At first glance, you might expect the Durango to be just another big, clumsy SUV with its now-three-row body stretched over a pickup truck—like the old Durango was.
But you’d be so wrong. When this third generation of Dodge’s covered wagon appeared, in 2011, it shocked everyone with its post-grad drivetrain and suspension and its uptown manners. Now, for 2014, the Durango is a bit more polished yet.
Still, it hasn’t traded its American citizenship for a EuroZone passport; under the burly sheet metal this Durango is part Jeep Grand Cherokee, part Mercedes-Benz GL and all Dodge.
The number-one upgrade this year is an electronic eight-speed automatic transmission that looks after itself quite well, and that also responds to finger paddles on the steering wheel. (Yes, it’s brought in from Germany—and the Hemi engine is Mexican, and Dodge belongs to Fiat, in Italy—but the Durango itself is imported from Detroit.)
The extra two cogs in the transmission smooth out the Durango’s acceleration and braking and, with the overdrive top gear, improve fuel economy slightly.
A V-6 Durango with 295 horsepower is now rated for 18 city and 25 highway MPG. With the 360-horsepower, 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 under the hood, efficiency sags a bit, to 14/22 city/highway. (We hit 18 overall.) With the 24.6-gallon tank, you might squeeze out 500 miles between potty stops, but let’s not talk about the CO2 output.
Dodge can get us into a new Durango for as little as $31,000, but that’s for a basic SXT model with the six-cylinder engine and rear-wheel drive. From there to the lofty $53,365 sticker of our Citadel AWD may seem like several bridges too far, but the difference between the two models is largely one of extra equipment and upgrades, not in basic goodness. The standard Six, for example, is more than adequate unless you need to tow three or four tons of something.
(If this sort of order-book price mayhem seems like a German sales tactic—try costing out a BMW or Porsche, for example, without getting heartburn—the truth is, the Germans learned the trick from Detroit long ago.)
Speaking of equipment, a Durango has, or can have, everything but a cigar bar. On top of the Citadel’s already well-padded CV (three-zone automatic climate control, Xenon headlights, backup camera and sensors, self-adjusting wipers, leather & power everything), ours came with eight grand worth of topping-up: a heavy-duty trailering package; second-row captain’s chairs with their own DVD screens; front-collision, blind-spot and rear-crossing monitors; braking assistance; and the smoothest and best-calibrated adaptive cruise control I’ve yet encountered. Nothing disappoints, not even the Uconnect infotainment system.
There’s just one area where the big ol’ traditional truck-based SUVs like the Suburban and Escalade beat the new Durango, and that’s in, well, area—cargo space. With the third pair of seats deployed and the family aboard for a road trip, you’ll need a roof pod to stow the luggage. The space between the tailgate and the back, back seats is only big enough to hold a week’s worth of grocery bags upright.
Flop the second- and third-row seatbacks down (they won’t go absolutely flat) and it’s a different story. But there still isn’t quite as much room back there for people as there is in, say, a Lexus GX 460, much less a Suburban. Don’t get the idea that the Durango is cramped, however.
The new Durango is comfortable and luxurious but doesn’t leave the driver feeling isolated from the road. It also makes just enough noises, and asks for just enough driver effort, to feel properly mechanical without being too truck-like. Somehow it finds a sweet spot between crossover and true ute, white and blue collar, Sam Adams and Chardonnay.