2011 Dodge Durango Review – First Drive

Looking to resurrect the brand, Dodge reinvents the Durango SUV

2011 Dodge Durango Review – First Drive

The Dodge Durango was once a hot-selling SUV and a big part of the Dodge brand. But shifting consumer tastes, rising fuel prices, and the global recession conspired to kill the Durango and its sibling, the Chrysler Aspen. Now, after two years on the sidelines, Dodge has rejoined the game with a redesigned 2011 Durango.

FAST FACTS

1. The all-new 2011 Durango is available with either a 290-hp V6 or 360-hp V8.

2. Fuel economy is true to the SUV segment with a best rating of 16/23-mpg on front-drive V6 models, while the AWD V8 gets just 13/20-mpg.

3. Pricing starts at $30,045 with the top-level Citadel trim a more pricey $42,645.

4. The Durango is based on the same platform as the new Jeep Grand Cherokee, but offers a 3rd row.

5. V8 models can tow up to 7,400 lbs.

Although it utilizes a unibody structure, the Durango is a traditional SUV. If you want a crossover from Dodge, your local Dodge dealer will happily sell you a Journey.

V6 OR V8, BUT IT’LL COST YOU

Powered by either a 3.6-liter V6 or a 5.7-liter V8 and available with either rear-wheel or all-wheel drive, the Durango will be competing with the likes of the Ford Explorer and Chrysler’s own Jeep Grand Cherokee when it goes on sale.

The Durango will be available in four trim levels: Express, Crew, R/T, and Citadel. The Express will start at $30,045, the Crew at $34,045, the R/T at $36,315, and the top-line Citadel at $42,645. All of those prices include the $850 destination charge.

Express models are given only one engine choice: The 290-horsepower Pentastar V6. Optional on Crew and Citadel models, and serving as the only powertrain on R/T models is the 360-horsepower 5.7-liter Hemi V8. Both engines are matched to a five-speed automatic transmission.

CAPABLE OFF-ROADER IN AN ATTRACTIVE PACKAGE

The Crew model offers a little more luxury than the base Express, with such available items as a remote starter, a rear backup camera, a memory seat, a power tailgate, and unique badging. A CrewLux package adds 20-inch wheels, heated seats in the first and second row, and a navigation system.

If on-road performance is your thing, then the R/T is the Durango you want. Lowered by 20mm, the R/T gets different suspension settings, 20-inch wheels with performance tires, and unique exterior changes, such as a body color grille.

The Citadel will add Nappa leather, heated and cooled seats, a remote start, blind-spot alert, 20-inch chrome wheels, and a unique chrome grille.

Overall, the new Durango is a handsome SUV, with a curvier look than before. The interior is improved by leaps and bounds compared to the previous model. Soft-touch materials and handsome lines dominate the cabin, replacing the previous generation’s cheap plastic bonanza.

ON THE ROAD: WEIGHT IS THE ENEMY, V8 IS ON YOUR SIDE

We had the chance to spend some time behind the wheel of a Crew with the 5.7-liter engine and the CrewLux package in California’s wine country, putting it through its paces on a variety of local roads.

The Hemi pulls strongly, although no one will mistake the heavy Durango for a sports car. Mass is the enemy of acceleration, and seven passenger SUVs aren’t typically light on their feet. Still, the Durango gets out of its own way without drama.

Mass also hurts handling, but the Durango is pleasantly competent in the twisties, with moderate body roll and accurate steering. Steering feel is a bit on the light side, it does seem to firm up a little when the Durango is pushed. The all-wheel drive system was generally transparent.

The brakes are a bit slow to engage early in the pedal travel, but once they do, they bring the Durango to a halt nicely. One nice surprise: The turning circle is measured at 37.1 feet—we managed a U-turn on a two-lane road with no drama.

The Durango offers plenty of legroom—even in the third row—for taller adults, and third-row access isn’t difficult. The seats are also comfortable enough for long trips.

Cargo space is limited with the third row up, but fold the seats down, and space becomes plentiful.

STILL GETS SUV-STYLE FUEL ECONOMY

What’s not plentiful is miles per gallon. Once again, mass works against the Durango. Although EPA certification isn’t finalized, Dodge is saying that the V6 will check in at 16/23-mpg with rear-wheel drive and 16/22-mpg with all-wheel drive. Those numbers dip to 14/20-mpg with the V8 and rear-wheel drive and just 13/20-mpg with the Hemi all-wheel drive.

Those who tow will note that the maximum towing capacity (with the V8 and rear-wheel drive) is a very capable 7,400 pounds.

THE VERDICT

The Durango joins a class of SUVs that has taken its lumps over the past two years. While crossovers have gained popularity since the economic downturn, the trend may be reversing. There is a redesigned  Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford is about to launch its re-done Explorer. Despite continued high unemployment and gas prices that are ready to go back up, SUVs like the Durango might just enjoy a new surge in popularity.

If that happens, Dodge is better positioned to capture some of those sales than the brand was two years ago. The Durango isn’t perfect—those fuel-economy numbers are cringe-inducing, and the sticker price can escalate quickly—but it will give Dodge a chance in this segment. That’s not something that could be said of the last generation.

Now, the Durango is back. And it might just stick around for a while longer this time.

RELATED READING

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Review: First Drive

2010 Nissan Pathfinder SE 4×4 Review

2009 Honda Pilot

2010 Toyota Highlander Review 2010 GMC Acadia SLT-2 AWD Review

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