And I sure wouldn’t want to scuff up the eye-catching Inferno Red Crystal Pearl Coat, either. This is a midsized SUV, a first for Dodge, that’s probably best suited for navigating the suspension-rattling potholes endemic to Los Angeles. There is also enough road clearance for fording those temporary winter streams some of our roads and streets become. And with its flared fenders and high-line styling cues (think a scaled down Hummer or Land Rover), this midsized SUV makes a stylish statement. New for 2007, the truck shares Jeep’s lineage, which shouldn’t be surprising. By Gregory J. Wilcox STAFF WRITER The 2007 Dodge Nitro looks buff enough on the outside for some serious off-roading and is a pussycat on the inside. I don’t know how well-suited for the former the Nitro is because I certainly would not want to get in the dirt with the 20-inch chrome wheels that are standard on the model we tested. “The 2007 Dodge Nitro is going to heat up the midsize SUV market by giving consumers a quality vehicle with masculine good looks, exceptional performance, unsurpassed utility and features that will surprise and delight,” said a statement from George Murphy, senior vice president of global marketing for Chrysler Group. It’s too soon to address the quality issue. But it looks as though the Nitro could live up to some of those other boasts. It’s definitely an eye-pleasing, macho ride. Dodge attributes the masculine appearance to a number of elements. They include the signature Dodge crosshair grille with its three-dimensional ram’s head, those prominent fender flares and good body size. The latter is not overdone, and I could park the Dodge in the family garage without rearranging any of the clutter. (I couldn’t do that with several other test vehicles.) These design elements even carry over to the mirrors and door handles. Designers also pushed the Nitro’s wheels to the corners. This reinforces performance and off-highway capabilities. Drive Time had the R/T 4×4 model with a 4.0 liter, V6 single overhead cam engine. It definitely provides lots of pep and seemed to want to jump away from stoplights and stop signs. There is lots of space inside, too. The rear seats fold down in 60/40 fashion. The leather trimmed seats are comfortable and the cabin featured a six-speaker sound system with a subwoofer and rear seat video system and a gaming system. Nitro features a thick, comfortable four-spoke, leather-wrapped steering wheel and the dash has a three-pod, four-gauge instrument panel. These are black with gray and white graphics and orange pointers. There are many places for stuff, too. The center console has room for hand-held PDAs, cell phones or coins; there are driver- and passenger-side door compartments; and a map pocket behind the driver’s seat. What Dodge calls the Load ‘N Go floor is also new, and you wonder why somebody didn’t think of it before. It’s a sliding rear floor panel that holds up to 400 pounds and makes loading and unloading cargo an easier task. The leather-trimmed seats are comfortable and the cabin also featured a six-speaker sound system with a subwoofer and rear seat video system and a gaming system. In addition to Dodge Nitro R/T, the two other models offered in the U.S. are the Dodge Nitro SXT and Dodge Nitro SLT. And this is a fairly affordable ride. “What might end up surprising people and finally sealing the deal is that it’s a great truck to drive, particularly in an urban setting; that it sports a stylish, roomy and comfortable interior; and that it blows most of the competition away when it comes to power-to-price ratio,” concluded the Web site Automobile.com. Drive Time agrees. [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!