When Dodge's original Durango debuted for the 1998 model year, it offered "just-right" sizing: more spacious than the ubiquitous Ford Explorer, more manageable than the full-size Ford Expedition. For 2004, the second-generation Durango arrived with the same mission--to cover the middle ground between popular segments. The current Durango is bigger and more powerful than the vehicle it replaced, and it's still larger than the Explorer and less cumbersome than the Expedition. The Durango is offered in five flavors: ST, STX, SLT, Limited, and Adventurer, each bringing to the upper-mid-size-SUV market a compelling array of powertrain options and intelligent packaging borrowed from the Chrysler Group's well-loved minivans.
Dodge stylists drew upon both the Peterbilt-inspired look of the original Durango and the current Ram pickup when designing the current Durango exterior, creating a tall, boxy vehicle with shortened overhangs, crisp edges, and a minivan-esque rear. Gazing out over that big-rig-style front end is an instant power trip (and, conversely, the view of that front end looming in your rearview mirror can be more than a little intimidating). Despite the driver's elevated vantage point, however, outward visibility isn't the best: An high beltline and tree-trunklike A-, B-, and C-pillars obscure large swaths of the view, which can make piloting the Durango--especially in city environments--more challenging than other midsize models. As with most large SUVs, loading people and cargo requires a fair amount of hefting, thanks to a high step-in and an even higher cargo-area liftover.
The Durango ST and STX feature standard seating for five; SLT, Limited, and Adventurer models include a third row (solid bench or optional 50/50-split bench) that ups the passenger capacity to seven. Unfortunately, the aft seat doesn't quite fold flat, diminishing effective cargo space. From the driver's seat, the Durango's user-friendly dashboard layout recalls those of Dodge's lauded minivans: instruments are bright and legible, and controls and switchgear are smartly arrayed. The materials used in the passenger compartment are durable if not luxurious, and fit and finish are fairly good, yet not quite at the level of those in Ford's Explorer and Expedition.