– Aggressive styling
– Cabin space and quality
– Decent handling
– Noticeably long
– Not exactly quick
– Rides a bit firmly
It’s worth repeating that the previous Dodge Durango was a vehicle so awful that you could buy a brand new one at the dealer a whole year after it went out of production. While the public caught on to how bad that truck-based SUV was, the new-for-2011 is a completely different vehicle from the ground up, and playing in a completely different league altogether.
The new Dodge Durango is now based on a stretched version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee’s unibody frame, and it shows. The midsize SUV looks long, but also handsome thanks to its Dodge-y front-end and sizeable 20-inch alloy wheels. The low front bumper hints at how much off-roading it is not designed to do.
The Durango’s three-row-seating interior continues the trend of class-leading cabins started by post-bankruptcy Chrysler across their model range. With rubbery soft-touch materials all over the upper dash and door sills, smooth leather on the seats and armrests, chrome bits and fake wood, the interior is conservatively pleasing. Though not as luxuriously-appointed as the trim materials in the latest Charger, the Durango’s quarters easily bests the plasticky competition from General Motors and Honda, while matching the new Ford Explorer and the Toyota Prado.
That stretch over the Jeep pays dividends in space, as there is ample legroom for adult passengers in all three rows, with reasonable headroom even all the way in the back. The front seats are mildly bolstered, while the rear ones are simple benches. Even with all seats up, there is enough boot space left to rival a small hatchback. Manually fold down the last row and it becomes a room big enough to party in. The practical cabin has various cubbies, pockets and shelves to store knick-knacks, while two uncovered cup-holders up front, a few more hidden ones in the back, and bottle holders in the doors, all take care of the drinks.
Our Crew Lux model, only one level below the top Citadel trim, is pretty well-loaded. Alongside the usual power options, features include adaptive cruise control, auto headlights, fog lamps, a good tri-zone a/c with rear controls on the ceiling, power tailgate, power driver’s seat, sunroof, rear camera with sensors, rain-sensing wipers, keyless start and of course, the superb 6.5-inch touchscreen-based entertainment system that integrates navigation, Bluetooth phone, USB port and hard drive, with nine speakers, a subwoofer and voice controls too, all of which work perfectly. There is even a self-recharging removable torch in the boot. About the only things extra on the highest model are HID headlights, rear DVD entertainment and a shinier radiator grille.
Powered by a 5.7-litre “Hemi” V8, it puts down 360 hp at 5150 rpm and 520 Nm of torque at 4250 rpm via full-time all-wheel-drive. Of course, it is saddled with 2448 kilos to lug around, and the smooth-but-dated 5-speed automatic needs a few more gears to the engine justice. This was confirmed by our 0-100 kph test where, combined with hot May weather and a fresh engine, we managed only 9.8 seconds, barely quicker than the new V6-powered Ford Explorer. Of course, it would be wrong to call the Hemi “slow” since it always had enough rolling juice for overtaking and the like. Our fuel consumption was average at best, even with cylinder-deactivation tech, as we managed 16.5 litres/100 km.
Still, for a 4×4 this big, the Durango handles itself pretty well. Aided by 265/50 tyres on 20-inch wheels as well as four-wheel-independent suspension, it drives a whole lot like a big sedan. Take long curves at 130 kph and there is no drama whatsoever. Body roll in the sharpest corners is moderate when taken quickly, with no bouncy after-effects once straightened, while grip gradually gives way to safe understeer. The decently-weighted steering lacks feel, but is also decently precise. The ABS-assisted disc brakes are fairly adequate.
As for comfort, the Durango is pretty quiet at highway speeds, with only minor wind noise noticeable at 130 kph. However, with those low-profile tyres, it does ride a bit firmly compared to its competitors, a trade-off for the good handling. It is also a bit complicated to park, considering it’s longer than most midsize SUVs, but the optional rear camera makes it easier.
To add a word about off-road prowess, the V8-powered Durango models actually come with low-range gearing, though Dodge seems rightly hesitant to brag about it. The front bumper is mounted very low to aid aerodynamics and fuel efficiency, but also hindering any real slope-climbing capability. Still, we like that there is a “LOW” knob on the console, so there is still hope if the Durango beaches itself on unexpectedly-soft seaside sand.
The Dodge Durango has gone from being a complete dud to being possibly the best vehicle of its kind, with proper three-row seating, premium interior and user-friendly tech. If all you need is a characterful people-hauler that isn’t a complete bore, there are worse ways to spend your money.
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