Home » Come On Down, Bring The Whole Family: 2008 Dodge Nitro vs 2011 Ford Fiesta

Come On Down, Bring The Whole Family: 2008 Dodge Nitro vs 2011 Ford Fiesta

Sbsd 9 27 2023
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Good morning! On today’s Shitbox Showdown, we’re celebrating – and poking a little fun at – the wellspring from which so many beloved shitboxes emerge: the small independent used car lot. Both our cars today come from the same lot in Idaho, and boy, are you all going to hate me for making you choose between these two. But first, let’s find out our tally from yesterday’s sub-$1000 coupes:

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The Probe wins in a landslide! It seems the body damage on the Acura scared a lot of you off. I’m inclined to agree, but I’d like to see an interior photo of the Probe before I commit. The previous owner could have kept half a dozen chihuahuas in there. You never know.

Now then: You’ve driven by them. You’ve seen their postings in the classifieds. Maybe, like me, you’ve even bought a car here or there from them. From sea to shining sea, they stand ready to provide you with questionable transportation at rock-bottom prices, or on easy credit terms. I’m talking, of course, about independent used car dealers. They’re everywhere, and they’re all the same: half a dozen nice-ish cars in the front row (one of which is almost always a twenty-year-old Corvette), a couple rows of serviceable but forgettable family haulers behind them, and, tucked away in the corner behind the trailer that invariably serves as their sales office, the fabled back row. This is where the forlorn, high-mileage, mildly broken cars languish, just waiting for someone with meager means, a bit of mechanical aptitude, and a healthy dollop of optimism to come along and make the salesman jump-start them.

One such dealer, Country Auto of Jerome, Idaho, is celebrating its twenty-sixth year in business by having a massive sale on its back-row cars, calling it the “26th Anniversary P.O.S. Sale.” Sounds like it’s right up our alley. I found their two cheapest offerings, and I’m going to make you choose one. Before we start, I apologize for the photo quality. That Olympus four-megapixel point-and-shoot just isn’t cutting it anymore, it seems. Buy a car or two, and they can afford a new camera!

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2008 Dodge Nitro SLT – $1,026

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.7 liter overhead cam V6, four-speed automatic, part-time 4WD

Location: Jerome, ID

Odometer reading: 183,000 miles

Runs/drives? I’m going to assume it at least starts and moves

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The official car of baby-daddies on a budget everywhere, the Dodge Nitro seems like it was designed to be sold at used-car lots. The new ones were just ahead of their time; they just had to age into their role, like, well, I would say fine wine, but really more like those four White Claws still in the cooler from last weekend’s camping trip. These SUVs are apparently pretty nice to drive, but boy oh boy do they come with baggage.

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This is the fancy SLT model, equipped with Chrysler’s PowerTech 3.7 liter overhead cam V6 and Ultradrive four-speed automatic. It’s an engine, and a transmission, and together they make the truck go down the road, and that’s all there is to say about them, really. I’ve heard conflicting reports about the 3.7’s durability; it seems to depend a lot on how well it was maintained. I don’t want to make assumptions about this car’s previous owners, but well-maintained cream puffs don’t end up on the back row of used car lots.

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The Nitro’s looks have always been polarizing. I personally am not a fan; I think it looks silly and cartoonish, but I know it has its fans. I imagine this one would look better without the missing fender flare; maybe you can find one in a junkyard. The giant 20 (?) inch wheels aren’t doing its appearance (or wheel bearings) any favors, nor is the fact that there are only three of them. One would hope the fourth one is in the back with a flat tire. But regardless, while you’re at the junkyard looking for a fender flare, grab a set of matching wheels off a Dakota or something, of the proper size.

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But at the end of the day, it’s a cheap, presumably running 4X4 SUV for a little over a grand. Ignore the styling and the stigma, ditch the baller wheels, and put it to work.

2011 Ford Fiesta SE – $1,026

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.6 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, six-speed dual-clutch automatic, FWD

Location: Jerome, ID

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Odometer reading: 134,000 miles

Runs/drives? Again, I’m going to assume a rudimentary level of functionality

Need better fuel economy than a big SUV can provide? Don’t want everyone assuming you’re two months behind on child support? Well then, may I interest you in Ford’s subcompact Fiesta, in its awkward sedan form? It’s powered by a 1.6 liter Duratec four, driving the front wheels through Ford’s notorious PowerShit – excuse me, PowerShift – dual-clutch automatic. I have spent some time behind the wheel of a Fiesta so equipped; my last day job had one as a company runabout. I drove it twice, and then took my own car on errands. This transmission is not as bad as you’ve always heard. It’s worse.

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This car only has 134,000 miles on it, low for a twelve-year-old car, and shockingly low for a car this cheap. The transmission’s reputation precedes it, apparently. But as long as you’re okay with driving an automatic that makes it look like you don’t know how to drive a manual, you’ll be rewarded with great gas mileage, and easy parallel parking. I’m reaching here, I know – I didn’t think much of the Fiesta at my old job, and I really disliked the job.

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I have never understood the American fear of hatchbacks, especially when it leads to tacked-on trunks like this. This car is more than a foot and a half longer than the hatchback Fiesta, for no reason other than being less practical and uglier.

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It does make me wonder how hard a manual swap is on one of these. With a stick, it might just be an acceptable cheap runabout. Or, I don’t know, make it a Gambler car or something? Maybe the transmission wouldn’t feel as jerky or shuddery on the dirt.

Cheap used cars from dealerships like this are a mixed bag. I’ve bought enough of them to know. You can probably drive off in either one of these and expect it to start the next morning, but don’t get too cocky – something will go wrong, and soon. It will overheat, or fail its smog test (not an issue in Idaho, but elsewhere), or something, and leave you cursing the dealership’s name and questioning your judgment. It’s all part of the experience. But sometimes, you find a gem, a car that exceeds your expectations and becomes a part of your life for a while. Could either of these be that diamond in the rough? I have no idea. But they’re cheap enough to roll the dice on. Which one will it be?

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(Image credits: Country Auto of Jerome, Idaho)

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67 Oldsmobile
67 Oldsmobile
2 months ago

I actually voted for the dodge thing,not sure why other than that the fiesta should at least be a hatch or maybe a wagon,also I absolutely hate Fords of that vintage.

86-GL
86-GL
2 months ago

I voted Fiesta. The small town I’m moving to has an ice racing series at the local fair ground that runs throughout the winter. Maybe you won’t notice the bad shifts on ice!

It’s a non-contact series, but we’re talking amateur wheel to wheel competition- fenders are going to get ruined.. You want a vehicle you won’t grow attached to, something like this Fiesta would be ideal.

FuzzyPlushroom
FuzzyPlushroom
2 months ago

I stand firm in my belief that the Nitro is one of the ugliest modern vehicle designs, and its best attributes are just mediocre. The B- it earned in gym class helped it graduate by the skin of its teeth.

However, I once drove a Powershift Fiesta (also white, and about a 2011, but a hatch) a mile and a bit across Cambridge, Massachusetts.

I’d rather be into this thing for the purchase price plus wheels, used-but-recent-enough tires, a junkyard fender flare, and some paint if I’m trying to get rid of it immediately, and Mark has a point about these vehicles’ relative viability under Gambler 500 circumstances.

If I had to keep it for two years or more, I’d gamble on the Ford and a future transmission swap and probable electronic nightmare before having to sell it to an optimistic LeMons team. But just to get it off their lot, assuming it’ll break down immediately? I’d rather put just-fix-it money into the Dodge.

Stephen Walter Gossin
Stephen Walter Gossin
2 months ago

I’ve loved the looks of the “polarizing” Nitro since it came out; consider me standing and smiling at that pole.

So much so that I bought one and will be doing a series on an engine swap on it!

Which sounded like a great writing idea until I saw a this one losing (badly) here to a crap Fiesta sedan.

…and I already bought the replacement engine. Greeeeaaat.

FuzzyPlushroom
FuzzyPlushroom
2 months ago

My opinion of the Nitro’s styling differs wildly from yours, but I feel the monochrome treatment helps a lot. Same’s true of the Aztek and GMT800 Avalanche – paint that cladding and grille body-color, or remove it altogether, and suddenly you have something! (Something weird, but something nonetheless.)

Last edited 2 months ago by FuzzyPlushroom
StillNotATony
StillNotATony
2 months ago

Count me in the likes the Nitro styling camp. I’ve considered buying one in the past, and it wasn’t the looks that made me say no. It was always that they were beat to crap.

Erik McCullough
Erik McCullough
2 months ago

I’d pass on both, but there’s a lot of other interesting cars at the same dealer. For $926 there’s a 5.2L V8 Durango, and then there’s the 2001 F150 that looks much nicer than the $926 they want for that. I don’t know what’s wrong with all these cars, but around me, you can’t even buy anything that moves for less than 3K!

SirRaoulDuke
SirRaoulDuke
2 months ago

Yeah, I spied that F-150 and thought it might make a good cheap trail rig.

Oldskool
Oldskool
2 months ago

I’ve known enough people who had a Liberty with constant problems, some severe engine problems. No thanks. Oddly enough, it was my divorce lawyer, not me, who had a Liberty. Rarely have I seen an actual Nitro.

At least from this view, the Fiesta looks mighty clean. Won’t find anything that clean in any condition in the rust belt for $1026. Disinfecting an interior or bolting on parts is a lot better than dealing with a heap. A later ex had this same kind of Fiesta with the shuddering dual clutch trans. After learning they all do this and will go eventually, I showed her how to drive it real easy to avoid the shuddering, and get damn near 50 mpg to boot. 5 years later she’s still running around with it. If the trans failed she would have 100% dumped it.

So I’d take the Fiesta. Baby the trans like I can do here in the sticks, and keep it as a clean summer driver. There’s no shortage of beaters with heaters as sacrificial anodes for winter road salt.

SirRaoulDuke
SirRaoulDuke
2 months ago
Reply to  Oldskool

My thinking on the Fiesta as well…out here on the Plains one could baby the trans and get great mileage, would make a good long-distance commuter for someone.

UnseenCat
UnseenCat
2 months ago

Hard pass on both. The Nitro is a Jeep Liberty variant, with all the issues that can imply. And the Fiesta has a transmission that’s a disaster waiting to happen. Given these two choices, walking looks like the third and cheaper option.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago

I sold cars a few decades ago. Back when the new car dealers took anything in trade but sent the sleds to the auction where the BHPH dealers bid on the wrecks. Although one dealer saved them once and did a BOGO. Buy a new car pick one off the back row for the new driver for the cost of the paperwork. Not sure how it sold but their lot was very busy that week.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
2 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

A local Nissan dealer did that like 5-6 years ago. But the second car also had to be a Nissan.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

Well I guess Nissan would be filling the sled group but if you got 6 Nissan you can only sell 6. They don’t get crap at auction and you can probably get a new car price reduced more than what they actually have in it.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago

I went Nitro because easier and cheaper to make decent but I would buy either for a project..

06dak
06dak
2 months ago

The Nitro is bad but might last awhile… the Fiesta is guaranteed to fail.

Nitro, some steelies, and grambler it to your hearts content!

Cerberus
Cerberus
2 months ago

The Fiesta even requiring a replacement transmission would be an amazing buy around here where $5k is the new $1500. Nitro with miracle miles? Not for any price. I wonder if the bad tire was originally the front left and a dramatic blow out tore off the fender and skirt.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
2 months ago

I was thinking I’d go with the Fiesta… until I saw it was the wrong body style and had the wrong transmission.

So I’m going with the POS Dodge Nitro. And the first thing I’d do with that Nitro is get a replacement driver fender and a matching set of steel wheels and get rid of the remaining stupid oversized aluminum wheels.

Sid Bridge
Sid Bridge
2 months ago

A Nitro did 186,000 miles? I’m guessing if all the warning lights aren’t shining on the dashboard it’s because they were on long enough to burn the bulbs out. And the Fiesta’s styling doesn’t offend me that much. I wouldn’t deliberately own this one, but if I had to choose between the two, I’ll take the Fiesta. I’d rather get bumped around by its transmission than deal with the inevitable light show that Chrysler products of that vintage like to put on as soon as the electronics decide they don’t want to work anymore.

Eggsalad
Eggsalad
2 months ago

Forget the cars; I’m fascinated with the price tags. Around here, the least expensive vehicle that would get you home from any dealership is $5k. If you’re really lucky you might get something slightly viable from a private party for $3500.

FloridaNative
FloridaNative
2 months ago

Not only is the Powershit terrible to drive, it is destined to shit the bed soon. As much as I didn’t want to, I voted Nitro.

Freelivin1327
Freelivin1327
2 months ago

Nitro…no Found On Road Dead …especially a Fiesta

Ricki
Ricki
2 months ago

Oh hey, I’ve been to Jerome a few times, and even passed by that lot!

I don’t think I’d buy anything from it, but if I did, it would at least be the one that looks to have all its body panels!

M0L0TOV
M0L0TOV
2 months ago

Fiesta, the Nitros were hot garbage. On top of that, any car coming from Indiana has the rust plague. I trust no vehicle that has lived in that state.

Clark B
Clark B
2 months ago
Reply to  M0L0TOV

It’s not too bad in the southern part of the state along the Ohio river. They definitely put down too much salt around here but I don’t see rust like I do when I’m up in Indianapolis.

M0L0TOV
M0L0TOV
2 months ago
Reply to  Clark B

That’s where my ex was from. 😮

Mike B
Mike B
2 months ago

I was all in on the Ford until I saw what trans it had in it. I had a fairly new Focus hatchback rental with the trans once. What a disappointment, I actually was a fan of the Focus till I drove it, that trans was so strange.

That said, I’ll take the Nitro, through on some used 35’s from Marketplace, and have a fun trail truck. For a little while, at least.

As others have said though, that OBS GMC is really the correct answer.

SlowCarFast
SlowCarFast
2 months ago

For some reason I didn’t really process the disappearance of the Fiesta ST until 6 months after the announcement that it was discontinued. I wanted to drive one so I started looking around. The local Ford dealer had a used on in the back-back lot, but wouldn’t get it out for anything less than a customer convinced it was the car for them.

Instead, the salesman had me sit in a base Fiesta sedan. Did it feel tiny and cheap? When I got married, my wife was driving a gen1 Prius (the small one!), and it did not feel nearly as small and cheap as that Fiesta. I did NOT want to spend time in that car, and it was a brand-new example!

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