First Test: 2011 Dodge Durango
When Pumpkins Become Carriages
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.
In the real world, the Durango is very easy to drive, thanks especially to its impressively small turning circle. Even with its tighter, sedan-like handling, the ride is still smooth and compliant. Throw it at a turn and the Durango will lean a bit, but even two-wheel-drive variants hold tight to the road in emergency maneuvers, giving up only gradual understeer when pressed hard.
If there's any place the old Durango needed polishing, it was inside the cabin. That's why it's been completely redesigned with higher-quality materials, tighter panel gaps, and fewer seams. The result is impressive, with comfortable seats, good visibility, improved ergonomics, and a vastly improved Garmin-based navigation system. Stretching 10 inches longer than the Jeep, there's plenty of second-row legroom and a third row that can actually seat two average-sized adults comfortably.
If you'd asked us two years ago what it would take to make the Durango a serious competitor, our answer may well have involved fairytale plotlines. Truth being stranger than fiction, Dodge has pulled it off with a little help from their Italian friends. Now they just have to convince the market that this carriage isn't a pumpkin in disguise.
|2011 Dodge Durango Crew||2011 Dodge Durango Citadel|
|Price as Tested||$37,035||$46,825|
|Vehicle layout||Front-engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV||Front-engine, RWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV|
|Engine||3.6L/290-hp/260-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6||5.7L/360-hp/390-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8|
|Transmission||5-speed automatic||5-speed automatic|
|Curb weight (f/r dist)||4889 lb (49/51%)||5307 lb (50/50%)|
|Wheelbase||119.8 in||119.8 in|
|Length x width x height||199.8 x 75.8 x 70.9 in||199.8 x 75.8 x 70.9 in|
|0-60 mph||8.8 sec||7.3 sec|
|Quarter mile||16.6 sec @ 86.1 mph||15.5 sec @ 91.8 mph|
|Braking, 60-0 mph||120 ft||125 ft|
|Lateral Acceleration||0.74 g (avg)||0.76 g (avg)|
|MT Figure Eight||28.4 sec @ 0.55 g (avg)||28.3 sec @ 0.56 g (avg)|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ||16/22 mpg||14/20 mpg|
|CO2 emissions||1.13 lb/mile||1.20 lb/mile|
|On sale in the U.S.||Currently||Currently|