First UK drive

It’s big, brutish and looks like nothing else on the road. Dodge has gone out with all guns blazing with the provocative Nitro SUV.

But what’s this American motor like? Adrian Hearn went to the UK launch to find out.

There’s a new boy in town and he’s looking for a fight. The Dodge Nitro is bigger, cheaper and more powerful than its SUV rivals: the Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe and Chevrolet Captiva. But can it compete with these more conservative cars?

Using a 2.8-litre diesel engine the Nitro produces 175bhp and a massive 302lb/ft of pulling power. This muscle accelerates the Nitro from 0-62mph (100kph) in 11.5 seconds and on to a top speed 113mph. This puts it on a par with its Asian rivals, but it’s still fairly slow.

And with this weight you get poor fuel economy. On a combined cycle it returns just 30.1mpg and with carbon dioxide emissions of 250g/km it also means an annual tax bill of £300. So even though it’s initially cheaper than its rivals, running costs are pretty high.

On the road, the ride is soft and bouncy and on corners there is a lot of body roll. We didn’t take it off-road, but without a low-ratio gearbox or a hill-descent system the Nitro is designed only for part time, moderate 4×4 use like crossing fields or shallow mud tracks.

On the outside, the Nitro is an imposing car. The top-of-the-range model we tested is the only one in its class to have 20-inch wheels as standard. And the boxy shape adds to its aggressive looks. This is clearly a car to invoke a reaction and it’s likely to be love or hate.

The Dodge is massive and its practicality is one of its trump cards. There’s acres of leg room and the leather seats are very comfortable. The dials are easy to understand and – with the car’s height – the driver has a good view of the road.

Inside the cavernous boot is Dodge’s ‘Load ‘N Go’ slide out floor, which pulls out and makes filling the boot with shopping, camping equipment or any heavy items a more practical, safer task. With the seats up the boot holds 389 litres, but folded flat, its capacity increases to a mammoth 1,994 litres.

There’s a high emphasis on safety, with the Nitro boasting anti-lock brakes, electronic stability programme, brake assist and traction control. It also benefits from front and full-length curtain airbags. To guard against thieves, it’s fitted with an alarm and immobiliser.

While we drove the 2.8-litre diesel, there is also a 3.7-litre petrol available. But with a similar performance to the diesel and significantly poorer fuel economy, the diesel is likely to make up the bulk of sales.

The diesel is also available with a manual gearbox for those looking for a bit more control, but the 3.7-litre model is only sold as an auto.

Looking like a Land Rover Discovery on steroids, the Dodge Nitro is as striking a car as there is on Britain’s roads. But underneath that anabolic body is an underperforming engine.

I’m sure the Nitro will sell, and for the money it’s really well specced. But it will find favour with those after something different rather than other – and more talented – models.

Available from September, prices for the Dodge Nitro start at £18,995 for the entry level 2.8CRD, rising to £23,590 for the CRD SXT auto and 3.7 petrol auto.

Key facts

Model tested: Dodge Nitro 2.8 CRD SXT-Auto
On the road price: £23,590
Range price: £18,995 – £23,590
Date tested: June 2007
Road tester: Adrian Hearn