Yes, the picture below shows a 2007 Dodge Nitro, but don’t be fooled: you’re looking at little more than a reskinned Jeep Liberty. And unfortunately, we’re not all that fond of the Liberty. (Thrashy, 3.7-liter V-6? Check. Nervous, top-heavy handling? Check. Annoying, cutesy, Wrangler-wannabe styling? Check.) So when Dodge announced that its upcoming Nitro SUV would share the Liberty’s platform, we didn’t exactly get all Rip Taylor and bust out the confetti.
Funny thing, though: as much as the Nitro is a Jeep Liberty, it’s also not a Jeep Liberty. The Nitro may borrow the all-wheel-drive Liberty’s platform and drivetrain, but the Dodge ends up feeling drastically different. A wider footprint, a longer wheelbase, a retuned suspension, and a lower center of gravity all help improve stability compared with the Liberty, and an available 260-hp, 4.0-liter V-6 lets the Nitro achieve decidedly non-Liberty-type velocities.
The blocky Dodge isn’t perfect, however. The Nitro’s interior may mean well (clever packaging and a convenient layout are its strong points), but it also feels cheap enough that you find yourself wondering how long things will hold together. The 4.0-liter’s five-speed manu-matic shifts nicely, but the base engine’s optional four-speed automatic is rough and clumsy. And steering feel, especially with the available twenty-inch chrome wheels, grows awfully numb at speed.
So, yes, the Nitro is ultimately lacking a little refinement, and, yes, there are traces (especially in the droning V-6’s lackluster throttle response) of warmed-over Liberty bits. But mostly, the Nitro’s on-road personality is a fun one: purpose-oriented and happily trucklike but still entertaining when the road goes all twisty. By this point, you may be thinking what we’re thinking–for all its un-Liberty-ness, the Nitro sounds like an old-school Jeep. Ironic, huh?