2011 Dodge Durango overcomes homely youth

Dodge was startlingly late to the four-door SUV party, a problem not solved until 1998, when the company introduced the Durango, based on the platform of the Dakota pickup truck. It was an immediate hit, as Dodge adapted the tough Ram truck look ...

Dodge was startlingly late to the four-door SUV party, a problem not solved until 1998, when the company introduced the Durango, based on the platform of the Dakota pickup truck. It was an immediate hit, as Dodge adapted the tough Ram truck look to the smaller SUV.

The Durango soldiered along until a major redesign in 2004 plumped it up. Seven inches longer and two inches wider, the new model looked a bit swollen and ungainly. Sales decreased, and in 2009, Dodge decided to give the Durango a year off and start over.

The Durango is back as a late 2011 model. It is a close cousin to the similarly new Jeep Grand Cherokee -- the two vehicles are built in the same Detroit plant. The main difference: The Jeep is strictly a five-seater, while the Durango makes room for seven, thanks to a third-row.

The 2011 Durango is 199.8 inches long, which is about 10 inches longer than the Jeep, and about 2 1/2 inches longer than the 2011 Ford Explorer, which, like the Durango, is more carlike than the last generation.

Under the hood, like the Grand Cherokee, the Durango had two engine choices -- the 3.6-liter, 290-horsepower V-6, and the 5.7-liter, 360-horsepower Hemi V-8. Each engine has its own dedicated 5-speed automatic transmission. Rear-wheel-drive is standard, with all-wheel-drive as an option. The version offered for the V-6 has no low-range gearing, while the V-8's all-wheel-drive system does, suggesting that model is more closely aimed at an audience interested in mild off-roading.


The Durango comes in four models -- the base Express, the slightly more luxurious Crew, the performance-oriented R/T, which has the Hemi V-8 as standard equipment, and the top-of-the-line Citadel, which has all the bells and whistles. The test vehicle was a V-6, rear-wheel-drive Citadel, painted "Bright Silver Metallic" with tan leather upholstery -- a little odd, as most silver vehicles we see come with gray or black upholstery.

The Citadel has 20-inch chromed, spoked wheels with Goodyear radials, two inches bigger than the standard wheel and tire combo. The ride is very good and surprisingly quiet, and handling is capable but hardly nimble. The test Citadel weighed in at over 4,900 pounds, and compared to the smaller, lighter Grand Cherokee, feels ungainly on twisty back roads. Steering feel is good, though, and the Durango is certainly competent on any type of road.

The new V-6 engine is a vast improvement over the 3.7-liter V-6 it replaces, and it's even better than the old 4.7-liter V-8. It's smooth and powerful, and the 5-speed transmission works well enough, though it isn't as good as the 6-speed automatic in the new Explorer.

I haven't driven the Durango with the Hemi V-8, but that's one of my favorite engines, so I expect good things. Well, except for one not-so-good thing -- the test Citadel V-6 was EPA-rated at 16 mpg city, 23 mpg highway, while the V-8's mileage drops to 14 mpg city, 20 highway.

Regular gas is recommended for the V-6, and "acceptable," Dodge says, for the V-8. Towing capacity for the V-6 is an impressive 6,200 pounds, and 7,400 pounds for the Hemi.

Inside, the Citadel had most every feature you can imagine as standard. The main option, which the test vehicle didn't have, is a rear-seat entertainment system.

Safety features abound on the Citadel, including "blind spot detection" and "rearward cross-path detection," which monitors traffic approaching from the side as you back out of a parking space. All that is helpful, but the outward visibility is already well above average.

The heated-and-cooled front bucket seats are excellent, and the rear seat is firm but comfortable. It tumbles forward for reasonably good access to the third-row seat, though that seat is primarily for kids. There's plenty of headroom for adults back there, but legroom and elbow room is marginal.


With all seven seats in place, there's 17.2 cubic feet of storage space in the rear. Fold down the third-row seat, and the space grows to 47.7 cubic feet; fold down both rear rows, and there's 84.5 cubic feet back there.

The 2011 Dodge Durango is a marked improvement over the last generation, and it should be solid competition for the new Explorer. But like the Explorer, it isn't cheap. The base Express model starts at $29,185, and our Durango Citadel listed for $42,645, and keep in mind that's without all-wheel-drive (which adds $2,000 to any Durango model) or the V-8.

The biggest chorus of cheers for the return of the Durango is likely to come from Dodge dealers, who -- just as they did in 1998 -- now have a new vehicle to fill a big hole in the lineup.



--Base price:$29,185

--Price as tested:$42,645

--Engine: 3.6-liter, 290-horsepower V-6


--Transmission: 5-speed automatic

--EPA rating: 16 mpg city, 23 mpg highway

--Length: 199.8 inches

--Wheelbase: 199.8 inches

--Parting shot: Keeps up with the competition, but doesn't leapfrog it.

What To Read Next
Get Local