Rumors of the Dodge Durango's death were greatly exaggerated. Although we heard Chrysler was axing Dodge's three-row sport utility, paving the way for a Jeep product riding on the same platform, the plans has changed. The Durango remains part of Dodge's portfolio, and receives a moderate mid-cycle update for the 2014 model year.
Let's start with the exterior. Predictably, Dodge has only amended -- not reinvented -- the Durango's form. A new front fascia incorporates a floating crosshair grille element, much like the Dodge Dart. New headlamp assemblies incorporate projector lamps on all trim levels, and each variant save for the base SXT model gains L-shaped LED running lights.
Out back, the tail lamp assemblies span the entire width of the tailgate, allowing Dodge to install the same LED "racetrack" tail lamps we've come to love on the Charger and Dart sedans. The lower rear fascia is also redesigned to cleanly integrate and hide the trailer hitch receiver. Rallye and R/T models remain the sportiest looking Durango variants available, boasting body colored front and rear lower fascias, fender flares, sill moldings, grille surrounds, and grille crosshair inserts. SXT and Limited models gain a chrome surround and crosshairs over a black background, while the fancy Citadel offers the same but over a chrome background.
The Durango's cabin also receives a slight cosmetic upgrade, which includes a new instrument panel and center stack design. An upgraded electrical architecture supports Chrysler's latest in-car technological enhancements, including a gauge cluster with a 7-inch LCD screen, like that used in the Dart and the 2013 Ram. Base trims receive a small five-inch touchscreen interface for audio and climate controls, but Chrysler's updated 8.4-inch touchscreen system is offered in higher-trim models, and incorporates the new Uconnect Access connectivity suite -- and, if so equipped, in-car WiFi access. Rear-seat passengers can be distracted by way of a new dual-screen entertainment system with Blu-ray/ DVD player, and charge smartphones and other devices through a pair of USB ports located in the second row.
The nifty rotary shift knob on the center console hints at the 2014 Durango's biggest mechanical improvement. Last year's five- and six-speed automatics are no more, as the ZF-licensed eight-speed automatic is standard on all Durango models. Durango SXT, Rallye, Limited, and Citadel models pair that transmission to the 290-hp (295-hp in Rallye form) 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, while the familiar 360-hp, 5.4-liter Hemi V-8 is standard on the Durango R/T and optional on Limited and Citadel models. Rear-wheel drive is standard across the board, but all-wheel-drive is optional. Six-cylinder models with all-wheel drive receive a single-speed transfer case, but V-8 models use a two-speed transfer case with a low-range gearing. We doubt many buyers plans on exercising that gearing for an off-road romp, but Dodge suggests this feature is ideal for towing a boat up a launch ramp.
The 2014 Durango also gains an "Eco" mode, which modifies the transmission's shift schedule, changes the throttle's sensitivity, and increases the use of cylinder deactivation on Hemi models in pursuit of eking the most out of every drop of fuel. Eco mode is automatically triggered upon start-up, but buyers can shut it off if so desired. Chrysler won't discuss finalized fuel economy figures, but estimates the eight-speed transmission alone should help improve fuel economy by nine percent. If so, expect 2014 Durango V-6 models to deliver around18/25 mpg (city/highway), and V-8 models to come in somewhere near 14-15/22 mpg.
Pricing for the 2014 Dodge Durango has yet to be announced, but expect it to ring close to the 2013 model, which started at $29,495 for a two-wheel drive SXT and ran up to $42,195 for an all-wheel-drive Citadel. Look for that information to be divulged closer to the third quarter of 2013, when production begins at Chrysler's Jefferson North Assembly plant in Detroit.