The trouble with the SUV market in 2018 is that it’s vastly overcrowded. It seems like every month, one manufacturer or another is releasing a new wrinkle: smaller, larger, taller, wider. Without a scorecard, it’s tough to figure out who the players are.
Yet, there are some SUVs that have endured because they work. They’ve taken a successful platform and expanded upon it. That’s the case with the Dodge Durango GT. For generations, the Jeep Grand Cherokee has set the benchmark for relatively affordable, unibody SUVs that still maintain their off-road heritage. You can’t get anything remotely like it until you get into Land Rover territory.
What the Grand Cherokee always lacked, though, was a third seat. Three rows is becoming almost as mandatory as four-wheel drive in this market. Chevrolet, GMC and Ford had three-row SUVs in the traditional body-on-frame category, but Dodge had a hole in its lineup after it jettisoned the original body-on-frame Durango in 2009, and its short-lived Chrysler Aspen stablemate.
The third-generation Dodge Durango was a completely new vehicle, built on the same platform as the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which also shared architecture with the Mercedes-Benz M-Class, GL-Class and R-Class crossover SUVs and minivan-like-thing.
The 2018 Durango is available in six different trim levels, from the bargain basement SXT to the road-burning SRT, with a 475hp Hemi V-8. During this week, wherein New England got its first major dose of winter in the form of a foot of snow tossed around by 50 mile per hour winds, we got a chance to sample the middle of the pack, the Durango GT.
The GT has got its work cut out for it. The competition is brutal in this space, thanks to the Ford Explorer and GM’s seemingly endless well of sport utility vehicles, including the Chevrolet Traverse/GMC Acadia/Buick Enclave, which rack up tons of sales every year. The Traverse alone, for example, has sold about 11,500 units a month this year. The Durango doesn’t sell half that. In fact, it’s only cracked 7,000 units three times since it was reintroduced in 2011.
But there are several good reasons why you should be thinking about a Durango — and especially a GT — when you shop for your next seven-passenger SUV. The first thing you’ll notice is that the Durango is a substantial vehicle. In all-wheel drive trim, it tips the scales at just a hair under 5,000 pounds and it feels like it. Despite its tall profile, 50 mile per hour crosswinds during the worst snowstorm to hit New England since 2016 didn’t upset it in the least.
Second, it’s really difficult to find fault with the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6. We’ve sampled it in every single vehicle FCA shoehorns it into, from sporty Challengers to rock-crawling Jeep Wrangler Rubicons and it never ceases to impress. When the GT arrived, the thought of moving 5,000 pounds of truck with that engine seemed like a stretch, but it was absolutely at home doing so, and it returned 24 miles per gallon doing it. The idea that you can hook a 6,000 pound trailer to it makes it that much more appealing.
It shares a lot of the tough looks of the R/T without the V-8 engine. Aside from the grille, you’d have a hard time discerning the difference between the two:
For 2018, one of the major changes to the entire Durango line is on the inside. The controversial rotary shift knob is gone, and in is place in the console is a conventional T-style shift lever. It’s surprising, but during our time with the Durango GT, we heard from consumers who had purchased midsize SUVs from other brands almost solely because of the shifter.
Over the span of six days, we loaded the Durango GT full of snowboards for a trip to Mt. Wachusett to reap the benefits of that snowstorm, full of kids to see a movie, and full of guitars and amps, and it managed to impress with every experience.
Our tested Durango GT came through with options like the $695 Blacktop Package, and the $995 Performance Hood. It was also shod with massive 20-inch performance all-season tires. It’s pretty easy to run the MSRP up to the $45,000 range, but the one advantage to the glut of midsize SUVs on the market is that with a slower-selling vehicle like this, the actual price comes in significantly lower. One thing we’d recommend is to invest part of that savings in a set of proper winter tires to really extract all the winter performance potential out of the drivetrain.
“[M]odern Americans have more choice than any group of people ever has before, and thus, presumably, more freedom and autonomy, we don’t seem to be benefiting from it psychologically,” according to Barry Schwartz in his best-selling book The Paradox of Choice. The increase in the number of choices in a segment like the mid-size, seven-passenger SUV landscape just means that making a choice becomes that much harder.
But when your needs line up with a vehicle like the Durango GT, the overall exceptional quality of the entire segment means that you just can’t lose.