Back in the late 1990’s, auto manufacturers were scrambling to add more variations of the SUV theme “song” to their line-up. Gas prices were low and North Americans were in love with their sport utes. Dodge made quite an entry to the SUV marketplace with the Durango in 1998. Based on their new (at the time) Dakota pickup truck, the Durango offered up to seven passenger seating, the most cargo space in its class, and thanks to the body-on-frame construction, 3.5 tons of towing capacity. Buyers were so smitten by the trucky first generation Durango that they even ignored the tail lamps that were borrowed from the Dodge Caravan minivan. The rest, as they say, is history. This latest Durango still wears Dodge’s signature crosshair grill but the latest iteration is now aggressively slanted forward. It’s a look that has worked well with other members of the Dodge line-up and the Ram pickup truck family, so why mess with success? To launch the latest Durango, Dodge recruited Ron Burgundy (as played by Will Ferrell) in a series of risqué but funny ads. While the TV spots were hardly about the new Durango, they were a clever tie-in to the latest Anchorman movie and worked well to increase engagement with the brand. Let’s take a look to see what Ron Burgundy likes so much about his favourite SUV!
Ride and Drive
Now in its third generation, the latest Durango has also matured with the tastes of the current marketplace. It still retains its three rows of seats and the ability to hold a sizable amount of luggage space. It can still tow up to a max of 6200 pounds with the V6 and 7200 pounds with the V8 (about 1000-2000 pounds more than its competitors). However in this day and age where car-like crossovers rule the roads, the Durango is no longer based on the body-on-frame construction of the Dodge Dakota pickup truck. Instead, it shares its platform with the highly regarded Jeep Grand Cherokee. In fact this latest Durango is built alongside the Jeep and shares everything from its running gear, powertrain, and even some chassis components. This is ”a good thing” as Martha Stewart would say, because the platform is a derivative based on the current generation Mercedes-Benz M-Class SUV. Thanks to the platform sharing, the Durango has some great chassis tuning and feels almost teutonic when it comes to body control. Handling is responsive for such a large vehicle, and the ride is composed and comfortable. The suspension is four-wheel independent and there are isolated front and rear suspension cradles paired with variable-rate springs at each corner. My test vehicle was also equipped with the optional trailer tow package ($795) with includes rear self-levelling air suspension, a class IV hitch, and more. Spacious, quiet, and comfortable, the Durango combines civility and capability in a full-sized SUV. Part of the reason for this refinement is the new eight-speed automatic transmission that is paired with both the V6 and V8 engine choices. Not only are shifts smooth but also quick. If you’re feeling a bit more sporty, a quick pull of the steering wheel paddles will place gear changes in your hand.
Most Durangos come with a 290hp 3.6L V6 but my top-of-the-range Durango four-wheel-drive tester was equipped with the powerful 360hp Hemi 5.7L V8 engine.
Equipped as such, the Durango felt as if it had a hot rod’s engine shoved under the hood. Not only was there a classic V8 hemi engine note, but also a delightfully sporty exhaust note. With 390 ft-lbs of torque on hand, passing is effortless and acceleration is brisk.
However shift it into seventh or eighth gear and the Durango quietens down. It becomes a composed and comfortable long distance cruiser with relatively good fuel economy. thanks to the tall overdrive gears and the fuel-saving cylinder-deactivation system that idle four cylinders under light engine loads. Transport Canada lists the Durango V8’s fuel consumption as 15.1L/100 kms in the city, and 9.1L/100 kms on the highway. I averaged 14L/100 kms in mix highway and city driving. Hemi V8 Durangos can also be equipped with a low range 4WD transfer case for extra torque in extremely conditions such as deep snow, mud, sand, or even pulling a boat out of the water on a slippery boat ramp.
In order to make this a comfortable modern day family cruiser, Dodge has gone to great efforts to upgrade the cabin. Gone are the hard plastic trim pieces. In their place is high quality grained plastic, soft touch surfaces, and top grain leather. The Citadel version is the top-of-the-range model and includes a long list of standard equipment including heated front and rear seats, a heated steering wheel, and luxury leather trimmed seats.
While I wasn’t a huge fan of the tan leather/black dash combination, I was a fan of the superior level of comfort afforded by all seating positions.
The big front seats are firm but padded well, almost up to German standards. They were comfortable over long hauls but could use a bit more lateral support. There is excellent leg, shoulder, head, and foot room in the second row seats, and the third row is even large enough for full-sized adults.
All rear passengers will be comfortable too with limo-style dedicated rear climate control system with satellite controls out back.
As expected, with the third row up, cargo room is a bit skimpy. However you can still fit a few mid sized duffel bags and a couple of small suitcases if you don’t mind loading the cargo area up to the roof.
Surprisingly, the Durango’s front passenger seat can be folded flat, allowing for long objects (such as ladders) to be stowed and transported in the vehicle with the power tailgate closed. My test vehicle was equipped with the second row Captain Chairs option which sacrifices passenger carrying capacity for more comfort.
This option substitutes the second row bench seat with two individually adjustable fold/tumble bucket seats ($600) and a large centre console with armrest and storage ($250). With this option, the Durango’s passenger capacity drops from seven to six people.
Regardless of whichever seating configuration you choose, your rear passengers will be entertained by the excellent dual screen Blu-Ray rear entertainment system ($2,150 option) which includes a multitude of input options for each individual screen. Up front, the driver and front passenger have their own infotainment system in the form of Chrysler’s large 8.4” UConnect touchscreen. This is one of the largest LCD screens in the industry and its responsiveness is impressive. It’s definitely something that Ford and GM could learn from for their own systems.
Traditional knobs/buttons and a logical user interface with large icons compliment the touchscreen’s responsiveness making the overall infotainment experience very pleasant and easy to use. On the active safety front, the rear backup camera with dynamic guidelines is displayed on the large UConnect screen and works well to alleviate the typical SUV issue of rear visibility. The Durango is also available with an both a forward collision warning system with active cruise control, and a blindspot warning system that even has cross traffic detection to warn you of vehicles closing fast from behind or vehicles approaching off to the sides while you are backing up.
Previous truck based Durangos were great for off-roading and towing but light on refinement. This latest Durango retains much of what owners loved about the previous truck but also adds on heaps of refinement and proper road manners.
Perhaps the Durango’s biggest challenge is its name and the potential association with its body-on-frame predecessors. If you’re looking for a full-sized SUV that can handle six or seven passengers in comfort, tow more than the average mid-sized SUV, but yet has European road manners without the teutonic price tag, the Durango deserved some strong consideration!