Where did the Dodge Durango go? Believe it or not, I didn’t even realize it wasn’t around. The 13th year of the Durango was for naught. Aaaah, then it might have been good luck, genius and the smart thing to do for Chrysler and Dodge – take off a year and try something new and creative. As the saying goes: “Genius is essentially creative”.
Most vehicles nowadays are better built than they were, say 30 years ago. Test-driving a brand new sport utility vehicle is fun, especially when you’re going to write about it. My many decades in the automotive and racing industries have given me a different and sometimes non-conventional view of what and how cars should look and feel. I certainly have my biases but I try to keep them in check with an open-minded view.
The return of the all new 2011 Dodge Durango is not what I personally expect a SUV to be. I expect a truck with a cover over the back of it. The old Durango’s were just that. They felt like a truck but performed like one too with great durability coupled with the multi-function use a bigger SUV offers. I was OK with it. The new Durango is more like a car or as some call it: a crossover. I’m not big on crossovers because I think people want size and power and they get fooled into something less.
My first reaction was when I saw the new Durango: ‘Oh no, not another modern version of the station wagon’ (which, BTW, is what crossovers really are – shhh). Yeah, first impressions are important. Well, this was the start of an exercise in holding steady with an unbiased flexible analysis. Here we go.
First off, the looks aren’t awe-inspiring. It looks like they took the old platform, then lowered and chopped it. OK, that’s fine but the sleek look now gives it a station-wagonesque look. Eh. The front-end looks adequate and it grows on you but then when you go to the back: Argh! A mini-van! And that’s not good! And when you look for pictures of the back-end, you’ll never see it straight on. There’s a reason.
There are four different packages: The base model Express (which is what I’m reviewing and seen here), the Crew, RT and the top-of-the-line Citadel. And before I get too far, the fit and finish is very impressive. The quality inside is excellent. The Express has some inspiring options as standard including remote start, trailer sway control, blue-tooth audio, trick ambient lighting, 3-zone climate control, Sirius Radio and more. The price starts under $30K, which seem very fare. The spectacular Citadel has every bell and whistle you can imagine and goes for just under $42K. It’s a bit pricey but since there’s no Chrysler luxury brethren, this is it. An example of options with the Citadel include fully adjustable headlights, power moon roof, heated steering wheel, a form of auto-pilot on the cruise-control, back-up cameras and sensors everywhere. And the stitched leather seats look nice.
Power when you need it
There are only two engine options: 3.6liter V6 Pentastar and the 5.7liter V8 Hemi. Here’s an easy way to look at which one to buy. Do you need decent mileage and are just carrying people (kids) around town? Then the 290HP V6 is more than sufficient for any needs. If you need real towing power with plenty of torque, the Hemi V8 with its 390lbs of torque will take you anywhere you need. FYI, these two engines are muted very well with little noise coming through the cabin; but to be honest, when standing outside of the car, the Hemi sounds like a real engine. Oh and luckily, no Hybrid model. You know, you learn something new every day and I learned the E-85 fuel (you know, the cheapest gas in town) not only hurts your engine more than regular gasoline but also hurts your gas mileage – Another reason not to use corn (Ethanol) for fuel.
They say the new Durango is based on the Jeep Grand Cherokee and has some underpinnings from Mercedes. I’m sure that dates back to Chrysler’s days under the Daimler banner. Any-who, I like the respectable-looking interior. It won’t bowl you over but everything is where you need it to be and is very well-organized. The leg room seems about the same as older Durango’s – they say it’s a little bigger but I didn’t notice the difference.
The drive is nice and much smoother and quieter than older Durango’s. Found the shifter on the floor instead of the column to be different. The V6 has ample power but you have to punch it to get to that power. I’m told the ride is stiffer although comparing with a ten-year old Durango, it didn’t seem that stiff. The cornering is better with hardly any roll and I was informed there’s traction control. Cool.
I’ve never been a big fan of V6’s because of durability and permanence that a V8 provides but the sense I get is the V6 will handle whatever comes its way. The V6 gets about 23-16 mpg compared to the V8’s 20-14mpg. I just wish someone would add more miles per gallons on these cars. Isn’t that why there’s V6’s replacing V8’s? Aren’t we in the 21st Century? You know about 35 years ago, Honda Civic could get you 46MPG and a handful of years later 67MPG!!! Yes, the quality of the car was poor but the technology was there. I mean come-on!
The warranty is 3-year or 36-month bumper-to-bumper with a 5-year or 100,000 mile powertrain limited warranty.
The truck is gone
OK, final thoughts on the 2011 Durango’s return. Overall, it’s a good buy. Many have ranted (positively) about Dodge’s latest version including an article here. I’m personally not fond of the back of the Durango, but what that extra space offers may be worth a middling look (again, don’t look to close or a van pops out – yikes). The characteristics and attributes are fine. The ride is better than I expected and for a large crossover, it has to be the most powerful tower in its class. The truck is gone – Long live the truck.
I love SUV’s for their ability to give you just about everything you could want in a vehicle – big passenger capabilities, cargo capacity and hauling delivery – without being a truck. I like Ford’s Explorer and Chevy’s Tahoe and have always bounced between them and the Durango. They’re not too big but big enough to carry a lot of people or haul plenty of cargo with power to spare. I had an open mind and now I’m thinking the return of the Durango might be the winner. As Frank Zappa said: “A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it’s not open.”
Thank God for SUV’s.
Where not linked, some facts and figures are sourced from Dodge.com.