First Drive: 2011 Dodge Durango Citadel

Welcome redesign
Outside, the styling of the new Durango also owes nothing to its predecessor, and is better off for it. Instead, the exterior carries a hint of the Charger with its leaning-forward nose and connected taillights. Thick pillars -- as common in today's cars as thick waists are on today's drivers -- hinder visibility somewhat, but this top-spec Citadel model has a back-up camera, a blind-spot warning system, and rear cross-path detection to help cope. (The latter two items are exclusive to the top two trim levels, while a backup camera is available on all Durangos.)

Six is enough
My test example was equipped with the V-6 engine and rear-wheel drive, the most economical powertrain. The EPA says to expect 16/23 mpg from that combo. On a dead-flat 80-mile highway cruise up I-75, taken at about 75 mph, low and behold, I got an indicated 23 mpg. With a similar return trip and lots of suburban slogging in between, my average over five days was 20 mpg -- not bad at all for such a big boy. It might have done even better if Chrysler offered an automatic transmission that had more than five forward speeds. As it is, the V-6, with 290 hp and 260 pound-feet of torque, has muscle enough to move the Durango's considerable heft, but it doesn't exactly sound inspiring doing so. The low rumble of Chrysler's Hemi would be a vast improvement, but it's probably not worth the considerable fuel economy penalty -- the V-8 quaffs regular at a rate of 14/20 mpg (RWD) or 13/20 mpg (4WD).

There were precious few curves or bumps on my path, so I won't pretend to pronounce on the Durango's ride and handling. I will say, however, that I was impressed with the steering, which is perfectly weighted and was happy to discover that maneuverability isn't too horrible for such a big machine.

A player in the big leagues
With its available V-8 and big-truck look, this modern-day family wagon has a bit more testosterone than most three-row crossovers. Looked at against a different competitive set, it makes a somewhat more reasonable alternative to truly obese old-school SUVs like the Ford Expedition, Nissan Armada, Toyota Sequoia, and Chevy Tahoe/Suburban, with only the Suburban and the Expedition L offering meaningful additional capability.

We didn't feel too sad when the old Durango went away, but as it turns out, this new Durango was worth resurrecting after all.

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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