Test drive: Dodge Durango R/T
When it comes to a classic SUV, you’re going to be marked on space and versatility. Thing is, they’re not enough when it comes to satisfying a demanding and discerning Middle East customer – you also need a vehicle that is both robust and stylish. As luck would have it, these are two things that the new 2014 Dodge Durango has in spades.
With its crosshair grille, squinting eyes and wide stance, the Dodge Durango is difficult to ignore. Its mix of versatility, styling and understated aggression has gone down well with customers in the Middle East since its major redesign in 2011. Basically, it’s a brute and while the 2011 model did much to ramp up that high-country attitude, the 2014 version has now undergone a mid-life refit to further underscore that fact.
For the uninitiated, the Durango shares much of its hardware with the Jeep Grand Cherokee that also underwent a mid-life redesign last year. The Durango uses a stretched version of the same Grand Cherokee unibody chassis, but it makes it something of an oddity in the SUV market. It’s larger than rivals like the Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot, but smaller and more nimble than the full size Chevy Tahoe and Ford Expeditions. That said, it’s Chrysler’s largest SUV which should come as some relief to those who need to tow their dirt bikes and ATVs into the desert, or up to eight people off to brunch on a Friday afternoon.
There are four model choices: the SXT, Limited, R/T and Citadel. All come with all-wheel-drive, but you can spec an SXT with two-wheel-drive. Dodgeologists will notice the detail changes immediately. The grille’s height has been pruned; the headlamps have been made even squintier and new LED daytime running lights line the bottom of the headlamp pack. The split crosshair grille has been thickened up for a little more attitude, there’s a lot more chrome finishing on the trim, and the sculpted bonnet reflects similar styling seen on the 2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee. The sportier R/T is not so chromey, with body-coloured front and rear lower fascias, wheel flares, grille and sill mouldings. And around the back, the Durango gets the ringed, “racetrack” tail-lamp treatment that Dodge fits to the Charger; a hard-to-ignore 192-LED parting shot that accentuates the SUV’s wide and aggressive footprint.
The biggest changes, however, are to be found under the Durango’s skin. The two engine choices remain – the 3.6-litre 290-hp Pentastar V-6 found in everything from the Charger to the Jeep Wrangler, and the 5.7-litre 360hp Hemi V-8 that powers the Durango’s more premium models. For those who prefer longer periods between trips to the fuel station, the new V-8 uses cylinder deactivation to switch between V-8 and V-4 modes. Put simply, the engine fires on only four cylinders when you’re cruising, then seamlessly switches back into V-8 mode when you need the full weight of that responsive V-8.
All engines are matched to a new eight-speed auto ZF gearbox. Versions of the transmission can be found in everything from the BMW 1-Series to the 2014 Range Rover Sport – and it’s now operated by a Jag-esque rotary dial on the centre tunnel inside the car and paddle shifters that sit behind the steering wheel.
Dodge says the new automatic offers a wider ratio spread than that of the six-speed autobox offered in the 2011 to 2013 Hemi-powered Durangos. It also cuts fuel consumption considerably in the V-8, but even more so in the V-6 where the engine now drinks nine percent less fuel than the outgoing five-speed 2013 model.
All models come with an Eco mode which changes the shift patterns of the transmission, adjusts throttle sensitivity and cuts fuel supply to the engine when you’re coasting. The car starts up in Eco mode by default, but you can switch it off.
It’s certainly a smart shifter when you do. Closer gear ratios help the engine to remain within the juicy part of its torque curve, which means you don’t need to step into the throttle quite so deeply.
Inside, there’s a redesigned centre stack with a new 5- or 8.4-inch touchscreen to operate the car’s Uconnect entertainment system, and there’s slots for USB sticks and SD cards so that you’re able to play your own music. There are buttons on the back of the steering wheel to operate the system so that you don’t need to take your hands off the wheel to skip through Bieber songs. The digital instrument cluster appears on a 7-inch TFT screen which allows you to customise the view in over 100 different ways.
It may lack the outright off-road capability and ground clearance of a serious dune-bashing, mountain climbing, wadi troubling SUV, but the Durango has everything you need to head into the desert for the weekend. The V-8 models come with a proper low-range transfer case with a neutral position. Low range is designed to help low-speed manoeuvres, like hauling a boat out of the water, reversing with a trailer or dragging another off-roader who’s managed bury themselves in the sand. The neutral position in the transfer case allows the vehicle to be flat-towed without damaging powertrain components in the slightest.
If you’ve got kids, then the option of captain’s chairs for the second row will give at least two of them a little space of their own. The standard second row seat option folds flat, as does the third row and the front passenger seat, so there’s lots of storage should you need to fill up with flatpack furniture or extreme sports gear.
It’s difficult to pin-point another SUV that carries the same level of fit, equipment, ability and refinement as the Durango for the price Dodge is asking. It remains a stylish, aggressive-looking family wagon with available V-8 power, plenty of towing ability, and some new fuel-economy technology lurking behind its menacing face.
Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear- or 4-wheel-drive, 7-8-passenger, 5-door SUV
Engine type: pushrod 16-valve 5.7-litre V-8, 360 hp, 530 Nm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic with manual shifting mode
Wheelbase: 3042 mm
Length: 5110 mm
Width: 1924 mm
Height: 1800 mm
Curb weight (est): 2948 kg
Zero to 100 km/h: 7.0 sec
Top speed: 210 km/h