More stories related to Chicago Auto Show Looking to expand its SUV lineup beyond the Durango, Chrysler Group’s Dodge shows off its Nitro SUV concept at the Chicago auto show this week, which provides the brand with a vehicle to compete against the likes of the Ford Escape, Chevrolet Equinox and Pontiac Torrent.

Based on the Jeep Liberty platform, the Nitro was developed alongside the M80 concept pickup, which was given the axe for production intent last year. (See related story: Chrysler: Economics, Not Lack of Incentives, Killed Canadian Plant Plans)

“At the same time we did the M80, the designer also did this SUV, codenamed M81,” says Trevor Creed, senior vice president-Chrysler Group design. “The SUV got a lot of people’s attention, and so we think this is an ideal vehicle for the lineup.”

Chrysler calls the Nitro a midsize SUV, with seating for up to five passengers. Like most Dodge products, Nitro features bold styling cues, including the famous crosshair grille, which is flanked by jewel-like rectangular headlamps.

Dodge Nitro concept

Brushed silver vents are positioned on each front fender and follow in proportion of the door handles. The rear fascia features chrome dual exhaust tips, while the roof uses a satin silver finish with a black-trimmed roof rack integrated into the side rails.

The interior uses chrome, silver and red accents to provide a sporty appearance. The 3-pod, 4-gauge instrument cluster features white gauges with red pointers, to add to the sporty look. A satin silver center console houses the DVD-based navigation system radio.

The front passenger and rear seats fold flat, allowing for ample space to haul recreational equipment and other gear thanks to the rear cargo floor, which is made of a rugged-textured vinyl and extends out over the rear overhang.

“It has an easy slide load surface, which makes it easy to load things on and slide it into place. And, yes, we will make this thing strong enough so people can sit on it and have a tailgate party,” Creed says.

Chrysler’s engineers extended the Liberty platform 4 ins. (10.2 cm.) to accommodate Nitro’s generous interior space. Creed says the vehicle has all of the off-road capability of the Liberty, although the front and rear overhangs would prevent the Nitro from traversing the Rubicon trail.

Like the Liberty, the Nitro is powered by a 3.7L SOHC V-6 engine that generates 210 hp at 5,200 rpm and 235 lb.-ft. (319 Nm) of torque at 4,000 rpm. A 4-speed automatic transmission and independent SLA front and 5-link rear suspension are mated to a fulltime 4-wheel-drive system.

kekelly@primediabusiness.com