Dodge’s campaign for the Nitro reads ‘Who’s your Daddy?’ Dodge could have called it the Pharaoh, and used ‘Who’s your Mummy?’ But puns aside is the Nitro really ‘your Daddy’, would you want it to be your Daddy if it wasn’t, and if not who actually is your Daddy?
To answer this plethora of parental pontifications, I took the Nitro to the pony clubs and rolling hills of Whitford, east of Auckland.
The front of the Nitro echoes its bigger pickup brother, the Dodge Ram SRT10. The whole car is purposeful and bulging. With the oversized front it’s like a bodybuilder doing push-ups — muscular and grimacing.
There’s a large fatherly kick up the backside in the form of a 4-litre V6 producing 195kW and 360Nm of torque at 4200rpm, which drives through a five-speed automatic to reach 100kph in less than eight seconds.
Though it’s touted as a capable off-roader (it even has a four-wheel-drive diff lock), with 20-inch mags on each corner I daren’t take it into the squishy stuff. Content to remain on the blacktop I discovered the Nitro’s paternal, domineering presence a reassuring and comfortable drive. Just don’t expect it to corner like it’s a sports car. Occupants sit high up, and this means a high centre of gravity and its consequential body roll. The fat 245/50R20 tyres did as good a job as they could to rein in my boyish exuberance, and disc brakes all round haul the Nitro to a halt effectively.
The weight contribution from the enormous 368W stereo with monster subwoofer in the boot is probably significant. Who cares, though, because in this consummate lifestyle vehicle you can roll up anywhere in the Nitro and bring the party with you. There are five seats, enough luggage space for 832 litres of your favourite beverage (or 1994 litres with the back seats folded), and you can tow 2270kg (braked trailer with the weight distributing hitch). Getting your luggage in and out of the back is assisted by the convenient Load n’ Go loading tray which slides partially out of the boot and will hold 181kg — almost enough for an American to sit on.
The stereo controls are, unusually, on the back of the steering wheel with no markings to tell you which buttons do what. Fortunately learning which side changes the frequency and which buttons control the volume only takes a little while. Cruise control is located on a stalk on the right of the wheel, and the buttons on the wheel itself change the display of the trip computer. This display has other functions: it’s a compass, it gives you a readout of what frequency is on the stereo, and it will even tell you the tyre pressures of each wheel.
The electric folding wing mirrors are heated to help on those frosty winter mornings, as are the front seats, (the driver’s seat is power-adjustable), and a photochromic mirror darkens if traffic is following you at night. The footwell doesn’t suffer transmission tunnel intrusion like it does a bit in the Jeep Wrangler, and overall, the driving position is comfortable.
My partner Jen (who only knows that cars have four wheels and are bad for the environment) said, “Why do they call it a Dodge — it’s more like a hit?” And she might just have it. It’s a smack in the face with standover tactics to political correctness. The Nitro should be your benevolent-but-tough older brother. He’s the one that beats up the kid that picks on you (and a few that don’t), teaches you interesting swearwords and lets you hang out with his much cooler mates. But ‘Who’s your Brother’ just doesn’t have the same ring.
Price: from $50,990 (petrol), or $55,990 (diesel)
What we like:
- Engine note
What we don’t like:
- Roads with corners reveal the very conservatively calibrated stability control
Words and photos Darren Cottingham