Wow, Dodge really did a great job with the Durango. I was never blown away by the body-on-frame Durango that died a few years ago, but the new unibody version feels very solid and well executed. Having driven the Ford Explorer only a few nights before the Durango, it’s difficult to find fault with the Dodge.
Comparing spec sheets you’d think the Durango and Explorer were almost exactly the same vehicle, but the execution is quite different. While the Explorer’s thick A-pillars, high beltline, and smallish window openings make it feel claustrophobic (or at least like you’re trapped in a cave), the Durango lets in more light and offers better visibility through its large windshield and windows and seemingly thinner A-pillars. Both of these SUVs-turned-crossovers offer touch-screen infotainment systems, but only Dodge offers honest-to-goodness physical buttons and dials to adjust the temperature or volume. I much prefer the idea of using muscle memory to adjust the volume to taking my eyes off the road and fiddling with a fussy touch screen.
This is the heaviest vehicle I’ve sampled with Chrysler’s new Pentastar V-6, and the engine performed admirably with nearly 5000 pounds of Durango to motivate. I presume the Durango would be a lot of fun with the Hemi V-8, but there’s no need for more power unless you’re planning to tow trailers frequently.
Driving dynamics are at the top of the class thanks to the rear-wheel-drive architecture. Of course handling is a relative term when you’re talking three-row crossovers, but I seriously want to drive the R/T model after experiencing how buttoned-down and solid the base Durango feels on off-ramps and country roads.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
The new Dodge Durango‘s exterior styling is one of its strongest points. It is cohesive, interesting, different, and very American, and it helps the Durango stand out from the crowded pack of crossovers. The interior is also nicely designed and pretty well executed, but I don’t care for the huge, tall dash and the large A-pillars, which are to me just as big and bothersome as the ones in the Ford Explorer. Outward visibility is only OK due to the high front cowl.
Dynamically, the Durango is surprisingly good for such a big, heavy vehicle. I drove 60 mph on a twisty two-lane road that I often use as a test loop, and the Dodge had good body control, nice brake-pedal feel, and accurate steering. I agree with Phil that the Pentastar V-6 provides good performance, and since it manages to achieve only 22 mpg in the highway EPA cycle, I certainly wouldn’t want the V-8 (rated at 20 mpg on the highway) if I could get along without it. Although I suppose that if you are truly concerned about fuel economy but still want to haul around your family of seven, you ought to be looking at a Dodge Grand Caravan minivan rather than the Durango; the Grand Caravan is rated at 25 mpg. That said, if you get a rear-wheel-drive Durango, it’s rated at 23 mpg. Our test vehicle was an all-wheel-drive model.
The nice thing about the Durango is that it was part of the joint-development program between Chrysler and its former owner, Daimler, wherein the Durango and the Jeep Grand Cherokee got a big engineering assist from the team at Mercedes-Benz, which was also developing the new Mercedes M-Class. We recently met Jack Dolan, the Chrysler engineer who is responsible for the development of the 2011 Dodge Durango, and he explained that, with the Durango, “we were freed from having to make it a serious off-roader, like Jeep did with the Grand Cherokee. We were able to concentrate on optimizing its on-road performance.” Dolan went on to explain that, although the Durango is based on the same platform as the Jeep, it is ten inches longer overall. Of that ten inches, five inches went into a longer wheelbase, to make room for the third-row seating. Some of the additional length also allowed the engineers to package a full-size spare tire.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
I can’t remember the last time I drove a Durango, which is understandable since it just returned from a lengthy hiatus. Television commercials explain the Durango’s absence by saying that it’s been getting its handling honed at the Nuerburgring, but nothing about the driving experience made me entertain any fantasies that I was on the famed German road course. That doesn’t mean it handles badly, but in the end, this is a big, three-row crossover that is more about utility than driving excitement.
To test that utility, I used the Durango as an airport shuttle when I picked up my mother and her husband upon their return from a two-week Italian vacation. The back seat of the Durango was equally accommodating for both my five-foot-tall mother and her six-foot-plus husband, and rear-seat climate controls were a boon for their comfort on what turned out to be an unseasonably cold early spring evening. There’s plenty of room in the back for storing luggage, but in the dark of the parking garage, we couldn’t easily figure out how to lower the third-row seatbacks.
The interior isn’t overly luxurious but seems well thought out ergonomically. The soft-touch plastic on the dash is pretty nice, although the door panels are covered with a slightly downmarket-feeling hard plastic. The center console is serviceable, but not much more. The climate controls are simple to use and, although I would have liked to see the modern uConnect media center, the older media system installed in this Durango is at least easy to use.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
Have just traveled almost 1500 miles in our Four Seasons Jeep Grand Cherokee, I felt very comfortable and familiar with the new Dodge Durango. Even though the two cars share much of the same switchgear and underpinnings, they look a lot different, which is a very important element of successful badge engineering. I really like the styling of the new Durango, which reminds me of how slick the original Durango looked when it hit the market in 1998. Chrysler officials aren’t saying much about the next Dakota pickup, but I’d love to see it closely follow the styling of this new Durango. It’s more likely, though, that the next Dakota will be smaller and less heavy-duty than both the current Dakota and the 2011 Durango, perhaps more along the lines of the Dodge Rampage concept from 2006.
The 2011 Durango drives remarkably well for a vehicle of its size and heft, but I didn’t find it to be quite the sports crossover that Dodge would have you think it is. It’s quite comfortable, too, although I noticed an excessive amount of wind noise on my country-road, never-more-than-65-mph commute. Space in the third row is ample for me, and access back there is pretty easy and convenient, too. The existence of the third row is the major mechanical difference between the Durango and the Grand Cherokee (as Joe pointed out, the Dodge has a five-inch-longer wheelbase and ten more inches of total length). The V-6 is good, but I was left wanting for some Hemi power, given my heavy foot and the Durango’s extra 200-plus pounds when compared with the Grand Cherokee.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
I drove the new Durango to dinner and when I came out of the restaurant afterwards, there was a previous-generation Durango parked only a few spaces away. If the differences weren’t completely obvious to me before then, seeing the two models parked side-by-side certainly made them obvious. For starters, it looks much better. The new Dodge face is less, well, in-your-face with a still aggressive, but less of a butch big-truck look to it. It’s a bit generic from the side and rear but it’s certainly not unattractive and the short front overhang and lower ride height give it a sporty, modern profile.
The lower stance also helps the Durango feel less top heavy, and subsequently, more stable and car-like on the highway. It definitely still feels like a big, three-row truck but much less so. The lower ride height makes getting in and out is easier too, as do the extra-wide opening doors.
As with other Dodge models, the biggest change can be found in the cabin where the fit and finish is quite good and there is really nothing to complain about in terms of ergonomics and ease of use. The tach and speedometer are really attractive, they look expensive and the red accents are a nice sporty touch. The Durango is another solid offering from Dodge that is far better than its predecessor and finally good enough to be a legitimate competitor in its class.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms
Early reports of the Durango’s revival for 2011 primarily focused on the fact that the new model shares its WK2 architecture and a number of components with the also-new-for-2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee. So, then, why opt for the Dodge instead of Jeep’s latest and greatest? I can think of three reasons.
Space. The Durango’s wheelbase is five inches longer than that of the Grand Cherokee, and the Dodge is nearly ten inches longer than its Jeep sibling. Why? To make room for third row of seating, which is likely a key shopping point for larger families or those regularly assigned to carpool duty. Of course, it also means more cargo space — fold that third-row bench, and the Durango offers an extra 12.6 cubic feet of storage.
Grace. Styling is subjective, but the Durango looks far more carlike than the Grand Cherokee. Designers not only gave the Dodge a lowered stance and extended side sills, but also a front clip that incorporates cues from the 2011 Charger. Technically, the Grand Cherokee SRT8 may be the true muscle SUV, but the Durango is the one that actually looks the part.
Pace. No, I don’t suspect a Durango is any quicker through the quarter mile than a Grand Cherokee. It is, however, a little more fun to drive quickly than its Jeep sibling. The lower center of gravity, coupled with different suspension tuning, allows the big, 4900-pound Dodge to drive in a very car-like fashion. R/T models promise an even sportier feel, but the standard suspension tuning, as found on this CrewMax, is surprisingly good, and doesn’t crash over broken tarmac.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
2011 Dodge Durango AWD CrewLux
Base price (with destination): $36,045
Price as tested: $41,340
3.6-liter V-6 engine
5-speed automatic transmission
Electronic stability control
Parkview rear backup camera
Parksense rear park assist
Keyless entry with remote engine start
Hill start assist
Trailer sway damping
Dual-zone automatic climate control
60/40 split fold 2nd row
50/50 folding 3rd row
Sirius satellite radio
Media center 430 CD/DVD/MP3/HDD touch screen
9 speakers with 506-watt amp and subwoofer
Leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls
Options on this vehicle:
Customer preferred package 26G — $5000
20-inch polished wheels
Leather-trimmed bucket seats
Heated front and 2nd row seats
Power tilt/telescoping steering column
Media center 430N CD/DVD/MP3/HDD/NAV touch screen
Garmin navigation system
Rain sensing wipers
Inferno red exterior paint — $295
Key options not on vehicle:
5.7-liter Hemi V-8 engine — $1895
Rear DVD entertainment system — $1695
Power sunroof — $850
Trailer tow group — $695
16 / 22 / 18 mpg
Horsepower: 290 hp @ 6400 rpm
Torque: 260 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm
Curb weight: 4987 lb
Wheels/tires: 20 x 8.0-inch polished-aluminum wheels
265/50R20 all-season tires
What’s new? All new model, reintroduced for 2011.