We also got the chance recently to slide behind the wheel of Dodge's athletic new Nitro, which shares architecture with the Jeep Liberty, but adds an extended wheelbase that will be the basis of the 2008 Liberty (see page 16). The Nitro is available with two V-6 engines and three transmissions, our favorite being the 260hp SOHC 4.0L V-6/five-speed automatic combo that we hope will eventually find its way into the Jeep Wrangler JK. The 4.0L, which is a punched-out version of Chrysler's SOHC 3.5L V-6, finally gives Dodge an engine that can hold its own against class-leading V-6 engines from Nissan, which is good considering that Dodge has a big bull's-eye painted on the Xterra.
With in-your-face styling, and yes, optional 20-inch wheels, Dodge is hoping to attract more male buyers to this female-dominated segment of the market and is feature-rich, including a new sliding cargo load floor known as the Load 'N Go system, a 115-volt power outlet, and a trick MyGIG new multimedia infotainment system that is customizable by the owner.
The interior of the Nitro is sporty, with heavily bolstered seats and a two-tone color scheme available on the top-of-the-line Nitro R/T, but it is also comfortable with plenty of cubbies and bins for storing all of your stuff. The rear seats also fold completely flat.
The Nitro is available in two-wheel or all-wheel drive, but in order to keep the Nitro from infringing on the Liberty's territory, no two-speed transfer case will be available.
During our brief drive, the Nitro proved to be fun to drive for a vehicle of its size, and drew many glances from fellow drivers, including a couple of fingers-one of them a thumb. With that kind of reception on the highway, we don't have any doubts of Dodge succeeding in its goal of reaching the male driver who wants to make a statement.