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#23

in 2011 Affordable Compact SUVs

Avg. Price Paid: $15,104 - $19,854
Original MSRP: $22,245 - $28,995
MPG: 16 City / 22 Hwy
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2011 Dodge Nitro Performance

This performance review was created when the car was new. Some links may no longer point to an active page.

The Nitro falls short in the handling department but it does offer two powerful V6 engines. Both are incredibly strong, helping the Nitro achieve best-in-class towing capacity.

  • "The five-seat Nitro is a blast to drive in a straight line thanks to a gem of an engine in the available 4.0-liter V-6, but it suffers from trucklike ride and handling that has no place in an SUV designed for onroad performance." -- Cars.com
  • "On the road, the Nitro's 4.0-liter V-6 makes a lot of noise but doesn't seem to back it up with performance." -- CNET
  • "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." -- Edmunds

Acceleration and Power

Although four-cylinder engines are often standard for the class and a V6 is usually a costly upgrade, the Nitro only has V6 engines. It comes standard with a 3.7-liter V6 and four-speed automatic transmission, but reviewers prefer the more powerful 4.0-liter V6 and five-speed automatic. The Nitro's engines set it apart from most vehicles in its class and give it a best-in-class maximum 5,000-pound towing capacity. The Toyota RAV4 offers slightly more power with its V6 (and costs slightly less than the Nitro), but its 1,500-pound towing capacity doesn't even come close to the Nitro's.

The Nitro's big engines takes a toll on its fuel economy, which is poor for the class. According to the EPA, two-wheel drive models with the 3.7-liter engine net 16/22 mpg city/highway, while those with the four-liter engine net 16/21. Four-wheel drive models net 15/21 and 16/20, respectively. The Nitro has an Interactive Decel Fuel Shut Off system, which is designed to save fuel by shutting off the gasoline supply during deceleration.

  • "The 3.7-liter V6 is good off the line, but it labors in highway merging or passing. It takes a deep stab of the throttle to coax a downshift. The 4.0-liter V6 is stronger in every situation and has sufficient passing punch." -- Consumer Guide
  • "The base engine is the Liberty's 3.7-liter V6, basically a 4.7-liter Chrysler V8 with two of the cylinders chopped off. It feels raspy at anything over 3500 rpm but nonetheless makes 210 hp and 235 lb-ft of torque, enough to keep the nearly 4000-pound Nitro going strong." -- AutoWeek
  • "The Nitro's standard towing capacity is 2,000 pounds. Selecting the optional Trailer Tow Group -- which includes heavy-duty engine and power steering cooling systems, a Class III hitch and a full-size spare tire -- raises trailer towing capacity to 3,500 pounds; fitting a so-equipped Nitro with a weight-distributing hitch bumps maximum towing capacity to 5,000 pounds, which is at the high end for small SUVs." -- Cars.com
  • "Alas, even with the 4.0-liter V6, the Nitro is slower than a Toyota RAV4 V6." -- Edmunds

Handling and Braking

Reviewers complain about the Dodge Nitro's handling. Despite upgrades in 2009, it continues to offer unresponsive steering and a bumpy ride compared to rivals. If you're looking for better handling, consider the Toyota RAV4.

  • "Responsive, nicely weighted steering gives Nitro a nimble feel. Well-controlled cornering lean enhances sporty demeanor. SXT's optional sport suspension and 20-inch tires, deliver an appreciably sharper feel. Good overall brake feel, though one test example suffered inconsistent stopping action." -- Consumer Guide
  • "The suspension takes bumps with a jolt, especially at lower speeds and mostly at the front wheels. And when we turned off the stability control and drove it aggressively around a hairpin turn, the front end washed out as badly as anything we've felt in a long time, on its Goodyear Wrangler on/off-road performance tires. This was surprising, because the Nitro is a rear-wheel-drive platform." -- New Car Test Drive
  • "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." -- Edmunds

Next Steps: 2011 Dodge Nitro

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