On the Road Review: Dodge Durango Citadel AWD

Three-row crossovers and SUVs are the most profitable vehicles for automakers — right up there with full-size pickups. Both are selling very well in America. So despite slowing overall new vehicle sales (Car sales, all sizes, are way off year to date.), automakers’ financial picture remains relatively positive due to the higher margins generated by crossovers and pickups.

FCA’s (Chrysler/Dodge) Durango three-row wagon is an outlier vehicle that strongly hews to the traditional American paradigm in this segment — rear-drive bias, available V-8 power and stronger tow ratings than the car-based crossovers that populate the segment. With a design that has continuously evolved since its 2011 makeover, the Durango has shown consistent market growth and now outsells Ford’s Expedition and GMC’s Yukon, while playing second fiddle only to Chevy’s Tahoe.

Yes, you think, large wagons like the front-drive-oriented Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Nissan Pathfinder, Ford’s Explorer and Chevy’s own Traverse outsell all of the “full-size” truck-based SUVs like the Durango. But the versatile and polished performance of trucks like the Durango defiantly prove that there is still room in the market for these platforms.

Many Durangos have visited over the years, and this current Citadel-trimmed wagon in Blu-By-You Pearl Coat paint once again makes a clear statement that buyers are foolhardy not to recognize the potential of this well-amortized package, which shares its roots with the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Riding atop a refined chassis that features instant-access AWD or locked low-range 4WD now, the Durango has an impressive street stance and a handsomely crafted interior with two-tone leather swathed throughout the cabin in top Citadel format. The controls, the switchgear and the interfaces for entertainment and information are still top-notch, convenient and exceed the performance of rivals that cost tens of thousands of dollars more. And the array of driving aids matches everyone and performs better than most. No one has matched Chrysler’s dynamic cruise or U-connect systems yet. Add dual Blu-ray rear screens, power rear gate, Beats Audio, plus heated and cooled front seats, and the Durango offers the depth of luxury that Volvo, Mercedes and BMW charge a lot more for.

The optional Hemi V-8, 360 hp, is snappy and still capable of over 22 mpg (EPA estimates for the V-8 are 14/22/17 mpg); we saw a weeklong average of 20 mpg while enjoying the Durango’s propensity to savor an elevated pace along the Route 9 “Autobahn” to Calais and back. Teamed with an elegantly smooth eight-speed automatic (I know, in a Chrysler) the Durango can tow 6,200 pounds with the stock 295-hp V-6, 7,400 pounds with the Hemi and an impressive 8,600 pounds with the Durango SRT that will debut as you read this. The SRT, already famous for its four-wheel burnouts and 0-60 acceleration times, uses the 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 found in the Challenger and Charger SRT-models.

Anyone who has ever owned a Chrysler-badged vehicle is familiar with some occasional electronic “gremlins” that may or may not have appeared during their relationship. Our sample Durango continuously defaulted to a kilometers per liter calculation on the trip computer despite repeated attempts to select standard American metrics. And then it stopped.

Base Durango pricing for a rear-drive SXT starts at $29,995 — about half of what our loaded Citadel commands on the Munroney sticker. With the V-6, that three-row wagon receives an EPA rating of 19/26 mpg.

Buyers, however, are gravitating to the well-equipped models, like our Citadel. Fast, smooth, quiet and very well-rounded, the Durango tows more than its car-based rivals while delivering similar levels of ride and handling comfort. Slightly narrower than the Tahoe, the Durango takes up less space in parking lots, likes being whipped with the Hemi howling and was able to deliver fuel economy that didn’t create horror at the gas pump.

So maybe the new Volvo is prettier. Maybe the Highlander has a slightly better reliability record. And yes, Ford sells a lot more Explorers (police vehicles account for almost half).

But the Durango is the well-rounded workhorse that has earned honors from that esteemed consumer magazine (that is now openly diving into politics, like we assumed before) and is a flexible three-row wagon that has great creature comforts and the latest driving aids all rolled into a package that is affordable. Add the outrageous SRT model, and Dodge has another attention-grabbing offering that separates the brand from the pack and keeps Durango relevant.

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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