Tow Vehicle: Dodge Nitro

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The Dodge Nitro SE is supposed to target urban curb hoppers, but it provides a ruggedly-built chassis and V6 power unit without needing to go to full-size off-roader territory, so this actually makes a strong tow vehicle that’s easier to drive day to day

Tow Vehicle: Dodge Nitro
Tow Vehicle: Dodge Nitro
  • More compact and easier to drive than the big-boy SUVs
  • Rugged
  • V6 engine capable of lugging 2.2 tonnes
  • Looks the part, but doesn't cost the earth

Think Dodge as a car brand and your head starts swimming with iconic American muscle cars like the Duster, Viper or Challenger; or Ram pick-ups overloaded with cubic inches and testosterone.

Even with that signature bling-bling, cross-hair grill standard 20 inch wheels, (yes, really) and slab-side styling, the recently-tweaked Dodge Nitro seems almost, well, dainty.

Dodge New Zealand chose not to receive the fuller figured Ram products here, leaving that game up to parallel importers. Instead, the brand has a more unisex appeal in New Zealand, striking accord with both adventure-focused couples and urbanites that enjoy the Yankee look. But don’t want a car with an obesity problem.

The Nitro fits that bill, just. In terms of size, it sits above the popular compact SUV segment filled with the likes of Honda’s CR-V and below the bulkier metal like the Toyota Prado, the benefit there is you get a generously sized wagon that’s still very manageable on the road and on the pocket with its $46,990 starting price.

Inside the Nitro

New for 2010, the Nitro has received a makeover of its interior, so the trims have been improved and there are more soft touch surfaces. There’s still plenty of Americana on show in here: chunky dials, chrome trim and not the most natural leather on the top spec SXT model. I reckon it’s best in the entry level SE spec, the cloth is attractive and stain/odour resistant, which might sound gimmicky, but it’s great for those who like to take their pets away.

Engine and power

The convenient size and V6 power unit under the bonnet makes the Nitro a strong tow vehicle. There’s a couple of low points in that the engine generates its peak torque a little high in the rpm range (314Nm @ 4000rpm) so under full load the engine’s noisier than the low torque diesel options an the vehicle only offers a four-speed automatic transmission, so economy won’t be best in class. The ratios are well-spaced for load lugging and there’s muscle to cope with over 2.2-tonne of braked trailer, or impressively, a 1600kg unbraked load, but with similar drive trains in the Chrysler group now receiving six-speed autos it bodes well for the Nitro. Could be worth waiting till current four-speed stock has been shifted.

One of the pitfalls of American vehicles is their suspension is often too vague for our twisty roads, and despite some sporty springs, this remains true here. It does all work better in this than the Nitro’s Jeep-branded brother, the Cherokee, which also utilises this chassis but you have to expect some roll through corners. Not that you need to be told this with a caravan in tow, of course and, as per US regulatory guidelines, the Nitro has an intelligent anti-roll mitigation system that works in conjunction with its standard electronic stability control program.

Key to the Nitro’s appeal, aside from some unmistakable styling, is the value for money proposition. First and foremost, you get the benefit of an excellent part-time all wheel drive system, a sturdy, rugged chassis that won’t fall apart with regular tow duties. All stuff you don’t usually expect in something this size. And it commands attention on a styling front. Want more? Well, there’s some plenty of handy features going like rear parking assistance, a tyre pressure warning, MP3 compatible audio and cruise control.

No question, underneath it all it’s a solid, durable vehicle that will cope well on the road with a weight attached, despite the urban-inspired chrome and wheels, it’s still something to facilitate an active lifestyle so it’s not the most refined SUV going, but Dodge don’t make any apologies for that. Perhaps it’s not that dainty after all.

See the Dodge Nitro for sale on Autotrader.


Towing capacity (unbraked/braked) 1600/2270kg
Power 151kW @ 5200rpm
Torque 314Nm @ 4000 rpm
Transmission Four-speed automatic
Fuel economy 11.7 l/100km
Length/width/height 4584/1856/1773mm
Seating capacity Five
Luggage capacity 397 litres (seats upright)

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