Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
SUV capability, crossover comfort.
The Dodge Durango's 2011 redesign qualified as a wholesale advance on its predecessor and 2014 sees noteworthy advances in Durango evolution. The 2014 Durango is more than merely competitive, offering a combination of traditional SUV ability with crossover-like comfort, quiet and features.
For 2014, Dodge Durango gets new styling at both ends, an 8-speed automatic transmission, new infotainment systems and revised nomenclature. Every Durango has three-row seating, with second-row captain's chairs available in all but the base model.
Durango works best for those with varied needs: plenty of seats, good cargo capacity and hauling flexibility, and top-tier towing capacity. The standard setup is rear-wheel drive, yielding even weight distribution, a compliant bump-soaking ride, quiet cruising and good response to driver commands.
Engine choices include a refined V6 with a lighter appetite for gas, or a strong Hemi V8. Durango V6 can be ordered with all-wheel drive; the V8 offers on-demand four-wheel drive with low-range gearing.
The standard 3.6-liter V6 brings 290 horsepower paired to a new 8-speed automatic; from takeoff it gets more torque to the wheels than last year's V8/6-sp auto combo. On the plus side, the V6 gets an EPA-estimated 25 mpg Highway and has a big fuel tank, so those 450-mile scenic routes won't leave you worrying about the next gas station. Those not concerned with mileage will opt for the Hemi, not because of its 70 added horsepower but for the extra 130 pound-feet of torque, V8 soundtrack and higher tow rating.
Durango can tow a minimum 3500 pounds fully loaded and up to 7400 with the V8 (more than most crossover competition, less than traditional V8 SUVs). With low range available in four-wheel drive V8s, it can handle ascents or descents, think slimy boat ramps or rocky canyons–you shouldn't even consider attempting in most crossovers.
All Durango models seat six or seven adults comfortably in a cabin that puts space to good use. Materials and fit-and-finish are soothing yet remain wholly appropriate for the SUV mission. Durango can be configured to carry big boxes, a sofa, or four people plus a 10-foot step ladder or stack of lumber inside.
The Durango SXT is the base model, but it's far from basic, with three-zone temperature control, a full complement of power features and a decent stereo with standard satellite radio. The loaded Durango Citadel has everything you need and a lot more, including remote starter and ventilated seats. The sporty Durango R/T is bold, quick and genuinely fun to drive, despite its substantial size. Options are reasonably priced, and run the gamut from blind-spot warning to 500-watt Alpine audio to two grades of navigation.
The Durango has been rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. All models come with a full complement of airbags, rollover sensing and electronic stability control with trailer sway control. Optional safety features include rear cross-path detection, a rearview camera, rear park sensors and active cruise control with forward-collision warning.
Durango competes in a crowded category against the GMC Acadia, Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave, Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander and 4Runner, Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder and Honda Pilot. Top-drawer Durango models could also compete with the Acura MDX and Volvo XC90, and it makes a compelling alternative to a Chevrolet Tahoe or GMC Yukon, Ford Expedition, or Toyota Sequoia.
The Durango is a great vehicle for drivers who can legitimately take advantage of its strengths. But needs are important in the decision. Those who do no towing, never go off-highway or don't need the V8 might consider the Dodge Grand Caravan, which has more people room and as much cargo space behind the second row as the Durango does behind the front seats. However, the Grand Caravan is not as nimble, not as fun to drive and not as work-oriented.
The 2014 Dodge Durango is available in SXT, Rallye, Limited, Citadel and R/T trim levels. Each is available with a V6 or V8 engine except the R/T, which is V8-only. All Durango models come standard with seating for seven and an 8-speed automatic transmission. Rear-wheel drive is standard; V6s offer all-wheel drive; V8s offer four-wheel drive.
Durango SXT ($29,795) is powered by a 290-hp 3.6-liter V6. It comes with cloth upholstery, three-zone temperature control, tilt/telescoping steering column, cruise control, a complement of power features, six-speaker audio with single CD, SiriusXM satellite radio and Uconnect hands-free phone operation, a fold-flat front passenger seat, 50/50-split folding third-row seats, 60/40-split fold/tumble second-row seats, and 18-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires. A heated steering wheel and backup camera are included with the popular equipment option and the customer preferred pack adds the interior upgrades of a Rallye.
Durango Rallye ($32,990) brings R/T looks to the SXT with 20-inch dark aluminum wheels, dual exhaust (good for 5 hp), all-black cabin, power driver seat, heated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, SiriusXM, black headlamp bezels and body-color trim all around.
Durango Limited ($33,695) replaces Crew in the lineup and adds to SXT leather upholstery and steering wheel, power passenger seat, LED daytime running lights, unique wheels, heated second-row seats, roof rails, 115-VAC outlet, 8.4-inch Uconnect access via mobile with 911 assist, HomeLink, rear park sensors and camera, and alarm. Two package options include a power liftgate, navigation; one also includes a sunroof and 20-inch wheels. Other packages include Bu-Ray dual-screen rear entertainment, safety/security/convenience, more chrome and upgraded Uconnect systems.
Durango R/T ($38,995) are the sportiest Durangos, powered by the Hemi V8 with a lowered suspension, bigger brakes, HID headlamps, 506-watt audio system, 20-inch wheels, body-color trim and suede-like, red-stitched upholstery. Nappa leather, ventilated front seats, power tilt/telescoping wheel and driver memory system are part of a package; others include rear entertainment, adaptive cruise with collision warning, and Uconnect upgrades.
Durango Citadel ($40,995) is the top of the line. They come standard with the V6, but also with nearly all available luxury features, including Nappa perforated leather seating, heated and ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, sunroof, the best audio/navigation/Uconnect system, power tilt/telescoping wheel, driver memory system, auto-dimming HID headlamps, power liftgate, R/T brakes, chrome grille, polished 20-inch wheels and rain-sensing wipers. Options include blind spot warning with rear cross-path detection, adaptive cruise control with forward collision warning, rear entertainment and more chrome.
Options available for every Durango include a towing package, second-row captain's chairs, second-row console, and skid plates (except R/T).
Safety features include dual front, front side-impact, driver knee, and three-row side curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes (ABS), electronic stability control (ESC) with trailer-sway control and a tire-pressure monitor. Optional safety features include blind spot warning, rear cross-path detection, adaptive cruise control with forward collision warning, rear camera and rear park sensors.
The Dodge Durango was completely redesigned for 2011 but 2014 puts new styling front and rear and new wheels on it to keep it contemporary.
By exterior dimensions, the Durango falls near the middle of the three-row sport-utilities and crossovers in its competitive set. At 201 inches long, on a 119.8-inch wheelbase, Durango is shorter than a Chevrolet Traverse, longer than Ford Explorer or Honda Pilot and about the same as a Mazda CX-9. But Durango has a longer wheelbase than any of them.
Because of its rear-wheel drive and optional V8 the Durango has higher tow ratings too: 6200 pounds with the V6 and up to 7400 with the V8. That betters the closest crossover by 1000 pounds minimum.
It wouldn't be a Dodge without a big cross-hair grille, and the Durango doesn't disappoint. Its grille is broad and tall enough to deliver presence, especially given its forward slant in a class where most front ends slope rearward for aerodynamic reasons. On upper trims with LED position lamps and HID headlamps it bears strong resemblance to the Ram full-size pickups.
The hood flows out to the fenders, rather than sloping off like that on the previous-generation Durango, and combined with a deep air dam in front, it creates a more wagon-like proportion in side view (remember the Dodge Magnum). The long rear side doors look even longer because they have no fixed quarter window at the rear. In total, Durango creates a fairly subtle shape, with chrome down low on most models and even more sprinkled about on fancy ones. Its windows are neither Hummer-like slits nor particularly tall.
The rear end slopes gently, neither as upright as the ultra-practical Pilot nor as fastback-slanted as Traverse or Explorer. The rear lighting is simple, effective and elegant, now a.
The Dodge Durango offers a fine mix of passenger-friendly transportation and truck-style ability to work. It starts with rear-wheel drive, in a class increasingly dominated by vehicles built on a front-drive foundation, yet it has a fully independent rear suspension and it's built with a one-piece unibody/frame, rather than a truck-style ladder frame. (The only similar vehicles are the much pricier 2014 BMW X5 rear-wheel drive and 2014 Range Rover Sport). The Durango is easy to drive, with a comfortable ride empty or loaded, and it's quiet inside.
Both the standard V6 engine and optional Hemi V8 deliver plenty of power, with EPA ratings often better than the competition. Durango responds to steering and braking inputs in a fashion that will please those who enjoy driving or go completely unnoticed by those who don't.
All Durangos get an 8-speed automatic transmission for 2014. That gives the V6 initial acceleration like last year's V8 and EPA ratings of 18/25 in two-wheel drive, matching Honda's Pilot and bettering Traverse and Explorer. The V8 rating is 14/23 mpg (or 14/22 mpg with 4WD) and it goes really well. The only crossovers or SUVs this big with comparable tow ratings and better EPA numbers are diesels.
Nearly all the vehicles in the Durango's class are front-or all-wheel drive, built up from a front-drive platform that started as a car or minivan. The rear-wheel-drive Durango is not. If you think you need front-wheel drive for traction, think again. Most front-drive vehicles carry more weight over the front wheels, where it helps traction. The Durango carries as much weight on the back wheels as the front, and just winter tires and the standard traction control will take it farther than most owners plan to go. Durango's excellent balance and rear-wheel drive also mean the four tires do more equal work. Front tires aren't overwhelmed pulling lots of weight while doing the steering, and rear tires do more than hold the tailgate off the ground. This is one reason the Durango steers crisply and needs less U-turn space than its rivals.
We hustled the Durango along some mountain roads at a fast clip, and found a lot of grip in reserve if you miscalculate your road speed. That's easy to do, given the subdued cabin and lack of wind noise, compliments of laminated front windows, dual firewalls, good aerodynamics, and a solid structure. We also noted that ride quality and handling dynamics didn't really change with five adults and two kids on board.
Around town the Durango soaks up big and small bumps alike with nary a quiver. The nose drops under heavy braking, and there is a little body lean in the corners, but it's steady and predictable with no hint of drama.
Durangos with the V6 offer all-wheel drive with power routed to all four wheels at a steady rate all the time. The V8 models have a more sophisticated system, with low-range gearing for steeper inclines/descents and a Neutral position for flat-towing. In normal range, the V8 system delivers variable all-wheel drive, instantly changing the amount of power sent to the front or rear wheels depending on the amount of traction available under the respective tires.
We'd rate the current Durango's off-highway prowess about equal to its predecessor. The new generation's suspension is better and more flexible, and ground clearance is about the same. A skid-plate package is available, but the new one has things like aluminum suspension arms that may not take abuse or grounding quite as readily as the old model's truck-style steel bits. You don't want to hammer it over rugged terrain, but Durango has enough off-highway capability for most needs. Durango will go much farther afield than most owners would consider, and tires will likely be the limiting factor for slogging through mud.
The 290-horsepower, 3.6-liter V6 engine is smooth and generally quiet, getting mildly raucous only above 5000 rpm. Although its peak torque delivery comes at a high 4800 rpm, it has enough grunt to climb a 7-percent grade at 80 mph fully loaded in fifth gear. The V6 Durango will merge easily at speed provided you mash the gas pedal early, and it will downshift as needed, one gear for mild increases, as many as four gears for max propulsion.
The 5.7-liter V8 Dodge calls the Hemi has 360 hp, but it's the 50 percent increase in torque and lower revving nature that make it feel more powerful than the V6. The Hemi features cylinder de-activation technology that shuts down some of its eight cylinders in certain steady-state driving situations. The V8 still lops a few miles per gallon off the top, but if you have a big trailer or just enjoy stirring acceleration, you'll appreciate it.
Durango's rear-wheel-drive architecture means better towing. All models are rated to handle a 5,000-pound trailer. With the tow package, the V6 rates 6,200 pounds and the V8 7,400 pounds max (7200 on 4WD). A fully loaded vehicle generally means 1,000-1,500 pounds off those maximums, but in all cases the Durango has the best tow ratings in its class. Unless you consider the far-more expensive, distantly related Mercedes-Benz GL in the Durango's class.
Even if we never planned on towing anything we would seriously consider adding the tow package. It brings a larger radiator, an alternator that delivers more juice, better-cooled brakes, load-leveling rear shocks and a full-size spare. And the hitch comes in handy for bike or stowage racks, or a place to show your allegiances with one of those shiny hitch plates.
The Dodge Durango can carry six or seven people comfortably and rack up the vacation miles in quiet, comfortable solitude interrupted only by the half-kilowatt Alpine stereo. It can tow more than just about anything in its class, but it's full of the conveniences you never thought of before and now can't do without. The optional V8 is genuine fun and its addictive sound is frosting on cake but the V6 will suit most buyers better. By class benchmarks the Durango has a refined ride and solidly finished cabin.
G.R. Whale reported from Southern California. J.P. Vettraino reported from Detroit.
Dodge Durango SXT ($29,795); Durango Rallye ($32,990); Limited ($35,995); Durango R/T ($38,995); Durango Citadel ($40,995).
Options As Tested
Trailer tow package (HD cooling and rear brakes, 220-amp alternator, load-leveling rear suspension, full-size spare, receiver hitch, 4/7-pin connectors); sunroof; Customer Preferred package (leather-wrapped wheel, power driver seat, bright roof rails, SiriusXM radio); Popular Equipment package (heated steering wheel and front seats, rear park assist and camera); navigation.
Dodge Durango SXT ($29,795).
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