Before test driving the new Durango I fully expected to pan it in my review. I sat in one a month or so ago, and was turned off by the cheap appearance of the interior. I also thought the styling looks bulbous. Well, those criticisms remain, but I was so impressed by just about everything else about the redesigned large Dodge SUV that the following review is largely positive.
When the first-generation Durango was introduced in the 1998 model year it shook up the midsize SUV segment. A little larger than the class-leading Explorer, it offered a third-row seat. Said seat was generally unsuitable for adults, but it worked well enough for kids, and many people bought the Durango as a minivan substitute. GM was forced to create a highly modified version of its new-for-2002 SUVs so it could fully compete with the Dodge (as well as the new Explorer that was introduced that year). Within the Chrysler scheme of things, those who wanted a true SUV should visit the Jeep store. The Durangos retro styling also helped set it apart from the crowd.
For 2004 Chrysler has thoroughly redesigned the Durango. The styling retains retro-look fenders that extend beyond the body, but even these now look more modern, with crisper lines. Most significantly, the new truck is 7 inches longer, 3 inches taller, and 4 inches wider than the one it replaces. It is now more a full-size SUV than a midsize. Finally, the Hemi 5.7-liter V8 from the Ram full-size pickup is an option. With these changes, where does the new Durango stand in the world of SUVs?
Ive already mentioned the crisper lines of the new truck. It looks much less dated now. However, all is not good in the new trucks looks. I suspect it got caught up in a desire to attract men without turning off women. The large fender flares, large grille, big blocky headlamp clusters, and afterburner taillights (Dodges term) appear aimed towards men. Dodge has, after all, been the major purveyor of macho sheetmetal in the form of the Ram pickup. But then some marketer must have stepped in and stressed that many SUVs are driven primarily by women. So the basic form of the new Durango is quite curvy. The sides and roof bulge out and the lower edge of the grille is a sweeping, smile-like curve.
So, how butch is this truck? It cannot seem to decide. I like many aspects of the styling, but the bulging midsection suggests that this vehicle is nearing full-term. A partial solution: get one of the darker shades.
Inside the new Durango is less distinctively styled. The instrument and door panels feature the simple, straight lines of all recent Chrysler interiors. Nothing fancy or even vaguely interesting. Well, maybe one thing. The detailing of the white-faced gauges is nice. The dimpled metal-finish door handles, on the other hand, look and feel artificial.
This leads to my main criticism of the new Durango: the interior looks antiseptic and cheap. As in the Saturn ION, there is way too much untextured hard plastic. As in many recent Chrysler products, the black plastic faceplates to the stereo and climate controls look cheaper than any plastic Ive seen in any other automobile. Something about the texture and/or reflective properties of the material. This cannot be too hard for Chrysler to rectify, and I strongly suggest they get to it. Spending twenty bucks on better materials in these areas could greatly increase the perceived value of the affected products.
The Durango SLT (mid-level trim) I drove was shod with the cloth interior. Its a very pedestrian cloth in look and feel. I suspect it was selected by the same people who plan the interiors for Dodges work trucks. For consumer use, though, something richer in look and feel is required. The cloth used in Hondas Pilot, for instance. Solution: get leather.
The new Durango is an oddly proportioned vehicle. It falls about halfway between midsize and full-size SUVs in width, but is much closer to the latter in length. Its wheelbase is a bit longer than a Ford Expedition's. The truck's styling makes the interior even more oddly proportioned. Those bulging fenders mean that the width of the passenger compartment is very close to that of midsize SUVs. As with the even longer extended-length GM midsize SUVs, the end result is a long and narrow passenger compartment. Well, not that narrow. Its still a bit wider than the typical midsize sedan. Three adults should be able to sit fairly comfortably in the second row, but they won't have the stretch-out room they do in true full-size SUVs, which have about a half-foot more shoulder room. The beamy Pilot also offers more shoulder room.
Frankly, I prefer the cozier interior. It helps make the Durango feel much tidier and more maneuverable than other large SUVs even though it's nearly as large on the outside.
The driving position takes some getting used to. The stylishly steep windshield yields a very deep instrument panel. The base of the windshield appears light-years away. Sure, some minivans are worse, but I appreciate the relatively unexpansive dash tops in most SUVs. Compounding the sense of sitting well behind a lot of structure, the A-pillars are quite thick. Aside from these issues the driving position is acceptable, with good visibility in all directions and a commanding view of the road. Since the seating position is high the optional running boards are necessary for an unchallenging entry and exit.
The front seats are flat and firm. They do have side bolsters, but these are too widely spaced for adults of average build to come into contact with. Like the cloth that covers them, they feel utilitarian. Support is good, but any sense of luxury is absent. The leather might help a bit, but unless additional padding is added it wont fully fix this issue.
The 40/20/40 split second row is high enough off the floor to provide a fair amount of thigh support and should be comfortable enough for three adults to endure a long drive. It can be reclined. This row tumbles forward to open up a wide path to the optional third row.
Unfortunately, the third row is much less comfortable than the second. It is mounted very close to the floor, so adults will have to ride with their knees just under their noses. This is typical of every SUV with a third row except Chevrolets Suburban (and its corporate siblings) and the Ford Expedition. The tragedy is that in the Durango I dont see why this was necessary. Sitting in the third row I had a good six inches of air above my head. Why not raise the seat a few inches? Would this have prevented it from folding into the floor? Perhaps, but a solutions should have been possible.
As in most SUVs these days, a ceiling-mounted entertainment system is available.
As just mentioned, the third row seat now folds completely into the floor. (A 50/50 split-foldng third-row seat is available with leather for $150.) The second row folds flat as well, with flaps on its seatbacks to create an expansive flat load floor. With just the third row folded Dodge is claiming more cargo room than the Tahoe, Expedition, and Toyota Sequoia. Impressive, especially in light of the vehicles narrower interior. The cargo area is very lengthy. With all seats folded the Dodge offers 102 cubic feet of cargo volume. This puts it about 20 percent ahead of the average midsize SUV, about 10 percent ahead of the Pilot, and even a few cubic feet ahead of GMs half-a-foot longer extended-length midsize SUVs and the new, gargantuan Nissan Pathfinder Armada. The Ford Expedition offers ten more cubic feet. With the third row in place cargo volume is 20 cubic feet, nearly identical to the Expedition and big Nissan and significantly better than the midsize norm. Your stuff will fit in this truck. A large storage compartment is also provided in the front seats center console.
With the partial exception of the third row, a very impressively packaged interior. The new Durango shows up GM's extended-length midsize SUVs, which are both significantly longer and less roomy, as the goofy-looking afterthoughts they are.
On the Road
Underway, the Durango only got better. The 335-horsepower, 5.7-liter Hemi V8 (more powerful than any direct competitors) accelerates this 5100-pound vehicle with authority and makes a satisfying (in a truck) roar while doing so. That the automatic is a five-speed helps. Both the engine and transmission promptly respond to throttle inputs. This powertrain does not feel quite as strong as the lower-rated (but torquier and shorter-geared) 5.6-liter V8 in the Armada, but feels quicker than Chevrolet's 5.3-liter in the 2004 Tahoe and well ahead of Toyota's 4.7-liter in the Sequoia and especially Ford's 5.4-liter in the Expedition.
The obvious downside of this big V8: with EPA ratings of 13/18 I fear the amount of gas one could burn having just a little fun. And, make no mistake about it, working this engine out is fun. Bottom-line: the Armada cannot claim uncontested domination of the large SUV category from a performance standpoint. The Dodge is in the ballpark.
The most delightful surprise with the Durango is its chassis. Unlike the Expedition and Armada, the Durango still employs a live axle (non-independent suspension) in back. How Chrysler was still able to package a fold-flat third row and generous cargo volume I dont know. Even more mysterious, the new Durango chassis rides at least as well as any large SUV Ive driven, while also feeling much tauter than other large SUVs with decent ride quality and more maneuverable than any. Unlike with the big Nissan, I felt very confident tossing this big truck around. Its steering and handling feel much more natural, at least to someone used to driving cars. I prefer the Durango's moderately firm steering to the overly light system fitted to GM's trucks. Best of all, the harder I pushed the Durango the smaller it felt.
Also unlike with the Armada and the Expedition, the Durango's ride does not turn jittery over uneven roads at moderate speeds. Even over rough pavement it retains its composure. GMs SUVs also ride well, but they use much softer suspension calibrations to achieve this result, and thus can lack composure over the rough stuff and can feel sloppy when pushed. I've noted rear-end sway during aggressive driving in both GM's large and midsize SUVs--after the rest of the truck has stopped turning the rear upper body wants to keep going. I felt no such slop in the responses of the Durango. Sure, the Durango is no sport sedan, but it was very close in character to a good handling minivan (say, Hondas Odyssey or Chryslers own Town and Country), just taller. Truly amazing. Even at highway speeds noise levels are low--at least until you dip into the Hemi's throttle.
Disclaimer: I drove the Durango the same day I drove the Armada. My degree of disappointment with the latter might have skewed my impressions of the former. But even allowing for this effect the Durango performed very well.
The truck I drove had the optional full-time dual-range four-wheel-drive system. I left it in auto, where power is routed to the front wheels on an as-needed basis. To check out the efficacy of this system I floored the accelerator exiting turns. As in a similar test with the big Nissan, the traction control did step in a bit, but overall power was put to the pavement very smoothly and the truck rocketed forward.
The Durango does come up a bit short on the safety front: unlike in other large SUVs stability control is not available. ABS, traction control, and curtain airbags are, however.
Dodge Durango Price Comparisons and Pricing
For quick, up-to-date pricing, and especially user-specified price comparisons, check out the website I created: www.truedelta.com
. Why yet another vehicle pricing website? Well, I personally lacked the patience to keep using the others. They were too slow and required too much effort, especially when trying to compare prices. So I taught myself some programming and created a site where there is no need to dig through option packages, prerequisites, and the like one by one -- the TrueDelta
algorithm figures these out for you in one swift pass
My original price analysis concluded: Overall the Durango appears a bit pricey at present, as the roomier and classier (if less quick) Ford Expedition costs the same even with stability control. However, I expect incentives and additional discounting to make its price very reasonable by early next year. If the Expedition is too sluggish for your tastes, and you dont need adults to be comfortable in the third row, then even at current prices the Dodge is acceptably priced.
The market seems to have agreed. Dodge now offers sizable rebates on the Durango. See www.truedelta.com for current information.
If you need to haul a lot of people and/or stuff and you refuse to buy a minivan, then the new Dodge Durango is a much better choice than I anticipated from my first exposure. The interior is very large, and the seats do not need to be removed to maximize cargo volume. The engine is very strong, while a chassis that excels at both ride and handling is the biggest surprise of all. I drove the Durango and the Armada the same day, expecting to be impressed by the latter and disappointed by the former. Instead, the opposite occurred. If only the Dodges third row were a few inches higher off the floor and its interior materials were of higher quality I could easily recommend it as the best large SUV. As it stands, it's between the Dodge and the Expedition, with the Honda a good choice for those who dont care that much about styling, want a still tidier package, and can get by with a bit less cargo volume.
A Note on Dodge Durango Reliability
I cannot practically cover reliability within the context of this review. However, many people are interested in such information, so I've started collecting my own data. Results, once they are available, will be posted to my site, www.truedelta.com, with updates every three months.
Unlike other sources, TrueDelta will clearly identify what difference it will make if you buy a Durango rather than another vehicle by providing "times in the shop" and "days in the shop" stats (among others). You will be able to specify the number of years, annual miles, and types of repairs to include in Dodge Durango reliability comparisons.
Before I can report results, I need data on all cars--not just the Durango--from people like you. To encourage participation, those who help provide the data will receive free access
to the site's reliability information. Non-participants will have to pay an access fee.
For the details, and to sign up, visit www.truedelta.com.
A link to this website and alphabetized links to my other vehicle reviews
can be found on my profile page
Some of my reviews of related vehicles:
2007 Chevrolet Tahoe review
Chevrolet TrailBlazer EXT review
Ford Expedition review
Ford Explorer review
Previous generation GMC Yukon review
(equivalent to Chevrolet Tahoe)
Honda Pilot review
Nissan Armada review
Toyota Sequoia review
Amount Paid (US$):