Monday, January 17, 2011

Review: Dodge Durango

Only one short year ago we thought the Durango had gone the way of the Dodo bird, as Chrysler’s owners struggled to stop the hemorrhaging of finances. However, with Fiat coming to the rescue, the Dodo lives again and this time it’s come back as a Peacock, sporting a fresh new design and performance enhancements.

While the Durango has returned, it bears little in resemblance to the outgoing Durango. Built on a brand new platform that was part of a joint program with Mercedes for the GL, the unibody architecture allows the Durango to have a much lower stance, increasing on-road handling and aerodynamics. As a result, the high riding Durango of old is now replaced with this ground hugging brute. While the design is all-new for the Durango, the bold crosshair grille and Magnumesk rear greenhouse still ushers back traditional Dodge traits.

Inside, the Durango’s story mirrors that of every new Dodge, Jeep and Chrysler we’ve laid eye’s on in the last six months. A massive interior redesign has taken place offering up heaps of high quality soft-touch materials and a heavy dose of a attention to detail. The whole atmosphere inside the Durango is one of comfort and refinment, as Dodge has taken a weakness and turned it into an advantage, knocking on the doorsteps of luxury car makers in refinement.  Although, I still think the steering wheel could use a little work as a full grip at the 3 and 9-oclock positions is interrupted by a thick angled side spoke.

Up in the business end of the vehicle is another large enhancement, the inclusion of Chrysler’s latest darling, the 3.6L Pentastar V-6. Not only does this engine give the Chrysler brands a much needed step up in power for their V-6 option, but also increases both fuel efficiency and emission. When mated to the Durango, the little Pentastar pumps out 290 hp and 260 lb-ft, which like the Grand Cherokee, will need some high revving, as it can struggle to get up steep hills. Of course if you’re one that just wants raw V-8 muscle powering your Dodge, not to worry as the 5.7L HEMI is still an option on the two higher level models, the Crew Plus and Citadel. With the addition of the new unibody platform, Dodge have been able to save a large amount of weight, with the SXT model coming in at a not too shabby 2157 kg. As a result, fuel efficiency is rated at 13.0L/100km in the city, 8.9L.100km highway when equipped with the new Pentastar engine. However, be warned, when adding AWD and opting for the HEMI, the Durango starts to get pretty pudgy and those numbers rise to 16.6L and 10.1L respectably. 

The new body is really doing wonders for the reincarnated Durango. Not only are the looks and efficiency of the vehicle improved drastically, but the driveability and use of space has also made me do a double take. The added space has allowed the Durango to keep its 7-passenger rating with a third row of seats; seats that can comfortable seat an adult and not just be used to punish children. The super stiff body also makes the handling more shocking than the interior improvements.

I’ve experienced this before, when I had the pleasure of testing the latest Jeep Grand Cherokee, which also shares a platform with a Mercedes SUV, and the improvement was profound. Here in the Durango, the handling was equally as shocking as the big truck drove like a large car. The absence of body on frame construction means that Dodge could lower the Durango without disrupting suspension travel. When matched with a tight body and the AWD system that comes standard, the Durango is a well-planted vehicle that is well connected and lets the driver feel the road much more efficiently. Even a soccer mom could have fun driving this one.

All these improvements all add to the competitiveness of the Durango against its competition. With a starting price of $37,995 for the SXT the Durango now comes into line with other similarly equipped large three rowers like the Ford Flex, Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia, Honda Pilot, and Mazda CX-9, all of which are V-6 powered with output and fuel-economy figures similar to the Durango V-6.

Base Price (MSRP): $37,995
Price as Tested: $49,995
Type: 7-passenger Full-size Crossover
Layout: Front-Engine All Wheel Drive
Engine: 3.6L V-6 and 5.7L V-8
Horsepower: V-6 290, V-8 360
Torque: V-6 260, V-8 390
Transmission: 5-Speed Automatic
Brakes: Four-wheel discs
Fuel Economy (L/100km): V-6 – 13.0L city, 8.9L highway
V-8 – 16.6L city, 10.1L highway

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