May 16, 2012
Where does the time go? It seems like yesterday we were welcoming our extended-use 2012 Dodge Durango Crew into our fleet. We’re now half way through our evaluation; we suppose it’s probably because we’re enjoying all the time we’re spending with this family hauler.
After a nearly two-year hiatus, Dodge brought the Durango back online for the 2011 model year. Rather than an old-school body-on-frame truck-type design, the new Durango uses car-type unibody construction. It actually borrows most of its basic design from the similarly new-for-2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee. While the Jeep seats a maximum of 5 passengers, Durango’s standard arrangement accommodates up to 7.
This crossover’s lineup is surprisingly wide and deep, designed to attract customers who demand power, luxury, sportiness, or any combination thereof. For 2012, the Durango lineup sees a few changes. The base Express model becomes the SXT while the available V8 engine gets a new transmission.
Over the course of the year, our editors drive approximately 200 new cars and trucks. Most vehicles are evaluated over a two-week period; some are evaluated for six to 12 months. The vehicles we drive for this extended period of time are called Long-Term Testers.
The roster ascends through base SXT, sporty Heat, volume Crew, performance R/T, and luxury-themed Citadel. Our long-term test example, we think, strikes right at the heart of the market. We selected an all-wheel-drive Crew (rear- and all-wheel drive is available across the board). This model comes pretty well equipped with standard rear-obstacle detection, power front seats, power tailgate, keyless entry/engine start, remote engine start, rearview camera, and Bluetooth wireless cell-phone link. To it, we added leather upholstery, heated front and 2nd-row seats, power tilt and telescopic steering wheel, and navigation system. Despite coming pretty much loaded, our as-tested price checks in at less than $ 40,000 ($ 39,020 to be exact).
The star of this show is Chrysler’s excellent 290-horsepower 3.6-liter V6. Our Durango is not super fast, largely on account of its chunky 4,913-pound curb weight, but it’s more than enough for any driving situation. Its standard 5-speed automatic transmission changes gears smoothly, though our recent experience with Chrysler’s new 8-speed auto has us pining for that gearbox to make its way into the Durango. Regardless, we think this drivetrain is so good that it renders the available 360-horsepower 5.7-liter V8 engine unnecessary.
Also appreciated are this crossover’s superb ride and surprisingly nimble handling. Said one editor, “[The] steering is nicely weighted for both highway cruising and close-quarters maneuvering.” Another added, “Parallel parking is easy thanks to [a tidy] turning radius, rearview camera, and backup sensors.”
Fuel economy was not a strong point in previous Durangoes. Even for 2012, the numbers on paper aren’t very good. The EPA rates V6-powered models at a paltry-for-the-class 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway, regardless of whether you select rear- or all-wheel drive. We should also note that the V6 is capable of running on E85 ethanol-blended fuel in addition to regular-grade gasoline. As such, the EPA predicts you’ll get 12 mpg city/17 highway on the corn juice. So far, after nearly 6,000 miles, our extended-use Durango is averaging 18.3 mpg. That’s a decent result and much better than the 15 mpg we saw with the previous-generation model. On long highway trips, we’re routinely seeing better than 20 mpg.
With its smooth ride, surprising handling, excellent passenger and cargo room, and bevy of features at a reasonable-for-the-class price, the Durango is a winner. The one area where this SUV really stands out is the fact that it’s available with a V8 engine. However, a recent test of a Durango so equipped reveals that this is not a point in its favor. It’s louder, less refined, and gets significantly worse fuel economy than the V6. Even with the V6, Durango might not stand out in any one area, but it does so many things well that it’s still well worth your consideration.