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Click to view road test review picture gallery“Chrysler has just
  launched two tough
  new models: the Dodge
  Nitro and Jeep Patriot.
  One will sell on its
  looks alone; the other
  is the best handling
  model in its range.
  So which is the one
  for you?”

IT IS A BUSY TIME for the senior management at Chrysler Group UK. Already
this year they have intro-
duced a raft of new models
to the Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep ranges and last week they were attending the UK media launch of the Chrysler Sebring executive D segment four-door saloon range.

This week they have been holding roadshows at six venues for their
88 UK dealers, unveiling the new models and outlining the future of
the company following the recent sale of the manufacturer to private equity company Cerberus. Past partner Daimler-Benz will, however,
still retain a reduced shareholding in Chrysler.

Dealers will be eager to reassure their customers that nothing has changed. They will continue to sell an even wider variety of Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge models. Indeed, no less than seven are already planned for this year. The latest new models will be shown to cus-tomers — at American Independence Day showroom promotions,
aptly starting on 4 July.

In addition to their dealer roadshows, Chrysler Group UK this week has been launching to the motoring media two more new model ranges: the Dodge Nitro — a mid-sized, in-your-face American-styled SUV — and the Jeep Patriot, an affordable, lightweight traditional Jeep no bigger than a five-door hatchback.

Still not finished, the Dodge Avenger — a cheaper version of the Chry-sler Sebring saloon — will be shown to the media in right-hand drive form in August, with sales starting in the new registration plate month of September.

Already this year Chrysler Group UK has launched the all-new Jeep two- and four-door Wrangler models and the Jeep Compass — a lightweight urban SUV.

Last year was a record one for Chrysler Group in the UK. The group launched seven new vehicles, the Dodge brand was introduced, Chrysler sales showed a 26 per cent increase and Jeep sales grew
by nearly 23 per cent.

This year the company has seen another healthy growth in overall sales boosted by the introduction of the Dodge Caliber C segment
five-door hatchback. However, sales of both Chrysler and Jeep brand models are marginally down.

Peter Lambert, managing direct for Chrysler Group, said this downturn in their fortunes was more to do with the lack of products to sell and the introduction of new, compact and fuel efficient new models. Once the new vehicles are on stream, he expects Group sales overall to show an increase of around 25 per cent.

The decline in the 4x4 market, where Jeep is a major supplier, has seen a six per cent fall in overall demand for the year-to-date and sales of larger SUVs have been hit even harder. The increase in running costs and taxation on 4x4s and other less fuel efficient models have all had an effect on customers' decisions on what to buy.

Figures issued recently by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders show a 17 per cent increase in sales of low CO2 emission cars since 2000. Sales figures based on exhaust CO2 figures showed 60.7 per cent of new cars sold last year fell within the cleanest A-D vehicle excise duty bands. However, there is still a mixed message coming
from new car buyers. In May, a Mori survey for the SMMT found only 13 per cent of consumers rated low emissions the most important factor when buying a car.

Chrysler Group in the UK appear confident that customer freedom of choice and their new value-for-money, fuel efficient, high profile distinctive American-style vehicles will give them and their dealers a boost now they are under new ownership.

Dodge Nitro

"NINETY PER CENT OF DODGE NITRO SALES WILL BE DIESEL models and the majority of these will have automatic trans-mission," says Steve Gray, marketing director for Chrysler Group UK. "Prices range from 18,995 to 23,590 for the expected
best-selling 2.8 SXT Auto.
"The Nitro," he added, "is a big step for Dodge brand and the acceptance by the public of the two-wheel drive Caliber SUV lookalike has paved the way for this model. With its distinctive all-American looks and high levels of specific-ation it offers great value for money against competitor models such as the Hyundai Sante Fe, Kia Sorento and Chevrolet Captiva."

The Company also feels the bold and brash Dodge Nitro will attract customers from the double-cab pick-up market currently dominated by the Nissan Navara and Mitsubishi L200 models.

Young customers, many user-chooser business people and younger families are all expected to be attracted by the in-your-face design and the value Nitro offers.

Chrysler says the entry-level Dodge Nitro 2.8 CRD SE diesel manual derivative varies from being over 10 per cent to just over 1 per cent better value than its competitors when the price is adjusted for spec-ification. The expected main-selling Nitro 2.8 CRD SXT auto ranges from 2.1 to 6 per cent better value.

Two engine options are available for the UK market. A tax-busting 203bhp 3.7-litre V6 petrol unit with a four-speed automatic trans-mission — which will account for hardly any sales in the highly taxed
UK market — and a new 174bhp 2.8-litre, high-torque (339lb ft from 2,000rpm) four-cylinder turbodiesel unit from VM Motori. Manual and automatic transmission options will be available for diesel models.
The Nitro has a selectable part-time four-wheel drive system with a single speed transfer box delivering a maximum 50:50 drive spilt bet-ween the front and rear wheels.

Even the standard SE specification Dodge Nitro model lacks very little in the way of equipment — from air conditioning right through to an electronic stability handling programme and front and side airbags are all provided. The SXT main-selling versions add huge 20-inch alloy wheels, rear parking sensors, the very good 'Load N Go' slide-out cargo space floor and more instrumentation.

The Nitro is a big brute of a vehicle, from its upright stance and im-posing front grille and huge overhanging front bumper right through
to the angular rear section. Consequently it is roomy for five adult passengers with loads of luggage space to match. It will also tow a useful 2,394kg (braked).

Looks alone will sell this vehicle; not its driving performance. Although a mid-sized SUV, it drives and feels like a big 'barge' of a vehicle. It
has little finesse in the handling or steering department, it floats along and the large 20-inch wheels make the ride hard and somewhat crude. Okay so it's not the height of refinement, but buyers attracted by its bold in-your-face styling will benefit from a high specification at a reasonable price. So expect to see a Nitro soon on a road near you!

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Dodge Nitro 2.8 CRD SXT Auto | 23,590
Maximum speed: 113mph | 0-62mph: 10.5 seconds
Overall test MPG: 30.1mpg | Power: 174bhp | Torque: 339lb ft

CO2 250g/km | VED Band G 300
Visit Dodge's website Click to go there now

Jeep Patriot

THE NEW JEEP PATRIOT IS A MUCH MORE ENJOYABLE and pleas-ant vehicle. It is an entry-level model range for the whole Jeep brand, with a starting price just under the recently launched
Jeep Compass models.

Whilst the compact five-door hatchback-sized Patriot, is instantly re-cognisable as a Jeep model, the more expensive Compass, priced from 17,995 to 19,010, has smoother styling lines and is promoted as a soft-roader. Both, however, share the same engines, drive system, body platform and suspension.

Prices for the Patriot, described as a vehicle 'with the packaging and interior flexibility of an SUV with the performance, handling, fuel economy and handling of a family hatchback' range from 15,995 to 18,795.

There is the choice of 168bhp 2.4-litre petrol or 138bhp 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engines, and all models have an all-wheel drive system that automatically switches — both on or off road — between two- and four-wheel traction depending on everyday driving conditions.

"The Patriot," says Steve Grey, "is an important entry-point model for us. Key players in the compact SUV segment have all recently intro-duced new models — the Honda CR-V, the Land Rover Freelander and the Toyota RAV4. They are all bigger and more expensive than the models they replace. Their move up in size and price gives us an opp-ortunity in the car-derived SUV sector. The most obvious competitors now are the Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tuscon, Chevrolet Captiva and Suzuki Grand Vitara although SUV and hatchback crossover models such as the Volkswagen Golf Plus and Nissan Qashqai are also competitors."

Jeep says that, depending on the model chosen, the Patriots are be-tween 1.5 and 19.4 per cent better value once adjusted for specific-ation against the competition.

While still styled as a traditional Jeep, the Patriot is modern. It is lighter and more fuel-efficient and modern electronics allow the vehicle to
be driven in front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive automatically. The Patriot also brings nippiness and agility and yet it manages to be sur-prisingly economical.

Furthermore, Jeep has not had this price range before within the brand. Customers for the Patriot will be 'classic' Jeep buyers but a greater number — and Jeep's primary targets — are young families and second car users.

Around 1,500 Patriot sales are likely in the UK this year, with probably double that in a full year. Around 80 per cent of customers are expected to choose a diesel model with the Sport 2.0-litre VW-sourced diesel engine, priced at 16,995, being the most popular version.

The standard Sport model is the sensible choice. It has electrically-operated windows, air conditioning, a good sound system, 17-inch alloy wheels and loads of room for five people with luggage space to match. Limited specification models add little in the way of must-have items.

The 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel VW engine, with 229lb ft of torque on tap from just 1,750rpm, is also the best choice — although no automatic transmission is available yet for this unit, only for the 2.4-litre petrol engine.

In short, and not to put too fine a point on it, the Patriot is the best handling Jeep in the range. I was mightily impressed with the body control and ride comfort, and the diesel engine, although a little noisy at times, pulled and accelerated really well.

The space inside the car is commendable — ideal for a family and versatile enough to double-up as a rugged workhorse (the maximum towing capacity is a braked 1,360kg) or load carrier if needed. While the 4x4 looks will not appeal to everybody, what it offers — good handling with two- or four-wheel drive traction engaged automatically as required; a roomy, well equipped cabin with generous luggage
space and a good price — makes it a very commendable offering indeed. — David Miles

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Jeep Patriot CRD Sport | 16,995
Maximum speed: 117mph | 0-62mph: 11 seconds
Overall test MPG: 42.2mpg | Power: 138bhp | Torque: 229lb ft

CO2 180g/km | VED Band E 165 | Insurance group 11E
Visit Jeep's website Click to go there now

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