In the wonderful world of fairytales, a little magic is all that's required to make a Grand Tourer out of a gourd. Of course, the real world doesn't work that way. It takes Italians. Specifically, it takes Chrysler's new shot-callers -- the Italians who run Fiat. And in the real world, their "magic" is really a pile of cash and the good sense to let the engineers at Dodge build the new Durango to a standard, not a budget.
Back in fairytale land, a happy ending often involves the conversion of a villain, and that's how Dodge approached the new Durango. Sure it's a unibody now, but the Durango remains unabashedly rear-wheel driven and V-8-powered. The carryover 360-horsepower 5.7-liter V-8 puts down 390 pound-feet, but the volume engine will be the new 3.6-liter V-6 offering 290 horsepower and 260 pound-feet. For now, they're both handicapped by an old five-speed automatic, but a new eight-speed is on the way. Power then flows to either the rear wheels or all four wheels. A new low-range four-wheel-drive system is offered on V-8 models.
With the V-8 Ford Explorer gone, the Durango now claims best-in-class towing with the V-6 pulling an impressive 6200 pounds and the V-8 hauling 7400 pounds. Moreover, with 10-percent-stiffer springs and shocks than its Jeep Grand Cherokee twin, the Durango shines on city streets or backroads, achieving higher g's on the skid pad and faster figure eight times than the Jeep, regardless of engine or powertrain.
Beyond out-handling its Jeep twin, it fully embarrasses the old Durango. Despite being larger, heavier, and offering the same V-8 engine with a modest power increase, the new Durango hits 60 mph 0.7 second faster than the old model, pulls an additional 0.08 g on the skidpad, and gets slightly better fuel economy all the while. The new V-6 not only seriously outperforms the old six-pot, but even the old 4.7-liter V-8. Its Achilles' heel is the old, slow-shifting five-speed auto with its long gears and refusal to take manual shift commands seriously.