Full 2008 Dodge Nitro Review
What's New for 2008
Equipment changes on the 2008 Dodge Nitro include a new trailer sway control feature integrated into the standard stability control system, and optional rear parking sensors. On the cosmetic side, body-color exterior trim is now available on SXT models, while Nitros with the R/T package can be equipped with two-tone seats in such garish colors as red, blue and orange.
Brash exterior styling is a key ingredient in every 21st-century Dodge, but the Nitro is especially showy about it. Whereas most compact and midsize SUVs are defined by soft, rounded forms, the 2008 Dodge Nitro has such a square jawline and such exaggerated wheel flares you can't take your eyes off it. This hyper-masculine aesthetic is a major component of the Nitro's appeal in the under-$30,000 price bracket.
A roomy interior is another reason you might consider this five-passenger SUV, and the Nitro's fold-flat seating and slide-out cargo floor (dubbed "Load 'n Go") make it particularly user-friendly as a light-duty hauler. The Dodge's spaciousness is a product of its long 108.8-inch wheelbase. It shares a platform with the redesigned 2008 Jeep Liberty but is slightly larger overall. Like the Liberty, the Nitro uses unibody construction, but has a live-axle rear suspension, a standard rear-wheel-drive configuration (with dual-range four-wheel drive optional) and a choice of 3.7-liter and 4.0-liter V6 engines. None of these attributes would be surprising if the Nitro were a focused off-roader, but in actuality, Dodge has tuned it for street duty. The availability of 20-inch chrome wheels attests to this fact.
Alas, Dodge's effort to build a pavement-friendly crossover out of traditional SUV hardware is not entirely successful. Compared to true car-based crossover SUVs like the Mazda CX-7, Mitsubishi Outlander, Saturn Vue and Toyota RAV4, the Nitro falls short in ride quality and handling acuity. Similarly, its V6 engines can't match the smoothness or efficiency of competitors' smaller engines, and since many of these car-based rivals are lighter, they're quicker, too. Many of them have higher-quality cabin furnishings as well.
If your priorities for a five-passenger SUV are simply one-of-a-kind style, decent interior room and a quiet ride, the 2008 Dodge Nitro would undoubtedly do the trick. However, given the quantity and variety of compact and midsize SUVs in this price range, consumers can be more choosy, as many rivals offer this Dodge's attributes and more.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
A five-passenger midsize SUV, the 2008 Dodge Nitro is available in SXT and SLT trim levels. Shoppers will also encounter Nitros with an R/T badge -- Dodge treats this as a package option for the SLT rather than a separate trim level.
Standard equipment on the base Nitro SXT includes 16-inch steel wheels, a roof rack, air-conditioning, a six-speaker CD stereo, an auxiliary audio input, satellite radio and full power accessories. Step up to the Nitro SLT and you'll get 17-inch alloy wheels, body-color exterior trim, privacy glass, heated side mirrors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a power driver seat, cruise control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, a compass/outside temperature gauge and a slide-out cargo floor with tie-down points. The available R/T Package for the SLT provides a larger engine, 20-inch chrome wheels, firmer suspension tuning and upgraded exterior trim.
Major options on the Nitro include two-tone seat cloth (R/T only), leather upholstery (bundled with heated seats), a sunroof, an upgraded audio system with an in-dash CD/DVD changer, a rear entertainment system and the MyGIG multimedia system, which offers navigation, MP3 file storage/playback and Bluetooth functions via a central touchscreen. Class III towing preparation is also available.
Powertrains and Performance
Standard on the Nitro SXT and SLT is a 3.7-liter V6 rated for 210 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard on SXT models; a four-speed automatic is optional on the SXT and standard on the SLT. The Dodge Nitro R/T alone comes with a 4.0-liter V6 engine good for 260 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic transmission is standard with this engine.
All versions of the Nitro are available with either rear-wheel drive (2WD) or four-wheel drive (4WD). Nitro 4x4s have a part-time system with high- and low-range gearing, though this model's suspension tuning and tire options are both heavily street-oriented. Properly equipped, the Nitro can tow up to 5,000 pounds regardless of drivetrain.
Fuel economy is not a strong point for the Dodge Nitro no matter which engine you choose. On 2WD models, you're looking at 2008 EPA ratings of 16 mpg in the city and 21-22 mpg on the highway. Opt for 4WD and the figures dip slightly to 15 mpg city, 20-21 mpg highway.
Antilock disc brakes, traction control, stability control and full-length side curtain airbags are standard on the 2008 Dodge Nitro. The stability control system includes a trailer sway control feature. Rear parking sensors are optional. In crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Nitro earned a perfect five stars for all frontal- and side-impact categories.
Interior Design and Special Features
Inside, the Nitro has a somewhat industrial feel, though faux aluminum accents brighten the place up a bit. Materials quality is average for this class, though a few plastics stand out as unacceptably low-grade. An upright seating position provides a good view out the front, and liberal use of soft cushioning makes it easy to get comfortable. Legroom is ample for adults in the backseat, though the bench is mounted too low for optimal comfort. There are 32.1 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat. The lift-over height is high for a midsize SUV, but the slide-out cargo tray in SLT and R/T models provides easier access when unloading groceries and luggage. With the rear seats folded, there are 65.2 cubic feet of cargo space available, about average for this class. The front passenger seat can also fold forward to aid in carrying long items. A 115-volt outlet is standard on the SLT and R/T, thereby enhancing the Nitro's usefulness at the campsite.
Acceleration is adequate with the 3.7-liter V6, but only when equipped with the 4.0-liter engine does the 2008 Dodge Nitro feel truly quick. We've timed a Nitro R/T at 7.7 seconds for the 0-60-mph run. The Nitro cruises quietly at highway speeds, and the ride is mostly comfortable as well, though soft suspension damping allows too much body motion over bumps. Handling around corners is unimpressive for a midsize SUV, as even the sporty R/T model exhibits slow steering and significant body roll. In keeping with the Nitro's modest handling limits, the stability control system is undefeatable and quick to intervene. 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.