Occupying the space between the unibody midsize three-row crossover (e.g. the Toyota Highlander) and the ladder-frame three-row large SUV (think Chevrolet Tahoe) sits but one vehicle. Yes, with the demise of the Kia Borrego a couple years ago, the Dodge Durango is the only sport/utility around that is a smidge larger than the car- and front-drive-based midsizers, yet a bit smaller than the truck- and rear-drive-based big boys.

Though being unique doesn’t always equate to success (sorry, Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet), for the Durango, the dividends are evident. In light of a comparable V-6 AWD Highlander, the Durango offers more cargo volume (84.5 cubic feet versus 83.2), can tow substantially more (6200 pounds versus 5000), and, at 17/24/19 mpg city/hwy/combined, suffers only a 1-mpg combined fuel-economy penalty while matching the highway number. Next to the bulkier V-8 Tahoe, the Durango measures 2.8 by 4.7 by 3.5 inches (L x W x H) smaller, but manages to offer 6.7 more inches of third-row legroom. For a family not wanting a minivan or a full-size sport ute, the Durango is seemingly the ultimate compromise.

For this test, our compromise was a $47,265 Limited AWD that started at $39,590 and included such standard kit as a 290-hp 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, eight-speed automatic, steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, seven airbags, backup camera, park assist, keyless entry, leather seating, three-zone automatic A/C, and heated steering wheel and front- and second-row seats. So, not really much of a compromise. The $7675 worth of options were made up of the following: $2495 Premium Group (20-inch polished wheels, power sunroof, navigation, power liftgate, HD radio, SiriusXM traffic, 506-watt 9-speaker audio), $1995 Rear DVD Entertainment Center (Blu-ray dual-screen video, power eight-way driver and front passenger seats), $1195 Safety/Security and Convenience Group (HID headlamps with auto leveling and auto high-beam control, power tilt/telescope steering column, rain-sensing wipers, blind-spot and cross-path detection, and cargo net and cover), $995 Trailer Tow Group IV (heavy-duty engine cooling, Class IV hitch, rear load leveling suspension, full-size spare tire), and $995 Second-Row Fold/Tumble Captain Chairs. Loaded? You bet. Only the pricier Citadel ($44,390 base for V-6 AWD) will net you more standard luxury and equipment.

At the test track, the 5131-pound Limited scooted from 0 to 60 mph in 7.9 seconds and through the quarter mile in 16.0 flat at 86.9 mph. Both times are slower than those of a Highlander XLE AWD (7.1, 15.4 at 90.5) and a Tahoe LTZ 4WD (7.0, 15.4 at 90.6), but respectable nonetheless. In the real world the portly Dodge never felt underpowered, thanks to an intuitive and seamless eight-speed automatic that maximizes the Pentastar’s 290 horses and 260 lb-ft. Around our figure eight, the Durango, wearing 265/50R20 Goodyear Fortera HL Edition rubber, held on for a time of 28.1 seconds, generating maximum lateral acceleration of 0.79 g. For comparison, the Highlander and Tahoe delivered 27.8/0.81 and 28.3/0.75, respectively. At 121 feet, the Durango’s 60-to-0-mph braking number trailed that of the Toyota (112) but equaled the Chevy’s. And in terms of cruising range, the Durango’s 590-mile stat -- thank you, 24.6-gallon fuel tank -- outdistances the Highlander’s and Tahoe’s by 129 and 18 miles, respectively.

Beyond the Durango’s laudable objective stats were top-tier subjective impressions. The four-wheel independent suspension, with front control arms and a rear multilink setup, delivered a supple, luxurious ride without sacrificing much in the sporty department – a sense heightened by the direct, well-weighted steering. In fact, along a twisty road the Dodge’s behavior and capabilities belie its heft and size – this is a rig you can hustle and do so confidently. Naturally, pedal feel for both brake and throttle was excellent, and the well-positioned steering wheel paddle shifters provided welcome control over engine speed.

Inside, our six-passenger Limited tester proved to be a pleasing, roomy place. In addition to comfortable and rich-looking two-tone leather seating, the Detroit-built SUV offered up a sporty, leather-wrapped steering wheel, a space-saving rotary shifter, an adjustable multi-screen gauge display, a rear-seat entertainment system, and an easy-to-use nav system with an 8.4-inch touchscreen. Speaking of rear-seat entertainment, its Blu-ray/DVD player was conveniently located in the front-row center console, making it a breeze for mom or dad to swap discs, and its dual screens, mounted on the backs of the front seats, fold away out of sight when not in use. Other useful, practical touches include easy-to-fold second and third rows, a hip-level button for the power hatch located in the cargo area (easier to reach for shorter folks than a hatch-mounted button), and a second-row center aisle that eases ingress/egress for those relegated to the third row. (And relegated is a relative term, as the third row offers 31.5 inches of legroom.)

In the ever-growing world of sport-utilities, the Durango strikes a happy medium between the midsize crossover and the large SUV, offering carlike unibody construction combined with a choice of V-6 or V-8 power and rear- or all-wheel drive, all in a package that can seat up to seven and tow a large camper. Better yet, it’s rewarding to drive on a curvy road, pampers you on the highway, and nestles easily in the garage. No matter how you slice it, the Durango’s tough to beat.

Want more on the 2014 Dodge Durango? Stay tuned - the three-row crossover competes in a Motor Trend Big Test comparison coming June 23.


2014 Dodge Durango Limited AWD
BASE PRICE $39,590
PRICE AS TESTED $47,265
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 6-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 3.6L/290-hp/260-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 5131 lb (50/50%)
WHEELBASE 119.8 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 201.2 x 85.5 x 70.9 in
0-60 MPH 7.9 sec
QUARTER MILE 16.0 sec @ 86.9 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 121 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.79 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 28.1 sec @ 0.60 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 17/24/19 mpg
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY 198/140 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.99 lb/mile