A face only a mother could love

The 2009 Dodge Nitro features a chunky external aesthetic that, while some may find tough and manly, our editors just couldn't get used to, particularly when viewed head-on.

The general consensus is that the Nitro looks like a toy, although we can't agree whether it's a Tonka truck or a Rock'em Sock'em Robot.

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Muscular fenders

The exaggerated flared fenders and squared off corners shout, "Look at me, I mean business!"

However, the fake fender vents and flimsy-feeling body panels whisper, "Looks can be deceiving."

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Boxy profile

The Nitro makes no attempt at the curvy coupelike profiles of its competition, instead choosing a classic Jeep-boxy profile. We really like how the front wheels are pushed way out toward the nose of the vehicle.

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4.0 liters, but why?

Our R/T model's 260-horsepower 4.0-liter V-6 only makes 50 more ponies than the base 3.7-liter model, and at 265 pound-feet it only makes 30 more pound-feet of torque.

Interestingly, even in 4.0-liter trim, the Nitro has less power than a V-6 Toyota Camry.

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Five-speed autostick

The Nitro R/T is equipped with a single-option five-speed automatic transmission with autostick. Shifts are sluggish, even in manual mode.

When equipped with the 3.7-liter engine, the Nitro steps down to a four-speed auto.

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Lockable four-wheel drive

Twisting this knob to "4WD LOCK" locks the differential and turns all four wheels at an equal rate. You won't be doing any rock climbing in the Nitro R/T, but the feature is still good for snowy and icy conditions.

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Poor fuel economy

At 16 mpg city and 21 highway in 4.0-liter 4x4 trim, the Nitro isn't going to win any hypermiling contests.

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Load 'n Go

The Load 'n Go cargo floor slides out 18 inches for easier loading and unloading of up to 400 pounds of stuff.

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Rear proximity sensor

The Nitro uses Dodge's rear proximity sensor, which beeps when an object or person is behind the vehicle while in reverse. As you approach the object, the beeping speeds up.

A backup camera would be a more elegant solution, but it isn't available.

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Fantastic plastic machine

The Nitro's interior is bathed in black, low-grade plastic, which almost fits the Nitro's rugged, toylike image.

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UConnect gps

Tucked into the center stack is Dodge/Chrysler's UConnect media center. We like this hard-drive-based navigation system, but we wish Dodge would build better vehicles around it.

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Hard-drive-based speed

Being hard-drive-based, the UConnect system offers fast searching of streets and points of interest.

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Traffic data

Traffic data is served by Sirius Traffic Link as part of the satellite radio package.

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Interface

The UConnect interface has a slightly steep learning curve, but it also offers a plethora of options for finding destinations and customizing your experience.

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Ripping audio

The 30GB internal hard drive also offers space for storing music ripped from CDs and USB devices.

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Sirius satellite radio

One year of Sirius satellite radio is included as part of the UConnect package.

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Media storage

In addition to ripping music, photos and contacts can also be stored on the UConnect's hard drive.

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Voice command

We like Dodge/Chrysler's implementation of voice command on the UConnect system. Onscreen prompts let the driver know what commands are acceptable, minimizing guesswork.

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Oddball steering wheel controls

One of our biggest qualms with the UConnect system is the lack of a steering-wheel-mounted voice command button. There's a button to access the compass, why not one for voice? It only seems right.

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Infinity audio

As part of the R/T package, the basic six-speaker audio system is upgraded to a 368-watt Infinity system with eight speakers and a discrete subwoofer. Audio quality tends to be bass heavy and loud, but surprisingly free of major distortion.

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