES Essentials upholstery that Dodge says is stain, odor and static resistant; leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls; six-way power adjustable driver's seat; heated exterior mirrors; vehicle information center; auto-dimming rearview mirror; universal garage door opener; fog lights; Load 'n Go cargo storage system with tie-down rails; overhead console; and cruise control.

The R/T 2WD and R/T AWD feature a 4.0-liter V6 making 260 horsepower, mated to a five-speed automatic transmission with manual shift capability. The R/T comes with a sport suspension with P245/50R20 Goodyear Eagle tires on chromed aluminum wheels.

2008 Dodge Nitro Handling and Powertrain

After long drives in both the Dodge Nitro SLT AWD and R/T 2WD, we prefer the R/T.

The 3.7-liter engine in the SLT is slightly harsh and too slow, and the four-speed automatic transmission needs another gear. When we floored the SLT once at 40 mph, the tranny didn't kick down and the vehicle felt gutless. The suspension takes bumps with a jolt, especially at lower speeds and mostly at the front wheels.

The R/T costs more, but it's worth it. It's better looking anyhow, with more of its trim in the same color as the body, although those 20-inch chrome wheels are a bit much. Chrysler's R/T models are considered higher performance, but in this case it's not hot-roddy high performance, it's more literal: simply a higher level of basic performance by the engine, transmission and suspension.

The 4.0-liter V6 is a single overhead-cam engine. It's rated at 260 horsepower, 50 more than the engine in the SLT, and it provides 265 pound-feet of torque at 4200 rpm. The R/T engine is quieter than the 3.7-liter in the SLT, and it gets nearly the same mileage: 15 city and 20 highway in 2WD, with 89 octane recommended but 87 acceptable. We got 16.7 mpg driving the R/T very hard out in the country.

The handling of the R/T is reasonably sure-footed, and considerably more precise than the SLT; Goodyear Eagle tires help a lot. But it's the ride that's radically better, in this 2WD model. Theoretically the R/T's tuned suspension should be firmer, and surely it is overall, but it's also a lot more comfortable.

2008 Dodge Nitro Interior

The SXT comes in a basic cloth, but the cloth in the SLT and R/T is something called YES Essentials; Dodge claims it repel stains, control odors and reduces static electricity. The optional perforated charcoal leather with red stitching in our test R/T was beautiful. The front buckets were very comfortable and supportive, with excellent bolstering.

The steering wheel is a handsome four-spoker, with a big center hub and thick spokes at 9:00 and 3:00 o'clock, smaller spokes at 5 and 7; the info center buttons are under your thumb on the big spokes. There's good front seat legroom, and it feels like there's even more because the dashboard is narrow, making the cabin feel nothing like that in a minivan. Everything is clean, easy to operate, and easy to understand. The Load 'n Go function quickly and easily flops the 60/40 rear seats and front passenger seat totally flat.

2008 Dodge Nitro Exterior

Dodge publicity makes a big thing about the Nitro's looks, citing its so-called athleticism. It looks and feels larger than mid-size, which some will find to be a good thing. From the front, it's unmistakably Dodge. It's got that big crosshair grille, which looks much better in body color (R/T) than chrome (SXT, SLT). The horizontal headlamps, turn signal slits and fog lamps are a tidy fit in the massive face.

2008 Dodge Nitro Safety

Safety equipment that comes standard on all models includes dual front air bags, head-protecting curtain side air bags, and a tire-pressure monitor. ABS with brake assist, traction control, and electronic stability control with Dodge's Trailer Sway Control are also standard. Rear obstacle detection is optional for SLT and R/T.

The 2008 Nitro has all the Dodge character. It feels bigger than its size, thanks largely to a high beltline, high seating position, and much glass instead of sheet metal at the rear corners. It's not easy to make an SUV look distinctive, and the Nitro tries very hard. Mechanically, it's hindered by the 3.7-liter engine and four-speed automatic transmission in the SXT and SLT, the most popular models. The R/T, costing on average about $3200 more, has a more powerful and smoother 4.0-liter engine, which gets about the same gas mileage at the 3.7, along with a good five-speed automatic transmission. It also has a more comfortable ride. Go for the R/T.