Inside, textures and materials are more rugged and tough with oversize handles and a thick steering wheel to evoke strength. The extra inches in wheelbase translate into more legroom for back-seat passengers as well as more cargo area behind the second row. In addition, the spare tire was moved underneath the cargo deck (the Liberty's spare hangs off the back, swingout door), so the Nitro's rear door was pushed out even farther. Also of note, the Nitro includes what Dodge calls "Load 'N Go," a special rolling shelf that allows owners to slide their gear out and back about 18 inches for easier loading and unloading. Load 'N Go is exclusive to the Nitro SLT and R/T and can hold up to 400 pounds of weight. Other interior conveniences include double cupholders for front and rear passengers and a center console big enough for multiple CD cases and smaller electronic gear. Leather seats are available in SLT and R/T models.

The Nitro is larger than regular compact SUVs, such as the RAV4 and Escape, yet not as large as a true midsize vehicle like the Ford Explorer or Chevy TrailBlazer. It's right in between. Think smaller midsize SUV--like the Nissan Xterra, Saturn Vue, and Toyota Highlander. The Nitro should have an easy time separating itself from the competition with its unique look and character--and when ordered in the R/T configuration, its power. There's nothing this size that can trump the Nitro on raw personality, but we'll learn more when we get a test unit in our hands.

Nitros will go on sale in early fall, and although Dodge won't say anything about pricing information, expect base-model Nitros to start around $23,000, with top-level R/Ts bumping over the $27,000 range.