First Drive: 2011 Dodge Durango

The base engine is Chrysler's new Pentastar V-6, making 290 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, and also paired with a five-speed automatic. While we were unable to drive a V-6 Durango, past experience in the Grand Cherokee and other vehicles has shown the 290-hp, 260 lb-ft engine to be a civilized, competent powertrain. Power builds nicely throughout the rev range, but this V-6 really finds its mojo in the upper third of the tachometer. However, the 4800-pound Durango will be the heaviest vehicle to receive the Pentastar V-6, which will certainly dull the engine's responses. The V-6 lowers the towing capacity to 6400 pounds while fuel economy climbs to 16/23 mpg with rear-wheel-drive.

With either the V-6 or the V-8, all-wheel drive is available on all trim levels as a $2000 option. There are two four-wheel-drive systems though, depending on the engine. With the V-6, Dodge uses a setup with a fixed 50/50 torque split. V-8 trucks receive a two-speed transfer case and have a variable torque split.

Nothing truck-like about the ride
We spent an afternoon winding through Northern California in a Dodge Durango R/T, which is positioned below the Citadel, but distinctively embodies Dodge's sporty attitude. Cosmetically, it trades chrome and black plastic exterior trim for body-color pieces. The R/T also removes the roof rack and adds unique 20-inch wheels and a sport-tuned suspension that lowers the Durango's ride by 0.8 inch. It handles and steers nicely and despite the sporting intentions, Dodge hasn't sacrificed the ride. The R/T rides more comfortably and confidently than the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which is designed with greater compliance and body roll for off-road forays. At highway speeds, though, the R/T's wide tires generate a noticeable amount of road noise.

A modern utility vehicle
With the Durango, Dodge has a competitive vehicle in a relevant segment. That's big news for a brand that's built several mediocre, uninspiring vehicles in critical categories over the past few years. While the Durango resets its reputation in terms of cabin refinement and ride comfort, it does so while retaining the V-8 power and towing capacity that most crossovers have abandoned. That rare mix of characteristics should appeal to those who load up the family and tow a large trailer, camper, or boat. This is the modern family utility vehicle, uncompromised.

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Overweight for a unibody, I own the same transmission in my Dodge product & know of the lack of downshifting issues, oooo 16/23 with the V6 so it's what 17-18MPG average, pathetic. Old school Chrysler electronics, doesn't surprize me one bit.

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