– Only V8 in this segment
– Cabin space and features
– Good handling to match looks
– Rides a bit firmer than others
– Slightly less ground clearance
– A little bit long
We seem to start every other review of a three-row crossover whining about how we dislike three-row crossovers. And while we generally give them a fair review, we never exactly ask to drive them, but rather are requested to do so. The new 2014 Dodge Durango R/T, on the other hand, is the first of its ilk that we’ve actually asked to drive.
The entire Durango line has been facelifted for 2014, and in our eyes, the mid-range R/T is the most attractive of the lot. With colour-coded skirts, smoked headlights, shiny 20-inch alloys as well as lots of distinctive LEDs front and rear, this is the meanest-looking midsize crossover around.
The R/T also specifically gets a black interior, with red R/T logos stitched into the leather-clad thickly-bolstered front seats. There’s generous amounts of soft-touch trim on the dash and along all the doors, with nicely-padded armrests even in the third row. The overall look is simple, but in terms of materials, it’s pretty much the best in its class.
Space is among the best in its class too. With its generous wheelbase, the Durango packs in two rows of ample space for basketball players, with a third row just about fit for the average-sized waterboys. We took it on a long intercity trip and our two adult last-row passengers never complained, with their own cup-holders and ceiling a/c vents The ultra-spacious second row offer the best seats in the house, with a leaning feature and all, but it doesn’t slide front and back in case you wanted to free up more space for the third row. Our car’s second row had the two optional captain’s chairs, whereas a bench is also available. Access to the third row is as decent as it can be in an SUV, with the foldaway second row. Surprisingly, there’s still a hatchback’s worth of boot space left with all seats in use. Folding the third row turns the boot into a carpeted bedroom though. And there’s enough cup-holders and door pockets for all.
Gadgetry-wise, it’s got that 8.4-inch infotainment touchscreen, a class-leading system that Dodge really ought to brag about more. With clear icons and colourful graphics, it’s pretty easy to get around the system, without even trying the voice controls. The Garmin navigation, the Bluetooth phone, the good stereo and some a/c functions are all controlled via the responsive touchscreen. Major audio and a/c controls still have conventional buttons and dials, so you can use them without taking your eyes off the road. The gauge cluster is now partially a big 7-inch LCD screen, with unique colourful graphics, such as the epic movie-style fonts for the digital speedo. Other features include power-adjustable front seats, smart keyless entry with starter button, adaptive cruise control, HID headlights with foglamps, power tailgate, blind-spot monitor, rear camera with sensors, lots of airbags and an above-average tri-zone a/c with rear controls and vents. Our test car did not have a sunroof or a rear entertainment system, both reserved for the higher Citadel trim unless you special-order them for the R/T.
The R/T does come standard with a 5.7-litre “Hemi” V8, the Durango being the only one in its class to offer such a big motor aside from a 3.6-litre V6 in base models. Making a solid 360 hp at 5150 rpm and 520 Nm of torque at 4250 rpm, we timed it at 7.3 seconds in our 0-100 kph test during March. Full-throttle bursts of acceleration are accompanied with a proper V8 wail from the R/T-specific sport-tuned exhaust.
The hefty 2448-kg Durango now has a new 8-speed automatic with a rotary-dial gear selector and paddle-shifters. It’s a smart gearbox, although flooring it while cruising in eighth gear means enduring that minor delay as it sequentially downshifts 3 gears before speeding up for that overtake. The upside is fuel consumption only a little more than a V6, as we got 14.9 litres/100 km.
The Durango was always a decent handler for a car of its size, but the R/T takes it to the next level. It specifically gets sport-tuned slightly-lowered suspension to go with the 265/50 tyres on chrome 20-inch wheels. Body roll in the sharper corners is noticeably a fair bit less than the regular Durango, to the point of being unnoticeable when driving under its limits. The grip limits itself aren’t terribly high, but when you do reach them, the front tyres just gradually give way to safe understeer. We still enjoyed the way you could drive it like a big well-sprung sedan, something that’d previously only been seen in Europeans luxo-crossovers.
The thick-rimmed steering is surprisingly weighty compared to the regular Durango, and even offers more feedback. It is decently precise, as is the brake-pedal feel, the ABS-assisted disc brakes providing rather good stopping power.
As for comfort, the Durango is fairly quiet at highway speeds, with only minor wind and road noise noticeable at 130 kph. However, with those low-profile tyres, it does ride a bit firmer compared to some of its rivals and even the regular Durango, a trade-off for the good handling. It is also a bit complicated to parallel-park, considering it’s longer than most midsize SUVs, but the optional rear camera makes it easier.
Three-row crossovers aren’t supposed to venture too far off-road, but the V8-powered Durango models actually come do with low-range gearing, just in case a situation arises. The front bumper is mounted very low to aid aerodynamics and fuel efficiency, but also hindering any real dune-climbing capability. However, the Durango acquitted itself very well on rough gravel tracks we encountered at an earlier launch event, crossing shallow creeks and curb-sized ridges. It should also do well on flatter soft-sand areas.
The Dodge Durango R/T has created a bit of a niche for itself. We’d call it the three-row crossover specifically built for enthusiasts. It’s the only one that combines a big stonking V8, good handling, a properly-practical interior, modern multimedia tech and the look of a tuner special, all for a price comparable to many of its V6-powered rivals. If we were in the market for a big family wagon, this would be our first choice.
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