Dodge Leaves the Durango Alone—Wisely
This year’s Durango is little different from the 2012 model, but Dodge has been smart, not lazy. As the saying goes, don’t fix it if it ain’t broke, and last year the all-singing, all-dancing, all-new Durango netted a boatload of rave reviews and honors from such diverse outfits as Parents Magazine and MotorWeek, the Texas Auto Writers Association and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Even I joined in, just two weeks ago. My Best & Worst of 2012 column fingered the Citadel model of the Durango lineup as the year’s top utility rig: “Big, solid, powerful, good-looking, four-wheel-drive and all the comforts, but still down-to-earth. The dog can throw up in it and the kids may track snow, mud and peanut butter everywhere.”
Truly, what’s not to like? If, indeed, you need a brawny three-row, size XL ute in the first place and are willing to pay the price of 12 to maybe 23 miles per gallon of fuel—gas, not diesel—to have one.
Despite its size, along with being comfortable, quiet and composed, the Durango drives small. Glance in the mirror and you may be surprised to see how much vehicle is following you down the road—but an optional rear-view camera makes squeezing into curbside parking non-stressful. Overall, the Durango is a highly competent workhorse that is pleasant to operate, pleasant to ride in, and even pleasant to look at. (It has some subtle creases in its sheet metal that look particularly handsome in black or silver.)
Yes, the third-row seats are a squeeze for hefty adults, but it’s these seats that put the Durango on the map for families with more than 2.4 children and half a dog. Access to that third row is easy, but there isn’t much room behind it. Plan on a rooftop luggage bin for long trips with the whole family.
One of the few tweaks Dodge has made to the Durango for 2013 is to offer bucket seats—“captain’s chairs,” a $695 option, with armrests and a center console—in the second row. They cut the Durango’s people capacity from seven to six, but passengers can get from the second to the third row between them. Another $300 buys a bigger center console with more storage space plus cup holders, a USB jack and a 12-volt outlet.
Mechanically, little has changed. All four Durango models are available with rear-wheel or all-wheel drive. They include the SXT ($30,000 with RWD), the Crew ($37,000 with AWD) and the Citadel shown here, which starts at about $42,500 with AWD. Each comes with a 6-cylinder motor—rated for 290 horsepower and 260 pounds of torque—and a 5-speed automatic transmission, plus ever-longer lists of neat stuff.
The fourth Durango, the $39,000 R/T, gets a “Hemi” V-8 good for 360 horsepower and 395 pounds of twist plus a 6-speed automatic transmission. Four of the V-8’s cylinders shut down when they’re not needed, for a slight boost in efficiency. R/T stands for road/track; this model not only rides a bit lower, it also gets “performance” steering, a load-leveling sport suspension, and dual exhausts.
The 6-speed box also has a transfer case between the front and rear axles with high and low ranges—although this is normally for off-road driving, not bahn-burning. Both transmissions let the driver lock out the higher gears, which can be helpful when pulling a trailer up a long grade. Dodge says the Durango can be set up to tow loads up to 7,400 pounds.
Our test vehicle was a Citadel with most of the boxes ticked, so it had a “Media Center” and satnav and many other nice things. Nine different Durango options packages include everything from digital connectivity to a power liftgate and a steering-wheel heater; the Durango can be a working vehicle, but no one says it has to be Spartan.
From the key fobs to their drivetrains, there’s much commonality between the Durango and the Grand Cherokee. (Dodge and Jeep are both Chrysler brands.) Seats, switches, and many of the options are shared. Still, they’re different vehicles. The Durango, even the tarted-up Citadel, lacks the Grand Cherokee’s sophisticated off-road hard- and software and tauter handling. It’s the solid older brother who went to a state school, while the Jeep—sharper-looking, more athletic, and clearly Mom’s favorite—got the Ivy League scholarship. The Jeep is more refined; the Dodge is bigger and just as comfortable, but less expensive. Again: What’s not to like?