First Drive: 2011 Dodge Durango Citadel

The Dodge Durango slipped under the waves during Chrysler's bout with bankruptcy, tossed overboard as the mother ship took on water. Now the floodwaters of financial duress have receded, and Chrysler has brought back the Durango. Formerly a pickup-truck-based, body-on-frame SUV, the new version is based on the Jeep Grand Cherokee architecture, which means it has the unibody construction of a crossover vehicle.

Who you callin' a crossover?
Despite being a technically a crossover vehicle, the Durango does a convincing approximation of a traditional full-size SUV. First of all, it's big. At 119.8 inches, its wheelbase is within an inch of a Ford Expedition's; the overall length of 199.8 inches is half a foot less than an Expedition's but is a couple inches more than a Ford Explorer.

Second, it can be had with a V-8 engine, Chrysler's venerable Hemi -- although the company's new Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 is standard.

Third, it offers a choice of rear-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive rather than front-wheel drive/4-wheel drive. That, combined with the available V-8, helps give it the muscle to tow like an old-school SUV. The maximum tow rating is 7400 lbs (6200 lbs with the V-6).

Fourth, the Durango sits up pretty high, which makes step-in a bit of an issue for little kids or short adults. It also means you have to hoist luggage up to heave it into the cargo hold.

What's within
As a big SUV, the Durango has a lot of room inside, including sufficient space for adults its third-row seat, which is standard on all but the Heat model. Getting back there is a bit of a climb (that step-in height again) but there is sufficient room for adults up to six feet. Space in the second row is expansive and the second-row seats recline. Unfortunately, like many three-row crossovers, there isn't much cargo space with the third-row seats in place -- but they do flop down easily to create a flat load floor, their headrests automatically tucking in on the way down.

We've been saying it a lot about the post-bankruptcy Chrysler products, but that's because it's true: This interior is a night-and-day improvement over the cut-priced shlock the company served up previously. There are padded surfaces everywhere and precious little hard plastic. Electroluminescent gauges, bits of chrome trim, and blue mood lighting liven up the space, which is simply and tastefully laid out. Only Chrysler's UConnect nav-screen interface could use an update. It has lots of functionality -- my latest discovery: you can program favorite artists and it will alert you when one of their songs is playing anywhere on the satellite radio spectrum -- but the hard buttons and the menu logic could be improved.

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nknorka
The idea that a truck based SUV is the real deal and that UNIbody is a crossover is a media created fiction. Jeep Cherokees and Grad Cherokees are true SUVs and they have always been UNIbody.

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