I’ve had only a few opportunities to drive the Durango since its 3rd-generation reboot from 2010. Almost all of those chances came from our annual Truck Rodeo, where I was able to jump behind the wheel of the available models for short, 5-10 minute drives. These are always great opportunities to get a quick feel of the vehicle in question and the chance to drive it back-to-back with competitors in its class, but it’s not a great way to see how the vehicle would be as a day-to-day driver, hauling around the family. I’m excited this week, as I’m finally getting the chance to put the Durango to the ultimate test, spending a full week with this full-size SUV and using it as a daily family hauler. So, let’s take a look!
THE BOD: Let me get this out of the way: I really like Dodge’s design direction and marketing focus they’ve had for the past few years. I think focusing on a male audience and promoting a masculine design has done really well for them. The Durango fits directly into this focus as it’s big and carries very bold and muscular lines. Just take a look at that front end when compared to all the soccer-mom SUVs on the market today. The large crosshair grille, the angry headlights, and the pushed-forward nose all take their design cues from muscle cars. Around the side, you get large, aggressive wheels. Dodge has 9-different wheels for the Durango, ranging from 18-inches to 20’s, and they all look unique and very cool. Continuing around the back, the taillights mimic those found on the Charger or Challenger with one single beam wrapping the length of the rear.
INSIDE: Moving inside, the coolness factor continues with leather bucket seats; trim levels like the R/T (such as we had for the test) have contrasting stitching logos on the seatbacks. The seating position is good and the steering wheel is beefy. The gauge cluster has red accents and, again, mimics those found in the Charger/Challenger. It also includes a 7-inch display that can be customized to the driver’s liking.
On the infotainment side, you get Dodge’s new Uconnect 8.4 system, giving you features like navigation with 3D graphics, an available WiFi hotspot, and many downloadable apps like weather monitoring or gas hunting. All-in-all, the system was flawless during my week of driving, and it was really easy to jump in and figure things out. The Beats speakers sounded pretty good as well – that is when I was able to listen to my own music and not the kids’ or my wife’s.
UNDER THE HOOD: There are two engine options for the Durango, and while the lower-end V6 is a great engine I’d just like to say – if you’re a guy you have to go with the HEMI V8 (forgawdsake – ed.). The 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 pushes 295-horsepower and 260-lbs. ft. of torque, and you can tow 6,200 lbs. behind you. The big 5.7-liter HEMI V8, on the other hand, has 360-horsepower and 390-lbs. ft. of torque. This pushes your towing capacity up to 7,400 lbs. – a best-in-class number – but also gives you an intoxicating exhaust note and power for days on end.
Driving the Durango around town is nice; I especially like taking off from lights or stop signs (at legal speeds – of course) and hearing that HEMI V8 burble out the back. When you get it on the highway the Durango continues to shine. With the power under the hood, maneuvering through traffic is a piece of cake. Long journeys are enjoyable, too, as the driver seat is comfortable and this SUV is big enough that no one else in the car will be complaining about space, either. After a full week of normal, daily driving I was achieving just under 25-mpg, which is great considering the size and power of the Durango. This comes down to the smooth and efficient 8-speed automatic transmission matched up to both the HEMI and the Pentastar V6.
THE WRAP: After the week was done I was left liking the Durango even more than I thought I would. I really came into this review thinking it would be a very mixed bag. I was sure there would be things I liked and things I didn’t, but that’s not really the way it turned out. I liked basically everything about the Durango. It was the right size for our family; it was masculine and fit what I consider my lifestyle; and it’s offered at a really great price for what you’re getting. Comparing it to a Ford Explorer, the Durango’s bigger and the kids fit better in the 3rd row. You also can’t help but love having a V8 option. If you stay in the Ford family but move up to their next biggest SUV, the Expedition, you’ll find the Durango much more affordable. I really love the Expedition and it did wonders for us as we drove from Dallas to Washington D.C. last summer, but when it comes down to buying one, they’re still just out of my price range.
The same goes for the big GM vehicles, which are available with V8 power but still cost so much to get into a decently spec’d trim level. A base Durango will start at just around $30,500. You still, in my view, you want the V8 – a starting price for the R/T is just under $42k. My review vehicle was well equipped and had a sticker price of $45,680. It’s still a lot of money, but you’re getting a lot in return. I think it’s what I’d be going for, if in the market for a new, large SUV today.