Sometimes OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturers) designers like to hide their future plans behind swoopy body panels and futuristic interior designs when they show a concept vehicle for the first time. And sometimes they don't.
From the moment the Durango was introduced in 1998, there was talk of a smaller SUV with a Dodge badge. Two years ago, Dodge revealed the M80 compact-pickup concept at the Detroit auto show, and it created a lot of attention, but DCX concluded the vehicle couldn't sell in the numbers needed (reportedly between 80,000 and 100,000 units per year), so the M80 never got the production green light. Fortunately, at the same time the little pickup truck was designed, a Dodge M81 SUV was drawn as well. What didn't make much sense for the sales-flat compact-pickup-truck market seems a better fit for the growing small-to-midsize-SUV segment.
From the front, the Dodge...
From the front, the Dodge Nitro carries elements of the new Dodge grille, as do the new Dakota and Ram Mega Cab: large vertical bar, thinner horizontal crosshair, Ram's head in the middle. We think this design, combined with the flat face and rectangular headlights, will carry over into all other Dodge products.
So the company revealed the concept Dodge Nitro, leaving little to the imagination when compared with the coming production version. Featuring many of the same muscular M80 styling cues, the Nitro looks to have the green light, although we've heard DCX lowered its sales needs. For this SUV, the manufacturer expects 40,000 to 50,000 units per year.
The Nitro is based off the Jeep Liberty platform, stretched four additional inches with a slightly wider track. Styling is powerful and functional with the large signature fender flares and solid stance. The roof and hood lines are lower and flatter than its sibling Liberty's, with a boxier overall look to it (ironically similar in shape to the extinct Jeep Cherokee, which the Liberty replaced). Exterior details like the rectangular headlights and side vents work well to define the Nitro's character, and the interior look offers a much improved, cleaner design than we've seen coming from Dodge or Jeep.
From the rear, the the clean-lines...
From the rear, the the clean-lines theme continues with a single swing-up rear door. Notice the prominent 4x4 logo that Dodge allows on the tailgate, even though the concept is designated an all-wheel-drive vehicle. With a longer wheelbase and track width, we'd assume the Nitro will tow just as well as the Liberty.
The center navigation screen and robust transmission shifter complement the rugged and functional feel as well. Although it does cut into cargo-carrying capacity, and we don't think it will make it to production, a sliding rear-storage platform is a clever idea. Expect pricing to hover between $23,000 and $27,000. Look for production numbers to be limited for the first year, as Jeep has to modify the Toledo, Ohio, plant to accommodate another line.