Dodge's bold new Durango has a face you can't miss and size to match.
The totally new vehicle is 7 inches longer, 3 inches wider and 3 inches taller than the previous model. It rides on a 119.2-inch wheelbase, which is longer than an Explorer but shorter than a Suburban. It can seat seven people in three rows of seats and can tow 8,950 pounds when properly equipped.
When Dodge set out to redesign the Durango, stated goals were "to improve ride quality, refine the comfort of the interior, utilize new safety technologies and improve fuel efficiency."
Based on a weeklong drive, I conclude that most of those goals have been met.
Durango is available in two-wheel and four-wheel drive, with three engines: a 210-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6; a 230-horsepower, 4.7-liter V-8; and a 335-horsepower, 5.7-liter Hemi V-8.
Prices start at $26,565 for a two-wheel-drive V-6 and top out at $34,900 for a four-wheel-drive Limited. The SLT starts at $28,805. The test vehicle was a two-wheel-drive Limited with the 5.7-liter V-8, sunroof, rear-seat entertainment system, heated seats and side airbags. Its sticker price was $36,950.
Given the Durango's size, I think most buyers will want a V-8. The Hemi, of course, is the engine that is the most fun. This engine, made popular by Dodge's "That thing got a Hemi?" ad campaign, is a strong engine that loves to flex its muscles. It's smooth and powerful and, surprisingly, has the same fuel economy rating as the smaller 4.7-liter V-8. If power is your thing, or you anticipate towing or hauling seven people, go for the larger engine.
Dodge was successful in making the new Durango a more refined vehicle than its predecessor. The ride is smoother by a considerable margin, and the cabin is not only larger, but crafted with nicer materials and features.
The instrument panel of the Limited has large, white-faced gauges that are easy to read during the day and during the night, when their color changes to a light greenish blue.
The audio system is completely new, with flat buttons and soft knobs that are easy to work even with gloves on.
The test vehicle was loaded with creature features that make SUVs so popular these days. It had a rear-seat DVD player, for example, and a fold-flat, third-row seat that makes it possible to carry up to seven people. Oftentimes, getting into these third-row seats is quite a challenge, but its easy in the Durango. The second-row seats tumble forward to create a large passage way to the back seat. Predictably, legroom for the third seat is pretty tight for adults, but it is tolerable for short distances.
The second-row seat is a 40/20/40 design whose center section can be folded down like an armrest. It even has cup holders.
With the third seat upright, luggage space is minimal. With the second seat moved forward and the third seat folded, the resulting cargo space is greater than that of the Chevy Tahoe, Ford Expedition or Toyota Sequoia, according to Dodge.
The original Durango SUV was larger than a compact but smaller than a full[-]size. The new vehicle again falls into a unique size category, but it is one notch bigger. That will be good news to those who need the space, and not so good news for folks who want a smaller, more carlike SUV.