2012 Durango New Car Test Drive
Overhauled for 2011, the Dodge Durango qualifies as a wholesale advance on its predecessor. It's not merely competitive. It's near the top of its class in many of the things SUV buyers want.
For 2012, Dodge Durango adds a new 6-speed automatic transmission to go with the Hemi V8. 2012 Durango trim levels have been simplified and the number of Durango variants reduced. The 2012 Durango is available with second-row captain's chairs.
This SUV will work best for those with varied needs: plenty of seats, good cargo capacity and great hauling flexibility, class-leading towing capacity or dual-range all-wheel drive. 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 an adequate performing V6 with a lighter appetite for gas, or an exceptionally powerful V8.
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 standard 3.6-liter V6 brings 290 horsepower, paired with a 5-speed automatic transmission, though this modern four-cam engine is hauling 4900 pounds around. On the plus side, the V6 gets an EPA-estimated 23 mpg Highway and has a big fuel tank, so those 400-mile scenic routes won't leave you worrying about the next gas station. Those less concerned with mileage will opt for the Hemi, not because of its 70 added horsepower but for the extra 130 pound-feet of torque and the V8 soundtrack.
All Durango models seat seven adults comfortably in a cabin that looks better than before. Materials and fit-and-finish are miles ahead of previous Durangos, yet they 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.
It can tow a minimum 3500 pounds fully loaded and up to 7400 with the V8 (considerably more than the crossover competition). With low range available in AWD V8s, it can handle ascents or descents you shouldn't even consider attempting in most crossovers.
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 Veracruz, Kia Sorento, Subaru Tribeca, Mazda CX-9, and Honda Pilot. Top-drawer Durango models could also compete with the Acura MDX and Volvo XC90, though Nissan's Pathfinder is the only seven-seat, rear-wheel-drive competition to offer a V8 in this price range.
The Durango is a great vehicle for drivers who can legitimately take advantage of its strengths. But needs are an important part of the decision. Those who do no towing and don't need the V8 might consider the Dodge Grand Caravan. With the same V6, a 6-speed automatic and less weight to cart around, the Grand Caravan is quicker, gets better mileage and handles as well in typical family duty. It also has more people room and as much cargo space behind the second row as the Durango does behind the front seats. Then again, a Grand Caravan is not a Durango.
The 2012 Dodge Durango is available in four trim levels, with either a V6 or V8 engine. All Durangos come standard with seating for seven and an automatic transmission, and all are available with all-wheel drive.
Durango SXT ($28,995) is powered by a 290-hp 3.6-liter V6 with a 5-speed automatic. It comes well equipped, with cloth upholstery, three-zone temperature control, cruise control, a compliment of power features, six-speaker audio with single CD, Sirius 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. All-wheel drive ($1,000) is optional.
Durango Crew ($33,695) and Crew AWD ($35,695) come with the V6, upgraded Alpine audio with a 6.5-inch touch-screen media center, power driver and front passenger seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, rearview camera, Keyless Enter-N-Go proximity key, and power liftgate. Crew models can also be equipped with the 360-horsepower 5.7-liter Hemi V8 ($2,095), which features cylinder de-activation technology and comes with a 6-speed automatic.
Durango R/T ($35,795) and R/T AWD ($37,795) are the sportiest Durangos, powered by the Hemi V8 with a lowered suspension, bigger brakes, 20-inch wheels, body-color trim and suede-like, red-stitched upholstery. The R/T comes standard with the Alpine audio and remote start.
Durango Citadel ($40,995) and Citadel AWD ($42,995) are 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 with on-board hard drive, HID headlamps, blind spot warning, rear cross-path detection, adaptive cruise control with forward collision warning, R/T brakes and the 20-inch wheels. Citadel models are also available with the V8 ($2,095).
Options include a couple of packages for the lower-trim Durangos. The Popular Equipment Group for SXT ($1,395) adds the audio upgrade with 40GB hard drive, leather-wrapped steering wheel, auto-dimming inside mirror, rear park sensors and a rearview camera. The Leather Group ($1,295) for Crew and R/T adds leather seats with two-position memory in front, heated front and second-row seats, and a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel. A rear-seat DVD entertainment system ($1,695) is available. Stand-alone options for all Durangos includes a towing package ($695), with Class IV hitch, full-size spare tire, upgraded cooling and load-leveling rear shocks, skid plates ($250), a roof rack ($250), engine block heater ($50) and the sunroof ($850). (All New Car Test Drive prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice.)
Safety features include front and front passenger side-impact airbags, full cabin head-protection curtains, 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.