Dodge's midsize Dakota filled an important niche in the pickup world, slotting in between the compact and full-size trucks. By 1998, Dodge fed America's love affair with the SUV by introducing a midsize, body-on-frame SUV based on the Dakota. In addition to the chassis, drivetrains, and entire front clip, the Durango had much more Dakota DNA than anything you'd call unique. That first Durango appealed to SUV enthusiasts with a need for towing and a thirst for V-8 power -- it was among the very first to offer more than six cylinders in this class. Refinement wasn't at the top of the Durango's skill set, but its overt machismo and third row of seats more than compensated.
For the second generation, timelines reversed and the Durango preceded the Dakota remake by a year. Launched into the 2004 model year, the new Durango ditched soap-bar styling for something midway between minivan and true SUV. A massive crossbar grille led into rakish headlights perched on dramatic fenders, a far cry from the previous Durango's petite Kenworth look.
Lift the hood, and the second-gen Durango's appearance improves. One carryover engine -- the 4.7-liter SOHC V-8 -- returned with 235 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque, joined by a new V-6 based on the V-8 and the Hemi. Boasting 335 hp, the 5.7-liter Hemi put serious scoot into the new Durango, distancing it from the rest of the midsize SUV pack. The V-6 was the 4.7-liter V-8 minus two cylinders, capable of 210 hp and driving a four-speed automatic. The two V-8s used five-speed automatics. RWD was the only configuration available to the V-6, but both eights could propel all four wheels.
An Adventurer option was added for 2005, along with optional navigation for the topline Limited trim level. 2006 Limiteds got a slot for an extra passenger in the third row and electric assist for the massive tailgate, a feature now optional on the SLT. Criticisms of the Durango's goofy front end were greeted with a more conventional treatment for 2007. A stability control system was now standard across the line, joining the four-wheel ABS that had been standard since the beginning. Along with the Dakota in 2008, the Durango's 4.7-liter V-8 received substantial updates, boosting power to 303 horses, though it was no longer content to run on low-grade unleaded. In the last year of production, Dodge did the unthinkable by making a hybrid based on the Hemi. Electric motors boosted total power to 400 hp and gave city mileage a boost to 20 mpg. That same year, the non-hybrid Hemi gained 41 hp for a total of 376.
Published reports show the 2004 Durango suffered significant electrical troubles, ahead of and behind the firewall. The 2005 model was prone to failure of the throttle-position sensor. Otherwise, the Durango manages good reliability marks. Because the two smaller engines net similar mileage figures, the 4.7-liter V-8 is the obvious choice. But once you've gone Hemi, you'll never go back.
In comparisons with, say, the Ford Explorer or Toyota Sequoia, the Durango doesn't exactly dominate, but it's a fair steal on the used market.
|2004-2009 Dodge Durango|
|Body type|| 4-door SUV|
|Drivetrain ||Front engine, RWD/4WD|
|Airbags|| Dual front|
|Engine|| 3.7L/210-hp SOHC V-6; 4.7L/235-hp SOHC V-8 (2004-2007); 4.7L/303-hp SOHC V-8 (2008-2009); 5.7L/335-hp OHV V-8 (2004-2008);5.7L/376-hp OHV V-8 (2009)|
|Brakes, f/r ||Disc/disc, ABS |
|Price range, whlsl/retail (KBB) || $3685/$7380 (2004 RWD V-6 ST);$24,993/$31,003 (2009 AWD V-8 hybrid)|
|Recalls ||Too many to list. See www.intellichoice.com|
|NHTSA ||frontal impact rating, driver/pass Five stars/five stars|