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Dodge Nitro
Dodge Nitro
Daimler Reject Chrysler Launches Dodge Nitro In Europe

Chrysler New Product Onslaught Includes Sebring, Jeep Patriot
Chrysler Avenger In Autumn, Sebring Coupe Convertible In 2008
**** out of 5

Dodge Nitro
Dodge Nitro
Dodge Nitro
Dodge Nitro
Jeep Patriot
Chrysler Sebring


“the Nitro looks like a cross between a 1930s armoured vehicle which delivered cash to banks in gangster movies, and a modern military transport. It looks as though it won’t be messed with” 

German luxury car maker Daimler has finally shaken itself free from its Chrysler subsidiary after the U.S. company made huge losses because its oversized, gas guzzling vehicles were rejected by the American public.

It comes as something of a surprise then to find that Chrysler does produce many smaller, handsome vehicles, which are set to storm European markets.

Chrysler has had a big success in Europe with its iconic 300C, and although it is certainly not small, the originality of its looks still turns heads 2 years after its introduction. 

Chrysler has two other brands – Jeep and Dodge.  Jeep produces big Sport Utility Vehicles (SUV) and People Carriers. In the U.S., Dodge makes pickup trucks like the Ram, and smaller more downmarket cars and SUVs. Dodge has already introduced the Caliber into Europe – a compact SUV which takes up about the same road space as a Volkswagen Golf and which stands out from the crowd because of its edgy looks and low prices.

Dodge is about to unveil another moody looking SUV, the Nitro, which is based on the same engineering as the Jeep Liberty. The  Nitro has in-yer-face looks which will not please everybody, but will certainly attract car buyers who like to be noticed. With its high, flat bonnet, and outrageous flared wheel arches, the Nitro looks like a cross between a 1930s armoured vehicle which delivered cash to banks in gangster movies, and a modern military transport. It looks as though it won’t be messed with.

Looks, prices, loaded
Chrysler, and its Dodge and Jeep subsidiaries have used three powerful tools to lure customers – good looks, low prices, and a comprehensive list of standard equipment. The American company is able to do this because the dollar is currently weak against currencies like the Euro and the pound.

Dodge will offer a choice of one petrol and one diesel engine together with four-wheel drive on the Nitro. The all-new 2.8-litre common-rail turbo diesel engine has four-cylinders, and a six-speed manual transmission or five-speed automatic. Maximum power is 174 bhp with a claimed fuel economy of 30.1 mpg (9.1 l/kms). The 3.7-litre 203 bhp V-6 petrol engine is only available with an automatic gearbox. Not surprisingly, fuel consumption is a dire 23.3 mpg (12.1 l/kms)

Prices for the diesel start at £18,995 (28,150 euros), and the petrol automatic costs £23,490 (35,000 euros). The diesel engine was powerful and surprisingly smooth for a big four-cylinder. On the highways the engine performs well, cruising at legal speeds with quietness and ease, while there’s plenty of acceleration. Torque – 460 Nm at 2,000 rpm with the automatic transmission – will tug your horsebox with ease.

More Blair than Brown
On the roads between Cheshire, near Liverpool, and North Wales, where the vehicle was introduced to the media, the Nitro’s individual looks drew plenty of interest from other motorists. If you seek a modest, quiet life, you won’t be buying a Nitro. This is more Tony Blair than Gordon Brown.

The interiors are practical, trendy and roomy, with a reversible and removable rear cargo floor. The top layer slides out to reveal a four-inch deep storage bin beneath the lid. On the top-of-the- range Nitro, the Load ‘N’ Go cargo floor slides out with the rear tailgate open by 18 inches (457 mm) for easy, convenient loading and can support up to 181 kg (400 lb). There is masses of room with the seats folded. The seats are designed to allow easy cleaning. Cubbies are everywhere.

There are two trim levels – SE and SXT. The SXT, with bigger wheels, front fog lamps, and body colour mouldings doesn’t add very much because the SE level gives a plethora of goodies including air conditioning, six speakers and AM/FM MP3 radio.

JEEP PATRIOT
Chrysler is also launching the Jeep Patriot. The Patriot, a compact SUV which also will compete with the Toyota Rav4 and Nissan X-Trail, is really just a Jeep Compass with a squared off, traditional body. For those of you thinking that might be a waste of time, and ask “why can’t Jeep decide which body style it really wants”, I would agree, only I discovered that my wife Kathy, and presumably others, hates curvy SUVs but loves square ones. That means the likes of the Lexus RX330 need not apply, but the Range Rover Sport can. The Compass was wasting its time but the Patriot is tops with those that like square. Marketing must be so hard.

Prices for the Jeep Patriot 2.0 litre manual start at £15,995-€23,700. The 2.0 litre diesel manual costs £16,995-€25,200. The Patriot is also very well equipped, and although it doesn’t have high-tech 4x4 features, it drove up and down Welsh mountains near Bala with ease and aplomb.

I drove the 2.0 litre diesel, (the engine is supplied by VW), and it did everything you’d expect with plenty of torque when required and smooth, quiet cruising. It was a tad noisy.

CHRYSLER SEBRING
I have been a big fan of Chrysler and its Jeep and Dodge brands for bringing pizzazz and value for money to us price-gouged Europeans. But its new Sebring, designed to compete with the Ford Mondeo and VW Passat, just doesn’t cut the mustard. It looks bland, and the interior quality is poor. I have become used to being excited by Chrysler group styling, from the Caliber to the Nitro. Sure, these cars have minor quality problems, but the sheer bravado of the styling has always cancelled out any doubts for me. Imagine the impact if the Sebring looked like a mini 300C?

The Sebring is very well equipped, but the interior is awful. In the model I drove, the doors and facia were decorated with faux wood which looked like a leopard skin design. They liked it so much, the motif was coordinated with the wood rimmed steering wheel.

Woolly steering, lumpy ride
The Sebring’s steering was woolly, and the ride lumpy. The 2.0 litre diesel – that same VW engine again – was fine, but the 2.0 litre petrol seemed lifeless. Prices start at £18,000-€26,600 for the petrol, and £19,000-€28,100 for the diesel. I didn’t drive the 2.4 litre automatic which costs £19,000 too.

All Sebrings have “Limited” trim and are loaded with goodies including ESP, fog lamps, automatic headlamps, leather trimmed seats, powered driver’s seat, tinted glass, air conditioning, and power boot release.  

Chrysler says prices are 10 per cent below the competition. I don’t think that will be enough. Even the cup holder which either heats or cools your drink (you just know it’s going to heat your cold drinks and freeze your coffee) won’t lure the punters.  

Chrysler sold 109,920 vehicles in Europe in 2006, and expects to double this by 2009. Eastern Europe will be a big target market, with Russia a priority, and press reports suggest the company may set up a factory there. Chrysler expects to do well in the East because its vehicles are rugged, cheap, and attractive, with powerful brand names, if often lacking the sophistication and quality of mainstream European cars.

Divorced by September
Daimler expects to complete the divorce from Chrysler by the end of September. Its Mercedes luxury cars might not be under threat, but more mundane European manufacturers will be on the look out as Chrysler increases the pace of its new launches with the Dodge Avenger this summer and the Sebring coupe convertible next year.


Neil Winton – July 10, 2007

Dodge Nitro 2.8 CRD SXT
Engine:
2.8 litre, 4-cylinder
Power:
174 bhp
Gearbox:
5-speed automatic
Drive:
all-wheels
Acceleration:
0-62.5 mph-100 km/h – 10.5 seconds
Top Speed:
113 mph-180 km/h
Fuel Consumption:
claimed combined – 30.1 mpg-9.4 l/kms
CO2 Emissions:
250 g/km
Length:
4,584 mm
Width:
1,856
Height:
1,773
Weight: 2,015 kg
Suspension:
coil springs/live axle
Price:
£23,590-€34,950
Competition:
Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento, Chevrolet Captiva, Nissan X-Trail, Toyota Rav4, Opel Antarra, Citroen C-Crosser, Peugeot 4007, Mitsubishi Outlander, Honda CR-V, Land Rover Freelander, Jeep Compass/Patriot, Nissan Qashqai, Suzuki Grand Vitara, VW Tiguan.
Same for Less: Dodge Caliber
Would I buy one?
I just might
Rating:
**** out of 5
For:
mean looking, capable, rugged
Against:
interior weak

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