Macho, macho man
The midsize SUV segment may not be very popular in Canada, but in the U.S. it racks up significant sales numbers. They offer loads of interior space, good towing capacity, and all-wheel drive capability. I’m sure if gas prices were lower, Canadians would buy more midsize SUVs as well.
I’m talking about the Honda Pilot, the Chevrolet Traverse, the Ford Explorer, the GMC Acadia, the Nissan Pathfinder and the subject of this story today, the Dodge Durango.
Redesigned for 2011, the Durango is about as big as the previous generation but has a lower roofline and a more aggressive stance. Plus it’s the only SUV in its category to offer a V8 engine.
Gobs of power
Last year, we sampled a Dodge Durango with Chrysler’s then-new Pentastar V6 and found it merely adequate at hurtling the 5,100-lb SUV around, despite its stout output of 290 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque.
The 5.7L HEMI V8 produces 360 horses, which doesn’t sound like a lot more than the 3.6L V6, but its 390 lb-ft of torque guarantees violent blastoffs. With so much gusto, the 6-speed automatic has the easiest job in the world. By the way, curb weight climbs another 300 lbs with the V8 underhood, not that you’d really notice.
Unsurprisingly, fuel economy is not one of the HEMI’s fortes. We averaged 16L/100km over the course of the test; actually, it’s marginally worse than what we mustered with the V6-powered Durango last year. We say go for the V8; you’ll love the engine’s sound, and you’ll also get a higher towing capacity of 7,200 lbs.
Just because a vehicle accelerates quickly doesn’t mean it can manage a tight curve. As we noticed in last year’s SUV comparison test, the Durango’s ride starts getting bouncy when the road becomes nasty. The Dodge shares its underpinnings with the Jeep Grand Cherokee, but can’t quite manage its extra wheelbase and length very well.
The Durango’s ride on the highway is quite pleasant. However, there’s a sense of float-y-ness that the driver notices pretty quickly. On my way home, there’s a banked curve on the highway with dilatation joints that easily upset the SUV’s composure. Firmer shocks could be the solution, at the expense of ride quality.
Superb interior finish
We really like the Durango’s macho looks; it looks mean, with a swept-back profile and an aggressive stance. Our Citadel tester also flaunted a massive chromed grille and chromed alloy wheels.
Inside, you’ll instantly be pleased by how well the cabin’s fit-and-finish was executed. We’re not talking about Audi levels of quality and tastefulness, but no surface nor texture seems to have been left for dead in the hands of the company’s beancounters: something new for Chrysler.
The layout of the Durango’s switchgear is well thought out, with big buttons and a rotary knob for the climate control system. We’re not big fans of the 730N infotainment unit; the touchscreen responds well to finger pressure, but flipping through menus is fussy, especially regarding its navigation functionalities. We prefer Chrysler’s Uconnect Touch system with 8.4” screen and wish it would be included in the Citadel trim.
Passenger space isn’t an issue, even for adults who’d be willing to climb into the third-row seat for a trip to Starbucks during their lunch break. On the other hand, outward visibility isn’t as great as in some other similar-size SUVs due to the fat A-pillars and rather small side windows.
Our 2012 Dodge Durango Citadel tester starts out with a $50,495 sticker and includes Nappa leather seating, ventilated front seats, navigation, adaptive cruise control, a heated wheel, and other goodies. Add $2,150 for the HEMI V8, choose a trailer-tow package and a rear-seat DVD system, and you’re looking at a final tally of $54,695.
In comparison, the less-equipped Honda Pilot Touring costs $48,520. A similarly loaded Ford Explorer Limited 4WD V6 costs $50,899. And a loaded GMC Acadia SLT AWD costs $57,395.
Space, aggressive looks, a roaring V8 engine and excellent towing capabilities: the Dodge Durango has a lot going for it. Despite its bouncy ride when the road twists and turns, we like it a lot.
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