Full 2010 Dodge Nitro Review
What's New for 2010
The 2010 Dodge Nitro gains a deceleration fuel cut-off feature when equipped with the 3.7-liter V6. The Load 'n Go sliding trunk floor has been discontinued and there are new snappy trim level names: Heat, Detonator and Shock. Front active head restraints and power-heated mirrors are now standard, while the base stereo now has six speakers.
Nitro was one heck of an American Gladiator. His long hair, 'roidtastic physique and unmatched ability in the Joust all added up to make him a fan favorite among 1990s TV viewers devoted to watching muscle-bound men and women in spandex roll around in giant metal spheres. Sadly, the 2010 Dodge Nitro doesn't live up to its namesake as an American-made SUV gladiator. Oh, it's got the macho styling down pat, but what it lacks is that unmatched ability as an everyday driver that allows it to compete in the fiercely competitive small-SUV segment.
If the Nitro (the truck, not the Gladiator) looks familiar, that's because it's essentially a modestly restyled Jeep Liberty. The Dodge is tuned a bit more for on-road use and offers a larger, optional V6 engine, but otherwise, they are the same vehicle. That certainly has a few benefits -- namely, a part-time four-wheel-drive system and a substantial towing capacity. Of course, it also brings along a live-axle rear suspension, poor fuel economy and unimpressive handling dynamics that make the Nitro less than ideal for the tasks that most people use small SUVs for.
The interior is another area where the Nitro leaves much to be desired. Cargo space is generous and the controls are simple enough to use, but the overall materials and construction pale in comparison to what you'll find in vehicles like the GMC Terrain, Mazda CX-7 and Subaru Forester. Additionally, the Nitro's backseat is mounted low to the floor, counteracting the comfort otherwise provided by the reasonable amount of legroom and reclining seatback.
If the 2010 Dodge Nitro were to run in the American Gladiators' Eliminator obstacle course, it would get caught up in the cargo net and fall off the spinning cylinder. Those aforementioned small SUVs are far more sensible and better-constructed choices as they provide the sort of performance the Nitro's styling promises but doesn't ultimately deliver. Among other macho SUVs, the Nissan Xterra and Toyota FJ Cruiser are also worth a look should you like to venture off-road. This is one American gladiator that doesn't make the cut.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2010 Dodge Nitro is a five-passenger SUV available in Heat, Detonator and Shock trim levels. Standard equipment includes 20-inch chrome-clad wheels, foglamps, roof rails, tinted windows, keyless entry, full power accessories, heated mirrors, air-conditioning, a tilt steering wheel, a 60/40-split-folding and reclining rear seat and a six-speaker stereo with a CD player, satellite radio and an auxiliary audio jack. The Popular Equipment Group adds cruise control, an outside temperature gauge and a compass. A sunroof is a stand-alone option.
The Detonator trim level comes standard with the stuff from the Popular Equipment Group and also has a more powerful engine, different 20-inch wheels, rear parking sensors, remote ignition, flashier exterior trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel (includes audio controls), a six-way power driver seat, an upgraded instrument panel, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Bluetooth and an eight-speaker stereo with a subwoofer and a six-CD/DVD changer. The Nitro Shock trim adds different 20-inch wheels, a sunroof, leather upholstery and heated seats.
The Media Center upgrade package adds to the Detonator and Shock trim levels navigation, real-time traffic, a touchscreen interface and digital music storage. There is a Towing package available on all trims.
Powertrains and Performance
The Dodge Nitro Heat comes with a 3.7-liter V6 engine that produces 210 horsepower and 237 pound-feet of torque. A four-speed automatic transmission is standard. Rear-wheel drive and four-wheel drive are available, with the latter being a part-time system with high- and low-range gearing. This engine returns an EPA-estimated 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined with rear-wheel drive and 16/20/17 with four-wheel drive. A new feature for 2010 cuts fuel to this engine when decelerating to theoretically save fuel. In performance testing, the virtually identical Jeep Liberty 4x4 went from zero to 60 mph in a lazy 9.5 seconds.
The Nitro Detonator and Shock come with a 4.0-liter V6 good for 260 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic is standard with this engine, while the choice of rear- and four-wheel drive is the same. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 16/21/18 with rear-drive and 15/21/17 with four-wheel. In performance testing, a rear-drive Nitro with the 4.0-liter engine went from zero to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds.
Standard safety equipment includes antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control and side curtain airbags. The stability control includes a trailer sway control feature. Rear parking sensors are standard on the Detonator and Shock. In government crash tests, the 2010 Dodge Nitro achieved a top five-star rating in all frontal and side crash categories. Testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Nitro its top score of "Good" in the frontal-offset test and a second-worst "Marginal" in the side test.
In Edmunds brake testing, a Nitro with the optional 20-inch wheels came to a stop from 60 mph in 122 feet -- good performance for this type of vehicle.
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 below average for this class, with several plastics standing 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 reclining backseat, though the bench is mounted too low for optimal comfort. There are 32 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat. The lift-over height is high for a midsize SUV. With the rear seats folded, there are 65 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.
With its aggressive styling and macho name, you'd think that the 2010 Dodge Nitro offered vigorous power and acceleration. Alas, even with the 4.0-liter V6, the Nitro is slower than a Toyota RAV4 V6. At highway speeds, the cabin is surprisingly quiet and the ride is comfortable for the most part, too. Handling has never been a Nitro strong suit compared to other small SUVs, and the steering is notably vague. Most competitors are better to drive and instill more confidence.