With so many SUVs on the market these days, it is hard to chose one over the other. Many look alike, and many are based on a car chassis rather than a truck chassis. In fact automobiles have become so homogenized, it is often hard to tell the difference between a family minivan, and a supposedly rugged SUV. Those who want a car-like ride, and require sedan-like duties of their SUV should consider vehicles such as the Toyota Highlander and Honda CRV. However, if you want, or perhaps need, an SUV that is more truck like in its execution and abilities, consider the Dodge Durango.
Even from a styling perspective, the Durango is all truck. The bold front grille and exaggerated fender flares all say one thing to passing motorists – “TRUCK.”
The Dodge Durango is for truck people. In fact, it is a truck. Many other SUVs are car based. For example both the Lexus RX300 and Toyota Highlander are based on the Toyota Camry. Even the huge Mitsubishi Montero has its root firmly planted in the car world. Other truck based SUVs include: Ford Explorer, Chevy Trailblazer, and Nissan Pathfinder.
If you need trailer towing, stump pulling, brute V8 torque and four-wheel drive with a go-anywhere attitude, the Durango is calling your name. Although, it seems only fair to mention that the straight-6 motor in the Chevy Trailblazer makes 270 hp, while the thirsty V8 of the Durango produces 235 hp (230 in California).
The advantages of a truck based SUV such as the Durango are simple; a vehicle with front engine, and rear-wheel drive, with ample ground clearance can go places and do things a car-based, front-wheel drive SUV just can’t do. In fact taking a front wheel drive, sedan based SUV too far off-road could actually hurt it. Durango’s body-on-frame construction ensures its capabilities off-road.
Despite its underlying truck nature, the Durango is still able to deliver a somewhat civilized ride during everyday driving. Handling is predictable and lacks the top-heavy feeling found in many truck based SUVs. However, the ride and handling of this truck are certainly not perfect. As with many trucks, the Durango has an awful time with speed bumps, especially those types of speed bumps which are narrow and require you to pass over them while the vehicle is turning – parking garages often have these. These narrow speed bumps produce quite a bit of bumping and jostling.
On the open highway, the Durango delivers a firm but reasonably comfortable ride. Wind noise is low for a truck, and road noise comes mainly from the aggressive tires that come with most 4x4 Durangos. Check out some used Durangos and see how many owners have switched to a quieter street type radial tire. If you’re not going off –road, then there is no need to be bothered by the “hum” of mud and snow tires.
In SLT trim, seats are comfortable, and interior storage space is plentiful. The Durango has, for years, offered a third row of seating, something many other mid-sized SUVs are just now starting to offer. Second and third row seats can fold down easily to allow minivan sized cargo capacity. Also the Durango has a flat cargo floor when all seats are folded, even the third row of seating folds flat should you need a combination of cargo and people hauling space.
Acceleration is adequate under most conditions, but a firm stab at the gas pedal brings the Durango’s small V8 to life. It won’t win any drag races, but it’s plenty fast. Truck people will feel good about the reassuring rumble of the V8 exhaust note. Other SUVs are simply not available with a V8. Vehicles such as the Lexus RX300 and its near twin Toyota Highlander are only available with a V6 at best (although the larger and much pricier Land Cruiser/LX470 do have V8 engines), and smaller SUVs such as the Honda CRV can only be ordered with a 4-cylinder engine.
Available as a full-time, all-wheel drive model, the Durango’s Achilles heel is fuel economy. Car based SUVs such as the Honda CRV with its smaller engine, will get much better gas mileage, but suffer reduced power. If you’re looking to cut your fuel bill, don’t look to the Durango. Although actual fuel economy was not tracked, the needle seems to fall from “F” to “E” quite rapidly. Is it possible the Durango suffers from an undersized gas tank? Yes, but the bottom line is, you’ll be visiting the local Chevron station a bit more frequently.
With a base price of $25,000 for the 4x2 Sport, and topping out at around $38,000 for a loaded R/T, the 2002 Dodge Durango doesn’t try to be all things to all people the way some car-based SUVs do. But for those who need all the interior space of a family wagon, and desire additional versatility or ruggedness in the form of towing capacity and off-road ability – the Dodge Durango is a worthy alternative.
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