Home » Here’s How Bad A Traded-In Dodge Nitro Actually Is: Trade-In-Tuesday

Here’s How Bad A Traded-In Dodge Nitro Actually Is: Trade-In-Tuesday

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Welcome to Trade-In Tuesday, a regular feature in which I drive a vehicle that has been traded in to Galpin, The Autopian’s sister-company run by cofounder Beau Boeckmann. Today’s trade-in is a 2007 Dodge Nitro, Dodge’s self-proclaimed first-ever mid-size SUV and a Daimler-Chrysler posterchild for automotive mediocrity.

And the vehicle I drove was no ordinary Dodge Nitro, it was one that had had its catalytic converter hacked out. Here’s what it was like driving this mediocre version of mediocrity.

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Today’s trade-in comes to us from Galpin Honda, a gorgeous dealership featuring not just a great cafe, but also a vintage old Honda N360 in the showroom. Someone had traded in this white Dodge Nitro, and, as I’ve always been curious about these machines, I decided to give it a spin around the block. [FYI the video is embedded below. If you can’t see it you can watch it here on YouTube]

Before I get into my review, I have to give the Nitro a bit of credit, because not only is it far from boring, it’s also really close to the concept car that Dodge introduced at the 2005 Chicago Auto Show. That’s this thing:

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Here’s how Dodge described the Nitro Concept in its February 2005 press release:

What happens when you bring the Dodge brand’s “Grab Life by the Horns” attitude to the mid-size SUV market? You get the Dodge Nitro concept. Making its debut at the 2005 Chicago Auto Show, the Dodge Nitro is a mid-size SUV concept with a uniquely bold, powerful design statement that would ignite an automotive segment more typically characterized by bland styling.

Once again, the Dodge brand is breaking the rules and exploring yet another bold proportion with the Dodge Nitro concept. The Dodge Nitro concept would be the first mid-size SUV for Dodge, completing the brand’s current lineup, which now consists of passenger cars, minivans, trucks and a full-size SUV. The five-passenger Nitro is designed to attract a customer seeking style, performance and utility.

“The Dodge Nitro concept is brimming with character; it evokes emotion through its rugged styling and dominant stance,” said Trevor Creed, Senior Vice President – Chrysler Group Design. “This is more than just another typical mid-size SUV design statement.”

By October, Dodge gave the vehicle the green light right around the same time that it greenlit the Dodge Caliber, writing in a press release:

At the California International Auto Show today, the Chrysler Group confirmed production of the Dodge Nitro mid-size SUV for the 2007 model year. Nitro will be the first mid-size SUV for Dodge, completing the brand’s current lineup of cars, minivans, trucks, commercial vehicles and a full-size SUV.

“The Dodge Nitro will strengthen and grow the Dodge brand by allowing us to attract a new buyer,” said Steven Landry, Vice President – Dodge Marketing, Chrysler Group. “Dodge Nitro will be more than just another typical mid-size SUV; it will attract customers looking for distinctive style, affordable performance and utility.”

By 2006, just a single year after the concept car’s debut, the Nitro production car made its debut in Chicago, and came with a couple of V6s, a couple of automatics, and the same stick shift (!) as the one in the 2007 Jeep Wrangler:

Three models are available: Dodge Nitro, Dodge Nitro SLT and Dodge Nitro R/T. Available on the Dodge Nitro and Dodge Nitro SLT is a 3.7-liter SOHC V-6 engine. It produces 210 hp (157 kW) @ 5,200 rpm and 235 lb.-ft. (319 N•m) @ 4,000 rpm. The Dodge Nitro R/T features a new 4.0-liter V-6 engine that delivers 255 hp (190 kW) @ 5,800 rpm and 275 lb.-ft. torque (360 N•m) @ 4,000 rpm. Standard on the Dodge Nitro R/T and optional on the Nitro SLT is a new performance suspension and 20-inch tires and chrome-clad aluminum wheels, providing performance-oriented drivers with fun-to-drive handling and a firm ride.

Three transmissions — one manual and two automatic — will be offered. The Dodge Nitro comes with a standard six-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic. The Dodge Nitro SLT has a standard four-speed automatic. The Dodge Nitro R/T has a standard five-speed automatic. All U.S. models offer 4×2 and 4×4 capability. The new mid-size SUV boasts excellent acceleration, braking, handling and towing capacity of 5,000 lbs. when properly equipped.

It’s always cool when the production car actually looks like the concept, which, like I said before, was anything but boring. It’s a bold look!

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The base production vehicle offered a 210 horsepower 3.7-liter hooked to a four-speed slushbox, and was generally considered on the slow side thanks to a 4,000-pound curb weight, but the 255 horsepower V6 hooked to a five-speed auto in the R/T models was definitely no slouch. Stickshift versions were probably acceptable, but they were rare to come by.

Initial reviews of the Nitro — which shared the “KK” Liberty’s platform but lacked a low-range transfer case — were mixed; many praised the bold styling, the powerful 4.0-liter engine, and the large interior:

But, especially as time marched on and fuel prices reached a peak in 2008, the gas-sucking Nitro’s reputation tanked (the 3.7-liter auto offered 18 MPG combined, the 4.0 managed only 17), and as it neared closer to its final model year, 2011, many criticized its interior materials, overall quality, handling, fuel economy, and base-engine acceleration. Here’s U.S. News.

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And here’s Consumer Reports:

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What did I think of the traded-in 2007 at the Galpin Honda wholesale lot? Well, looking at it in person, i have to say that the styling looks a bit childish — bold, sure, but almost as if it had been initially sketched by a child with a crayon.

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The base 3.7-liter V6 was quick enough in town, where I drove it, though to be fair, the Nitro I was driving was a bit beat up and certainly not running correctly:

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That became very clear when I fired up that 3.7-liter V6. Here’s how I reacted when I first heard that motor fire up:

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I would later discover the source of this deafening exhaust noise; someone had hacked out one of the vehicle’s two catalytic converters:

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Though it was hard to concentrate over that left bank of cylinders shooting explosions into my ears, I did find the steering radius to be rather tight and the ride to be fantastic, which is counter to what a lot of reviewers wrote. I thought the double-wishbone front suspension and the five-link coil-sprung solid axle really let the Nitro float down the street.

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Does it make for a great handling machine? Absolutely not, but did anyone think this brick-shaped 4×4 would carve up a track? No, this thing is a cruiser:

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The interior quality wasn’t great, but in 2007, you could say that about a lot of vehicles.

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Aside from the narrow front footwells thanks to the wide transmission tunnel, there’s plenty of space in the Nitro, with good visibility, solid rear head and legroom, and decent cargo space, especially with the second row folded. Obviously, the trade-in I was driving wasn’t the finest example, with a nasty peeling steering wheel and stains everywhere, but overall I thought the interior wasn’t that bad, and was legitimately useful:

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I like this little cubby in the dashboard:

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And in the rear, there’s a false-floor to hide small items in:

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Sadly, the 2007 that I drove did not come with the nifty slide-out:

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Anyway, watch that video towards the top of this article to hear more of my thoughts on this dirty 2007 Dodge Nitro Trade-In, and to hear that insanely loud exhaust. Overall, I went in expecting to hate the Nitro after all the bad reviews I’ve read, but I can’t.

They’re cheap (good examples tend to go for under five grand), and if you get the 4.0 with the Mercedes A580, you get a practical machine that will do 0-60 in under 7 seconds and should be reasonably reliable. I can’t hate on that. The base 3.7-liter hooked to Chrysler 42RLE, though? You couldn’t pay me enough to buy one, not because it’s a bit slow, it’s because that four-speed slushbox is known to be a bit of a pile.

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TheWombatQueen
TheWombatQueen
2 months ago

Don’t you dare change that intro

Mpphoto
Mpphoto
2 months ago

Usually I just read stuff and don’t watch videos, but I checked this one out. David is pretty good on-camera! I look forward to seeing more of these trade-in videos. It’s nice to see what normal cars are like after years of use. Usually car websites just talk about the latest and greatest, and a “long-term” test is only a year. I always thought people exaggerated about car interiors feeling or looking cheap, but I think I get it now. This Nitro’s interior looked so cheap and basic. I’m also shocked by how much it weighs. It doesn’t look that big.

Nick Fortes
Nick Fortes
2 months ago

I used to love when I worked at the dealership 10 years ago and people would trade in cars with just a full-on wardrobe still inside or paperwork galore everywhere. Like don’t you want your nasty ass crap back? I had one where dude traded in a car that had a good 15 to $20 in coins in the cup holders. Actually, I have a big IKEA golf umbrella which was in a trade-in and I still use it to this day.

Box Rocket
Box Rocket
2 months ago

I suspect that the Nitro was someone at Dodge who somehow had also worked on the ZJ program calling in a decades-old favor because Jeep got to produce the vehicle, not Dodge. Or – by extension – someone who pointed out they could have more sales by having nearly-duplicate models (a la Neon and the minivans). They assuaged Jeep’s complaints by letting them have the off-road version (valid), and pushed the sporty Dodge impression by having the R/T trim (which came with silly large wheels, which is usually the one folks complain about the ride being harsh on), and there ya go.

In typical Mopar fashion, the electronics and powertrains were the biggest red flags on these from an ownership perspective, if the cheapness of the interior wasn’t enough of a warning. The 3.7 & 4.0L V6s are notorious for overheating. The 3.6L Pentastar that followed resolved that (though by having thermostats that fail if you look at them wrong, it seems, but at least they almost always fail open, not closed!). Thankfully the electronics aren’t as complicated as they are on a Grand Cherokee, but they still have issues. Maybe too much German influence.

I do like most of the wheel designs they came with.

If someone forced me to have a mid/late-’00s Dodge SUV that wasn’t a Durango, the Nitro would probably – begrudgingly – be my selection with the 4.0L, but that’s in comparison to the caliber and Journey. And only because I don’t think the Journey would hold up to the off-road functions I do currently, though it does get the Pentastar, at least. Parts are probably easier to get for the Journey, too. Hmm, maybe I’d have to drive both again to decide. Both are bland, but not ugly. Nitro screams “trying to hard”, and the Journey screams “cheapest 3-row we could afford that is NOT a minivan!”.

Ugh.

Last edited 2 months ago by Box Rocket
Myk El
Myk El
2 months ago

The missing cat does break my heart a bit, just because I know the impact that probably had on the person selling the car. It makes me glad I have a garage to park both my rides in.

Mike B
Mike B
2 months ago

That really is sad about the cat. That vehicle probably would have served its person for quite a while longer, but I’m sure was effectively prematurely totaled by the cat theft, forcing the owner to unexpectedly go into debt to get a new CRV or whatever to replace it.

It’s crazy how CLEAN that thing is underneath, I’m so frickin’ jealous of you west coast car people. My buddy’s San Diego 30-year-old Land Cruiser looks nicer underneath than my ten-year-old Rhode Island 4Runner.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 months ago

My cat was stolen a few years ago. Fortunately insurance covered the loss so for the price of the deductible I now have a new OEM converter.

Otherwise it would have been about $2500 to replace ????????

Cat thieves should be fed to cats. Preferably very large, hangry ones after hours at wild animal parks so the screams don’t bother anyone.

Baja_Engineer
Baja_Engineer
2 months ago

I want to see a race to the bottom from all the trade ins. Can the Nitro be trounced by another pile in this lot?

Geoffrey Reuther
Geoffrey Reuther
2 months ago
Reply to  Baja_Engineer

Having done a stint in used sales at a Ford/Mitsu dealer, yes. Probably quite easily. I worked for a rather small dealership, and there were ALWAYS at least three absolute flaming dumpsters in the wholesale lot at any given time. Sometimes one would creep past tech inspection and make it onto the sales lot, and some of them were so bad that we couldn’t sell them at the wholesale auction, and we’d end up putting out bid requests from the local junkyards to come and take them.

From a dealer perspective junking one was far better than accidentally having a turd bucket make it to the lot. At least with junking we’d have a snowball’s chance in hell at breaking even on it. But if a bad one ended up on the sales lot? Well… be prepared to take an absolute bath on it.

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