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First drive: Dodge Nitro


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Even though Dodge is famous for producing 4x4s, the all-new Nitro will take its place in the history books. Why? Because it’s the firm’s first ever mid-sized SUV destined for outside North America.

Following the launch of the Caliber hatchback this summer, the Nitro will become Dodge’s second British offering when it goes on sale in this country next July.

The Nitro isn’t what you’d call subtle. The boxy, slab-sided design gives it something of the Land Rover Discovery, but with the cross-shaped chrome grille and big wheels, it’s not for the shy and retiring.

Dodge bosses know this, but believe it’s a credible alternative to the Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento and Subaru Forester.

There will be one petrol and one diesel model. The former is a 3.7-litre V6, offering 210bhp and 235lb ft, mated to a four-speed automatic gearbox.

However, 95% of Brits will opt for the 2.8-litre oil-burner, with 182bhp and 339lb ft. A six-speed manual is standard, with a five-speed automatic an option. Both models are 2wd/4wd, with the set-up electronically controlled by a dashboard button.

There’s a lot to like about the cabin. It’s chunky and functional, and the central console is simple but stylish. There’s two generous-sized cupholders near the handbrake, and a massive storage bin between the seats.

In the boot there’s a clever load floor that slides out over the rear bumper. However, the front door bins are too narrow, shallow and short, plus there’s no central rear armrest and the steering wheel only adjusts for rake.

The diesel wasn’t available to test, which is a shame because the petrol was a bit disappointing. With American suspension settings, the ride quality was fine on uneven surfaces to around 40mph, but the damping lacked control beyond that and things got bouncy.

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It held the road well through the corners, but the steering was vague, and it was necessary to constantly adjust the wheel to keep the Nitro on line.

This isn’t a car that responds well to being rushed, and the V6 gets very noisy and coarse at higher revs. Trim levels and specs have yet to be fixed, but the car will start at around £19,000

Price: £19,000-22,000 (est)
Engines: 3.7-litre 210bhp V6 petrol; 2.8-litre 182bhp diesel
Transmission: Petrol: four-speed automatic. Diesel: six-speed manual or five-speed automatic
Performance: Not available
Efficiency: Not available
Rivals: Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe, Subaru Forester
Strengths: Butch styling, practical boot space, functional interior
Weaknesses: Bouncy ride (on US suspension settings)
Opportunity: Dodge name and styling should create showroom interest
Threat: On-road manners not on a par with class leaders
The USP: It’s different to everything else on the road

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