All photos by Dodge
The Dodge Durango is back as a 2011 model after being sidelined for a short time, and I had the opportunity to test drive the new SUV in the beautiful setting of the San Francisco bay area. While Dodge retained essential elements like three rows of seating and towing capacity in this third generation of the Durango, the new version sports sleek styling and an improved driving experience that should broaden the appeal of the vehicle.
The older Durangos looked and felt like trucks, offering a very practical option to drivers with large families or an active lifestyle. With its towing capacity, it's always been a great option for boaters or campers. None of that has changed, but the driving experience has been made much more comfortable with the improved interior and the much-improved ride and handling. I drove the vehicle around the picturesque winding roads near San Francisco and came away very impressed. It's amazing how far SUVs, and now large SUVs, have come in recent years. While the ride won't necessarily match that of some of the newer crossovers, it's close enough where the Durango should get serious consideration by large families in the suburbs as well.
The new interior is beautiful as all Chrysler brands have put a new emphasis on interior design. Hard, boring plastic is out, and soft-touch materials have been used liberally. The interior is very roomy and comfortable. I drove the Citadel version which offered the premium interior packages and Nappa leather seats with exposed stitching, showing that this practical vehicle can be luxurious as well. Dodge described it to us as a "premium SUV experience" and it lived up to the billing.
Meanwhile, the new exterior design offers a more refined but still powerful look that will make it more appealing than a crossover, particularly to the male market. It sports Dodge's signature cross-hair grille and has the look and feel of a powerful vehicle. Dodge CEO Ralph Gilles described it as a "forward-leaning" design and it fits in nicely with the new Dodge lineup. I'm not a fan at all of the chrome-plated wheels that the American brands keep offering as an option, but fortunately buyers can avoid this option if they like.
The new Durango is built off the Jeep Grand Cherokee platform, with a longer wheelbase and three rows of seating instead of two in the Grand Cherokee. The two available engines include a new 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 and 5.7-liter Hemi V8. The base V6 engine produces 290 hp and 260 lb·ft of torque, while the 5.7 L Hemi VVT V8 sports 360 hp and 390 lb·ft of torque, and also features the 5-speed automatic found in the V6. Drivers can choose among rear-wheel drive, all-wheel drive (V6 only) and four-wheel drive with added low-range gearing (V8 only). The vehicle sports best in class towing capacity, reaching up to 7,400 pound with the V8 and rear-wheel drive, so you don't sacrifice the fun and practical benefits of what you would expect from a Durango for the upgrades in comfort and driving experience.
The Durango is available in four trim levels: Express, Crew, the sporty R/T, and upscale Citadel that I tested. The Express starts at just over $30,000 and the top-line Citadel starts at just over $42,000. I think it's a great option for anyone considering an SUV or a crossover, so make sure to test drive this one when you start looking.
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