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.

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.

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.

2007 Dodge Nitro Concept
General
Location of final assemblyToledo, Ohio
Body style4-door, 5-pass SUV
EPA size classLight truck (midsize SUV)
Drivetrain layoutFront engine, AWD
AirbagsDual front
Powertrain
Engine type90o V-6, iron block/alum heads
Bore x stroke, in 3.66 x 3.57
Displacement, ci/L 225/3.7
Compression ratio 9.1:1
Valve gear SOHC, 2 valves/cyl
Fuel induction Multipoint
SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm 210 @ 5200
SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm 235 @ 4000
Transmission type 42RLE four-speed automatic
1st 2.84:1
2nd 1.57:1
3rd 1.00:1
4th 0.69:1
Reverse 2.21:1
Axle ratio 3.73:1
Final-drive ratio 2.57:1
Transfer-case model NV140
Recommended fuel Regular unleaded
Dimensions/Capacities
Wheelbase, in 108.3
Length, in 179.7
Width, in 73.1
Height, in 69.2
Track, f/r, in 61.0/61.0
Front overhang, in 28.9
Rear overhang, in 41.6
Ground clearance, in 7.8
Cargo volume, 2nd row up, cu ft 32.3
Cargo volume, 2nd row down, cu ft66.9
Base curb weight, lb 4115
Payload capacity, lb 1485
GVWR, lb 5600
GCWR, lb 9850
Towing capacity, lb 5000
Fuel capacity, gal 20.5
Chassis
Suspension, f/r IFS, coil spring/solid axle, five-link
Wheels 20.0x7.5 cast aluminum
Tires 255/50R20 Michelin 4x4 Diamaris
Performance
0-60 mph, sec 9.6 (est)
Quarter-mile, sec @ mph 16.9 @ 81.4 (est)
Top speed, mph 110 (est)
Price
Price $26,000 (est)
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