Multiple copies of the third-generation Dodge Durango have visited through the years since its 2011 debut, and none have disappointed. A three-row crossover based on the same uni-body platform that underpins the top-selling Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Dodge asserts itself very nicely in a segment loaded with competent full-size crossovers.
For 2019, Dodge continues to push the subtle distinctions that separate the Durango from the pack: multiple powertrain options including two high-performance V-8 engines, aggressive, muscular styling as seen here in updated GT trim that uses the same grille as sportier R/T and SRT models, plus a supple chassis that performs differently from the rest of the class — in a very good way.
While the Ford Explorer leads this pack, helped by a healthy dose of fleet sales, and the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot edge past the Chevy Traverse and Nissan Pathfinder on the sales charts, the Durango captures a consistent level of annual sales each year.
With the second longest wheelbase in the class — 120 inches long, only an inch less than the Traverse — the Dodge has a huge advantage over the rest of the class, a virtue that shows up every time you drive the Durango. The Dodge’s ride is compliant, quiet and extremely comfortable. The long-wheelbase Durango soaks up road imperfections that have rivals pitching and heaving, all while rendering excellent steering feel and appropriate levels of handling acumen.
In back-to-back drives with the Asian-based competitors, the Durango certainly has a different “feel.” It has substance (it does weigh more than most rivals) yet it also has a heft to it that is reassuring, comforting as you push down a winding rural road. The extra weight is not apparent in its road manners, though, as the Durango is quick on its feet — no small feat for a 5,100-pound truck.
However, repeated notes in the logbook remark about how well the Durango rides, a trait that never grows old over roads that surely are.
Our Octane Red GT, with new Brass Monkey trim, featured handsome painted 20-inch wheels, the bolder stance of the air-scooped hood from the SRT edition, plus a more athletic stance overall. It’s an extroverted looking vehicle, perhaps a dose of bravado in a sea of shopping mall lookalikes, backed up by a moniker that more than likely will never be attached to a Honda or Toyota crossover. Dodge knows that there is a cadre of buyers who like that kind of swagger.
Durangos start at $29,995 with rear drive and the 3.6-liter 295-hp V-6 running through the second generation eight-speed automatic. GT trim adds visual enhancements, more interior content, plus AWD to bump the starting price to $37,045. Throw on heated suede and leather seating, heated steering wheel, remote starting, 8.4-inch U-Connect screen and accompanying systems, plus the Technology Package with a host of electronic driving aids, a Class IV tow package (up to 6,200 pounds), rear DVD entertainment and rear captain’s chairs along with an Alpine audio system and the sticker climbs to over $55,000.
Climbing in and out of new vehicles each week, you tend to develop favorite traits and make snap judgments on how systems work in each test vehicle. The Durango earns high marks for the many pieces that work as expected — and frequently as drivers want them to work.
The seat and steering wheel heaters are quick to warm, stay hot and stay on until you turn them off. The U-Connect screen remains one of the industry’s best entertainment and information interfaces because it is simple, intuitive and doesn’t need to restart every time you fire the ignition. Add the steering wheel audio controls — again, among the very best — plus a spacious cargo cabin easily accessed through large portals, and the Dodge checks a lot of smart boxes if you are in the business of moving people and parcels efficiently, comfortably.
Yes, a diet might help fuel economy some — realized economy was a solid 21.6 mpg against an EPA estimate of 18/25/21 mpg, and the wiper stalk should be upgraded to a smoother one-touch affair for those slushy splashes that obliterate your view, but that’s it. The Durango delivers a lot, which is what buyers want.
For years, the Jeep brand folks have been wrestling with the notion of bringing the Grand Wagoneer back — to complement the Grand Cherokee and expand the brand’s SUV portfolio. If so, does Jeep make it a three-row SUV like a Suburban, or, does it morph from this Durango package into a pricier, more luxurious three-row crossover with the Jeep seven-bar grille?
Jeep may answer this question soon. Until then, this Durango is a heck of a base platform to start with, a crossover that everyone can enjoy.