by Michelle Wingard
They say first impressions are everything. For me, that first impression occurred on November 12, 2004, (long before the birth of the Nitro) when I watched in horror as a Jeep Liberty broadsided a Ford Escort that had ignored a stop sign. The Escort was a mangled mess, one which required its passengers to be removed from the vehicle by firefighters toting those scary jaws of life. The Liberty, on the other hand, had a cracked front bumper, and a license plate that was knocked off by the impact. No broken glass, no crumpled metal, and a passenger that was able to drive that Liberty from the scene of the accident after she was evaluated. Not bad for a 40 MPH collision, and certainly enough to make a lasting impression on me.
When the Dodge Nitro was introduced, I was instantly drawn in by the radical styling. Reminiscent of a nostalgic Power Wagon, the prominent body lines and sharp edges merge to create a Sport Ute unlike anything on the market. The abundant fender flares make the vehicle appear to be much larger than it actually is, and the tasteful cues such as the trademark crosshair grille and faux fender vents provide a classy contrasting effect. Love it or hate it, there is simply no denying that the Dodge Nitro dares to be different from anything preceding it. According to Dianna Gutierrez, DCX manager of PR/communications for the Nitro, this wasn't an accident. After noticing a trend, DCX chose not to blend in a sea of sameness. The Nitro was intended to be a vehicle with aggressive design. "The Nitro is the new face of Dodge, and establishes a high standard of design excellence for the midsize segment", states Gutierrez.
My test Nitro was an Inferno Red SLT 4x4 model with a sticker price of $28,325. In addition to the plethora of standard bells and whistles, $4,000 worth of optional equipment provides chrome 17" wheels, heated leather seats, a 6 CD changer with Sirius radio and 8 high output speakers, power sunroof, and a full size spare tire. The Nitro is an exceptional value, featuring extras that are usually only seen on the more expensive offerings.
interior of the Nitro is every bit as distinct as the exterior. The
leather seats provided the perfect blend of comfort and support, and
the built-in heating mechanism was quite handy during my blustery
February test week. The gauge layout is among the finest I have seen,
providing an unobstructed view, both day and night. It certainly
doesn't take long for one to realize that the DCX designers are in tune
to what the customer wants, considering that all of the functional
controls are well placed and within easy reach.
The 3.7L V6 provided ample power, and excellent gas mileage (18.94 MPG under a variety of strange college-commute conditions). The 4 speed automatic shifts were crisp and clean, a far departure from other sport utility vehicles I've driven. The brakes on this vehicle are superior, which came as a shock to me due to the size and weight of the Nitro. The ride would be better compared to that of a sports car with a performance suspension, simply because it lacks the characteristic clumsiness all too common within this segment. The 4 wheel drive became my friend quickly, when the Nitro and I became stuck in some wet snow during the photo shoot. The turn of one switch was that was necessary to get back on the road, and make it to class on time that day. As impossible as this might sound, I couldn't find a single thing about this vehicle that I *didn't* like.
I must say that I never really had a place in my life for a sport utility. Even as a mother of three, I've always been more of a family car person who toys with performance cars as a hobby. Having said that, I always knew it would take only one perfect vehicle to persuade me. During my week with the Dodge Nitro, it happened. The vehicle was so well rounded that it actually affected my attitude while driving. No longer was I stuck in a boring cookie cutter vehicle. I'd put on my sunglasses, choose from one of my 6 favorite CDs, increase the volume, and smile all the way to school, soaking up every bit of attention the Nitro garnered. My fellow medical students gathered around the Nitro more than once to catch a closer glimpse, and three of them even asked to go for a ride! For that entire week, the Nitro was definitely the coolest kid of campus.
So how far does "in your face styling" go? Far enough that the Nitro has sealed the deal for me. After nine months of searching, I have found my ideal vehicle. Imagine how nice it will look parked between two Mustang GTs. That's a whole lot of boldness for one garage!