Overhauled for 2011, the Dodge Durango qualifies as a wholesale advance on its predecessor. It's not merely competitive. It's near the top of its class in many of the things SUV buyers want.
For 2012, Dodge Durango adds a new 6-speed automatic transmission to go with the Hemi V8. 2012 Durango trim levels have been simplified and the number of Durango variants reduced. The 2012 Durango is available with second-row captain's chairs.
This SUV will work best for those with varied needs: plenty of seats, good cargo capacity and great hauling flexibility, class-leading towing capacity or dual-range all-wheel drive. The standard setup is rear-wheel drive, yielding even weight distribution, a compliant bump-soaking ride, quiet cruising and good response to driver commands.
Engine choices include an adequate performing V6 with a lighter appetite for gas, or an exceptionally powerful V8.
The Durango SXT is the base model, but it's far from basic, with three-zone temperature control, a full complement of power features and a decent stereo with standard satellite radio. The loaded Durango Citadel has everything you need and a lot more, including remote starter and ventilated seats. The sporty Durango R/T is bold, quick and genuinely fun to drive, despite its substantial size. Options are reasonably priced, and run the gamut from blind-spot warning to 500-watt Alpine audio to two grades of navigation.
The standard 3.6-liter V6 brings 290 horsepower, paired with a 5-speed automatic transmission, though this modern four-cam engine is hauling 4900 pounds around. On the plus side, the V6 gets an EPA-estimated 23 mpg Highway and has a big fuel tank, so those 400-mile scenic routes won't leave you worrying about the next gas station. Those less concerned with mileage will opt for the Hemi, not because of its 70 added horsepower but for the extra 130 pound-feet of torque and the V8 soundtrack.
All Durango models seat seven adults comfortably in a cabin that looks better than before. Materials and fit-and-finish are miles ahead of previous Durangos, yet they remain wholly appropriate for the SUV mission. Durango can be configured to carry big boxes, a sofa, or four people plus a 10-foot step ladder or stack of lumber inside.
It can tow a minimum 3500 pounds fully loaded and up to 7400 with the V8 (considerably more than the crossover competition). With low range available in AWD V8s, it can handle ascents or descents you shouldn't even consider attempting in most crossovers.
The Durango has been rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. All models come with a full complement of airbags, rollover sensing and electronic stability control with trailer sway control. Optional safety features include rear cross-path detection, a rearview camera, rear park sensors and active cruise control with forward-collision warning.
Durango competes in a crowded category against the GMC Acadia, Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave, Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander and 4Runner, Hyundai Veracruz, Kia Sorento, Subaru Tribeca, Mazda CX-9, and Honda Pilot. Top-drawer Durango models could also compete with the Acura MDX and Volvo XC90, though Nissan's Pathfinder is the only seven-seat, rear-wheel-drive competition to offer a V8 in this price range.
The Durango is a great vehicle for drivers who can legitimately take advantage of its strengths. But needs are an important part of the decision. Those who do no towing and don't need the V8 might consider the Dodge Grand Caravan. With the same V6, a 6-speed automatic and less weight to cart around, the Grand Caravan is quicker, gets better mileage and handles as well in typical family duty. It also has more people room and as much cargo space behind the second row as the Durango does behind the front seats. Then again, a Grand Caravan is not a Durango.