On the Road Review: Dodge Durango GT Blacktop

In case you might have lost track, the current version of the Dodge Durango is now seven years old and still selling at a growth pace. Using a modified fully independent suspension affixed to a unibody platform that is shared with the Jeep Grand Cherokee (albeit longer here) and derived from the Mercedes ML, the Durango soldiers on with an expanded lineup this year meant to retain buyer interest in a market that loves SUVs/crossovers.

Like other Dodge-branded products, performance is part of the allure, whether it be perceived or actual, in which case the Durango covers both angles. This is the new GT trim, with special paint, 20-inch wheels, domed hood with scoop, plus interior and exterior accents meant to create a performance image. Not viewed here, but also now available, is the Durango SRT, using the 6.4-liter Hemi V-8. That model offers American drivers something no other three-row SUV does: tire-melting acceleration from all four wheels.

From extroverted colors to sensual and comfortable interiors, the Durango stands out from the full-size SUV crowd with a persona that might seem overly expressive to subdued drivers. That perception is a mistake; the Durango is poised, spacious, quiet and comfortable as it performs the myriad chores that the engineers intended.

From the first moments behind the wheel, it is easy to grasp the Durango’s parameters. The truck tracks well at highway speeds, never needing the consistent steering wheel attention of some crossovers, while the Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 provides ample power for relaxed cruising. Ride compliance, turning radius and cornering prowess all are top-flight for this class — including several of the three-row luxury alternatives that buyers might consider. Pushed across frost-heaved winter pavement, the Durango smothered surface interruptions that have left some other rivals with rattles and unpleasant aftereffects.

Covering over 1,200 miles in the throes of winter, the Durango distinguished itself with excellent seat heaters, heated steering wheel and remote starting from the next city block that helped take the sting out of days when driving lacked much appeal. Fuel economy was remarkably, well, odd. Two fill-ups produced 19.4 and 19.5 mpg while two other gas station visits returned 23.0 and 23.4 mpg — all respectable considering the pace, extra cold-weather idling and road conditions. EPA estimates are 18/25/21 mpg for the V-6 engine with its eight-speed automatic and seamless AWD.

Several Durangos have visited over the past few years, with the Dodge’s interior becoming both familiar and admired. The seating is supportive and all-day comfortable. The large central 8.4-inch U-connect screen is intuitive for all available functions. Buttons and switches are clearly labeled, easily accessed and provide tactile feel commensurate with quality. Even the space-saving rotary shifter is becoming less of an issue.

Rear doors are huge, making access convenient even for third-row occupants working around the second-row seats. Tumble the second-row buckets forward and adults can climb into the third-row seating. Of course, a power rear liftgate aids all cargo access.

A base Durango with rear drive starts at $29,995. The top SRT starts at over $63,000. In between, you will find SXT, Citadel, R/T and this new GT trim, which starts at $40,395 with AWD. Standard pieces include Parkview camera assist, Hill Start assist, trailer sway control, keyless entry and ignition, heated front and middle row suede bucket seats, media hub with multiple USB ports, Apple and Android access plus an Alpine audio system.

Click the option boxes and features abound; Beats Audio upgrade, GPS navigation, power sunroof, gloss-blacktop wheels, rear DVD entertainment, memory seats, third row bucket seats and console and more pieces can push the sticker price to $49,060 like our Bruiser Grey clear-coat GT.

Subtle attributes of visiting vehicles are too often best appreciated after they have been returned to the manufacturers; it’s the old axiom that absence makes the heart grow fonder.

The Durango is always missed when it departs. It doesn’t drive like a large crossover, it fits an active lifestyle well, and it neither surprises nor disappoints in its behavior — whether it be rough, snow-covered roads or fast interstates in heavy traffic.

There is speculation within the auto industry that FCA/Chrysler/Dodge is being courted by one of the Asian auto-making giants — Korean or Chinese. While Dodge has shed its small car platforms, the brand’s minivan and crossovers continue to earn solid consumer interest and generate decent sales. There remains value in this platform.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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