The Dodge Durango is big and powerful with bold styling. Yet it's surprisingly refined, benefiting from a complete redesign for the 2004 model year. It's quiet, it rides smoothly, and its handling is stable and relatively agile. Efficient packaging has resulted in lots of cabin space for people and cargo.
The first-generation Durango was rough around the edges, but the current model is far more refined. Inside is a quiet, roomy, comfortable and technologically sophisticated cabin. Bigger than the first-generation models, the Durango now fits between the Chevy Tahoe and Ford Expedition in terms of size. A space-efficient design makes maximum use of the Durango's size and it can seat up to seven passengers with the optional third row.
Two V8s are available and both are superb. The popular 4.7-liter V8 and the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 are smooth and powerful. They come with a five-speed automatic that's smooth, refined, smart and responsive. There's also a V6.
The 2005 Durango lineup adds new SXT and Adventurer models and the availability of heated cloth seats and a full-screen navigation system.
Dodge Durango offers an imposing presence in rearview mirrors with its big crosshair grille and shotgun headlights. Redesigned for 2004, the Durango takes styling cues come from the 1946 Dodge Power Wagon.
Durango's big-rig look is accentuated by its short hood. That short hood leads into a steeply raked windshield and sloping roof. The windshield is aerodynamically efficient and offers good visibility. The fender flares resemble those of a semi. The front fenders make the hood look as narrow as it is short.
The roofline slopes briefly downward at the rear, and the liftgate window curves in to meet it. This reduces that boxy look common on so many SUVs and minivans. Durango's taillights are distinctive as well, looking like afterburners from a jet fighter with two big red stacked circles per side. The sheet metal is molded around them to suggest speed.
Chrysler has an expensive new wind tunnel at its headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan, and it was used extensively with the Durango to reduce wind noise. The aerodynamics are fine tuned, including the mirrors and the subtle ducktail at the trailing edge of the hood under the wipers, for reducing wind noise over the windshield. The motor mounts were calibrated to reduce the frequencies and harmonics of each engine. The windows have an extra layer of lamination to deaden sound. Foam is injected into many of the body and chassis crannies, which would otherwise serve as tiny echo chambers.
With a large amount of glass and huge cargo space, the Durango feels big spacious. It's officially classified as a mid-size SUV, like the Explorer, but it's bigger than that and everything about it feels like a full-size.
There is 68 cubic feet with the third row folded away, 102 cubic feet with the second row down. The distance between the wheel housings is 48 inches, good for loading wide cargo. And from the outside, the liftgate opens very easily. The cargo floor is relatively low thanks to the rear suspension design.
The second and third rows are notably easy to access, as the rear doors open an exceptionally wide 84 degrees. The second-row seat easily flips forward with the touch of one hand, and the seatback flops flat just as easily. This is no small virtue.
The second-row seats recline and have their own climate control, so back-seat passengers can snooze in comfort. Details are thought out, including convenient grab handles cleverly molded into the stubby rear leg of the second-row seat, which ease climbing back to the third row. Once back there, there is a small bubble in the ceiling to give an extra bit of headroom.
The front seats are comfortable, neither too soft nor too firm, and the four-spoke steering wheel is nice. The SLT has orange-hued wood trim, while the Limited presents a cleaner look with its brushed aluminum. (That's real wood and real aluminum, not plastic.)
Instrumentation is clean, handsome, easy to read and easy to operate. It looks classy. We especially like the simple black-on-white gauges and rectangular black Venetian-blind style heating and cooling vents. The center console is deep, under a removable tray. Forward of that is another important compartment designed to serve as a fast-food bin. Two integrated cup holders with removable neoprene for different sizes of drink containers are provided.
We found the SLT's manual heating controls and the wiper controls a bit fussy, and the high beams seemed a little lacking one wintry night. Better are the Limited model's high-tech climate-control panel with automatic temperature adjustment. And we welcome the availability of seat heaters on 2005 models.
Another Limited option is the hands-free, voice-command cellphone system compatible with Bluetooth phones, utilizing a microphone in the rearview mirror and the sound system's speakers.
The Dodge Durango is a far cry from the first-generation models. It's smooth and quiet, quite different from the relatively noisy, rough-riding pre-2004 models. Both V8 engines are good choices.
The 4.7-liter engine is really good. It's powerful and really smooth. The 4.7-liter V8 is rated at 230 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque. But it only gets 14/18 mpg in 4WD, using 87 octane, and the more we looked at that versus the 5.7-liter Hemi, the more we gravitated to the bigger engine.
The 5.7-liter Hemi is rated at 335 horsepower and 370 pound-feet of torque. That's a lot more power than the 4.7-liter while providing almost the same economy, 13/18 mpg with 89 octane recommended, 87 acceptable. For $895 more, the Hemi seems like a no-brainer; plus, it can tow up to 8,950 pounds with the optional 3.92 rear axle, compared to 7,400 for the 4.7. And the two-speed transfer case is standard with the Hemi 4x4, optional with the other engines.
Hemi, by the way, refers to the overhead-valve, hemispherical combustion chamber design, and harkens back to the late '60s when the 426-cubic-inch (7.0-liter) Dodge Hemi Ramcharger ruled. Chrysler modernized the design last year after it had been gone (but not forgotten) for decades.
Still, it didn't feel like 335 horsepower to the seat of our pants. The 5.7-liter felt a little more powerful than the 4.7-liter, but it wasn't a night-and-day difference. The double overhead-cam, 5.6-liter, 305-horsepower Nissan Armada feels like it has more oomph than the 5.7-liter Durango, which feels solid, but heavy.
For its part, the 3.7-liter V6 is rated at 210 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque and 16/21 mpg. It's rated to pull a 3700-pound trailer and comes with a four-speed automatic.
We were most impressed by the five-speed automatic transmission that comes with both V8s. The shifts were incredibly smooth. Shifting up or down between third and fourth gears is undetectable. The transmission features a Tow/Haul mode, which holds the gears longer and will even downshift under deceleration, as might be needed with a trailer. It's cool when you come toward a turn at high speed and back off, and your automatic transmission drops a downshift for you.
When you need to use the brakes to slow down or stop, they'll be there. They're big vented disc brakes with twin-piston calipers in front, just the thing for slowing down this heavy beast. ABS helps the driver maintain steering control by eliminating wheel lockup, while electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) balances braking forces front and rear for more stable stopping. We slammed on the brakes several times from 70 mph and found the Durango stopped steady and true.
The current Durango represented a clean-sheet design when it was introduced as a 2004 model, with nothing borrowed from the Ram pickup (as before). New manufacturing processes resulted in a more rigid chassis, which benefits from hydroformed boxed frame rails, a new independent front suspension and innovative adaptation of a Watts link rear suspension with coil springs. Cornering and handling are excellent, maybe even superb, for a big SUV.
The ride quality is quite good, way better than the old Durango. There's a lot more travel in the suspension. The rack-and-pinion steering provides a 39.9-foot turning circle, very good for a vehicle of this size.
We had a chance to toss the Durango around more than 100 miles of remote twisty roads in the Texas Hill Country, and it stayed on an even keel through some very hard cornering. The engine sits farther back in the chassis resulting in better balance. We drove 4.7-liter and 5.7-liter models. Driving a 5.7-liter Durango SLT around Detroit in January backed up our earlier impressions. It felt very secure in icy conditions.
We drove the Durango off-road and didn't hit bottom even when driving aggressively over rough terrain. Crawling over irregular terrain in 4 Low revea
Dodge Durango is smooth and powerful with either of the two V8 engines. It rides well and handles especially well, and has excellent engineering touches and details. Its pricing represents a good value. If you're in the market for a large SUV and like the looks, you should check it out.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Sam Moses filed this report from Austin, Texas; with Mitch McCullough reporting from Detroit.
Build and price your dream Dodge Durango in just a few easy steps.
|Build & Price|
2014 Dodge Durango$32,724 | 17,387 mi
2014 Dodge Durango$38,033 | 25 mi
2014 Dodge Durango$38,233 | 25 mi
2014 Dodge Durango$44,716 | 25 mi
2014 Dodge Durango$46,769 | 25 mi
2013 Dodge Durango$26,428 | 26,902 mi
2013 Dodge Durango$28,691 | 18,442 mi
2013 Dodge Durango$28,999 | 25,832 mi
2013 DODGE DURANGO$34,900 | 16,151 mi
2013 Dodge Durango$36,995 | 16,470 mi
2013 Dodge Durango$38,999 | 21,439 mi
2012 Dodge Durango$23,211 | 43,983 mi
2012 Dodge Durango$24,288 | 50,502 mi
2012 DODGE DURANGO$25,995 | 75,988 mi
2012 Dodge Durango$28,499 | 14,968 mi
2012 Dodge Durango$30,900 | 45,626 mi
2012 Dodge Durango$31,050 | 39,305 mi
2012 DODGE DURANGO$34,939 | 16,234 mi
2011 Dodge Durango$22,397 | 55,866 mi
2011 Dodge Durango$22,991 | 36,855 mi
2011 Dodge Durango$28,995 | 44,231 mi
2011 Dodge Durango$33,000 | 9,503 mi
2008 Dodge Durango$11,995 | 123,568 mi
2005 Dodge Durango$7,993 | 123,742 mi
2005 Dodge Durango$9,715 | 116,641 mi
2005 DODGE DURANGO$12,995 | 85,449 mi
2003 Dodge Durango$4,900 | 126,835 mi
2003 Dodge Durango$6,595 | 81,493 mi