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Motoring: Dodge Nitro should have been “Truck of the Year”

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | January 22nd, 2007

As a general rule, I don't like SUVs. I think they are normally a waste of space and they drink too much fuel.

However, something I drove recently changed my mind, and it may seem like the most unlikely vehicle to do it. I am talking about the Dodge Nitro, the latest sport ute in Dodge's line-up.

What makes the Nitro different from other SUV's and SUV wannabes is the way this thing drives. Normally an SUV is a heavy, ponderous beast that is about as stable on normal roads as a baby in a bouncy castle. Thus SUVs have never ranked high on my driving excitement list. However, the Nitro is very well behaved. It is stable at all speeds, even illegally high ones, and better still, you can actually attack corners in this SUV. Not only will it go around corners at speeds you just don't expect it to, it also shows no worrying signs of tipping over. So this SUV handles like a car, better than some cars I could mention in fact. This Nitro is fun to drive.

The Nitro is also quite fast. There are currently two engines available, a 4.0-litre V6 producing 255 hp, or the 3.7-litre V6 as in my test vehicle, which made a very pleasing 210 hp. The transmission might only have been a four-speed unit but the ratios complimented each other and the shift quality it must be said, was very good.

So the Nitro is fast and fun to drive, but I bet you're asking, what is the price you have to pay at the gas station for all this fun. There lies another surprise, because despite its boxy, in your face looks, it happens to be quite slippery through the air. As a result you neither have to worry about wind-noise at high speeds, or fuel bills, because this SLT model averaged around 12.5 litres/100km on a combined cycle, which is fantastic not only for a V6-powered SUV, but also for a V6-powered sedan.

Speaking of sedans, it is as comfortable as any sedan in this price segment I have come across, and don't think this SUV is all looks and no utility because this machine can really haul, as a friend of mine and I found out when we went hardwood floor shopping in it. We got 700 sq.ft. of thick, heavy, hardwood floor boxes in it, which we didn't think it could handle, but despite all the extra weight we tagged along, the fuel economy barely budged over normal driving. This is working out to be quite a machine. A no compromise machine since it has all the electrical goodies you'd want and a very decent stereo system.

Despite all its practical purposes, its a joy to drive, and this feeling of excitement you get every inch of the road you travel on is something that is missing from a lot of vehicles these days. I don't know quite how Dodge managed it with the Nitro, but they have.

So to cap it all, it looks great, it is fun to drive, it is comfortable and it is practical. In other words, it's like finding a cheese burger that is actually good for you.

You know, in this year, I got to drive (as usual) plenty of cars. Some I were expecting to be good, and they were good. Some I was expecting to be good but turned out to be bad. The Dodge Nitro should get the prize for the biggest surprise of the year. I never could have imagined this vehicle to be good. If it had been simply “OK” I would have said, it turned out as I expected it to be. But this turned out to be brilliant, and that is something very rare these days, especially at an affordable price. Base Nitro's start at $23,290, my SLT test vehicle was $29,890, even the R/T version is only $32,390. So it is quite affordable too.

Yes, I am sure you are wondering at this point, there has to be something wrong with this thing. To be honest, there is nothing to be of any concern to anyone, and any fault you might point at is really going to be nitpicking.

This really deserves to be “the Truck of the Year”, how the supposed “experts” from AJAC managed to not notice the Nitro as a winner is beyond me. Take my word for it. If you want to buy an SUV for five people, this should be at the top of your list.
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