2018 Dodge Durango GT (USA)

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Durango is an old mining town in Colorado that these days attracts tourists who are keen to enjoy the natural splendour of the surroundings. It’s a very outdoor sort of place. And so it is probably quite an appropriate name for a car manufacturer to use on a large SUV-type vehicle that could be used to take plenty of people and their belongings there and to allow them to explore the area on and off road. Dodge must have thought so when they picked the name to go on their mid-sized SUV back in 1998. Like most SUVs of that era, the first Durango was effectively a passengerised version of a truck, the Dakota in this case, with body-on-frame construction and what we would now think of as something of a crudity to its overall conception. The second generation Durango followed much the same approach, though it was larger, now categorised as a full-sized vehicle, and it was offered with a more luxurious Chrysler Aspen version as well. Sales of both of these ended in 2009, and for a while there was no large SUV in either the Dodge or Chrysler ranges, but with sales of this genre of vehicle continuing to increase, it was no surprise when rumours started to circulate that there would indeed be a new Durango. What emerged in 2010 followed the industry trend of the more refined crossover-type construction, with Dodge’s new model being built on an extended version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee platform. That meant that it could be offered with either rear-or four wheel drive, immediately differentiating it from all its rivals, all of which are front wheel drive machines with optional all-wheel drive. Dodge called their new car “the Charger of SUVs”, believing that they had something with the same sporty edge to what is largely going to be bought for its practicality much like the Charger saloon feels compared to its main rivals. Certainly, visually, there was every reason to agree with this, as the Durango has styling cues to link it to the Charger, but to expect it to drive like one was perhaps somewhat optimistic a claim that I was keen to explore for myself. For quite a while it seemed like I had missed my chance as the Durango models in Hertz’ fleet all seemed to disappear and for three or four years there were none on fleet, but as part of what was clearly a sizeable fleet deal which saw a lot of Chargers, Challengers, 300s and Jeeps enter the fleet, so the Durango reappeared in 2017. I finally managed to pick up one from Hertz’ LAX facility for a test which would last a couple of days, to see what I thought of it.

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There are two engines available in the Durango. More potent ones come with the familiar 5.7 litre V8 Hemi, developing 370 bhp. but these are not the ones that Hertz bought. They went for the less powerful model, which uses the 3.6 litre Pentastar V6 engine, which puts out 290 bhp and 260 lb/ft of torque. Since 2014 all models have come with a ZF 8 speed automatic gearbox, a significant improvement, apparently, on the 5 speed unit that preceded it. Even in the V6 form, the Durango can tow and impressive 6200 lbs, if required. 290 bhp might not sound that much for a car of this size and weight, but in practice the engine does a good job. The Durango goes well, and is very smooth in operation. There is a pleasing edge to the engine, especially under harder acceleration, but the sound never gets unduly intrusive. There is more than enough acceleration to allow this Dodge to flow with the rest of the traffic and for it not be unduly troubled by some of the steeper gradients up in the canyons where I took it. Maximum torque is developed from as low as 1800 rpm. The gearbox seemed to find the right gear without needing any help from me, though there were paddles on the test car so I could have indulged in manual gearchanges had I desired. At a steady speed, overall noise levels are low, with engine, wind and tyre sources all well subdued. Reminder that this is a large and heavy car came when calculating the fuel consumption. Over a period of 2 days, I covered 261 miles and needed to put in 13.7 gallons to fill it up before returning the car. This computes to 19.05 mpg US or 22.76 mpg Imperial, which seems quite thirsty, though it is actually a little better than the figures I have achieved with other full-sized crossover vehicles of this type.

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Despite that marketing claim, you are not really going to select a Durango if you want a car that is genuinely sporty to drive. This is a large and heavy vehicle with a high centre of gravity and that does become somewhat obvious especially once you reach a twisty road. Dodge have prioritised making the car easy to drive rather being a lot of fun. The steering is not unduly light or over-assisted, so there is actually a pleasing amount of feel, meaning that the car is easy to position on the road and is not as hard work when taken on bendy roads as you might expect. There is a fair amount of body roll and the Durango does understeer, so when I took in on some of my favourite roads in the canyons, I quickly realised that you need to adapt your driving more than you would with a smaller crossover machine. The Durango comes on some very large tyres, but they are not that low in profile, being sized at 265/50R 20. There is fully independent suspension which helped to ensure that the car rode well, smoothing out some of the worst of the rough and poorly maintained surfaces that characterise Southern Californian roads, though it was quite firm most of the time. The brakes were powerful and did a good job at stopping the Durango, with a nice progressive feel to the pedal. There is a foot-operated parking brake. All-round visibility was generally good, with large door mirrors and a generous glass area helping you to see out and what was around you. Parking sensors helped and there is a rear-view camera to allow you to see precisely what is behind the Durango when reversing.

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Chrysler and Dodge interiors have received a massive boost in quality in recent years and that was very evident in this Durango. Not only is the design appealing, but everything fits well together and appears to be made of some good quality materials. The plastics used are pleasant to look at and soft of the touch. In the GT trim of the test car, you get more in the way of leather, which wraps the steering wheel and gearlever. Inlays have a milled aluminium look, though of course they are actually plastic and there is judicious use of chrome highlighting in all the usual sort of places. Couple this with the leather and suede upholstery and the interior looks a cut above what you will find in rivals such as the Ford Explorer or Chevy Tahoe. The instrument layout is clean and neatly presented, too. The dials are presented with a central circular speedometer and semi-circular dials on either side of it, with the rev counter using all the space on the left and the pair of fuel level and water temperature occupying the right hand semi-circle. The markings and lighting are a mix of red and white in colour, and there are other flashes of red which are welcome given the vast amount of black in the rest of the interior. That said, I did notice that the pointers on the main dials did not seem that precise. As is generally the case with Dodge products, there is only one column stalk, on the left of the column, which is used for both indicators and by twisting the end of it, for the wipers. I’ve got used to this with my own car now, but I still think a second stalk would be preferable. Lights operate from a rotary dial on the dash to the left of the wheel. The centre of the dash contains the fully integrated and somewhat recessed 7″ touch sensitive colour display screen for the uConnect system. Features on this include AM/FM and Satellite XM radio with 6 speakers, Bluetooth, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, and there are USB ports for connectivity. If you want navigation you need to upgrade to the unit that features in posher trim versions of the Durango. The graphics on this unit are clear and the system is easy to use. Thankfully, there are still traditional knobs for volume and audio tuning and there are audio repeaters on the steering wheel boss where you will also find the cruise control. Below the uConnect screen are control knobs for the automated climate control. .

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The Durango is a big and tall vehicle and you will be reminded of this when you open the door and prepare to get in. Certainly for someone of my size, it feels like you are almost climbing in, though it was not in fact that awkward and getting out also had not particular problems. Once installed, there is full electric adjustment of the driver’s seat, which also benefits from adjustable lumbar support, and seat heating and once you’ve found your perfect driving position, there are two memory settings to store the position in. The front passenger seat has a mix of electric and manual adjustment, needing you to adjust the backrest angle manually. The steering column telescopes in and out as well as up and down. Once installed, you are aware that you sit higher than in a regular saloon or even in a smaller Crossover-type vehicle. The seat itself proved very comfortable.

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There is lots of space for those in the second row of seats in the Durango, regardless of where the front seats are positioned. Headroom is particularly generous, of course, thanks to the SUV-type styling, and as this is a big car, width would not be a problem even for three adults. The floor is more or less completely flat, so even a middle seat occupant would not feel awkward in where they were sitting. The seats are on sliders and the angle of the backrest can be varied. Seat heaters feature as do separate climate and audio controls. There is a drop down armrest which incorporates a pair of cupholders in the upper surface. Whilst the test car had the 3 person bench seat, an option is to specify two captain’s chair style seats instead.

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To gain access to the third row, you need to fold the backrest of the second row seat onto the cushion then tip the whole seat forward, which leaves plenty of space through which you can clamber to get in. And once there, space is better than you often find in 3-row vehicles of this type. The seats are mounted high enough that your legs do have something of a well to rest in, thus avoiding the knees on chin seating that you sometimes experience in a 3-row. There are two individual seats here, and two adults could sit on them in reasonable comfort, with ample leg and headroom, though the seats are probably more aimed really at children. There is an armrest set in the side panels of the car and there is also a cup holder set in that side plastic moulding.

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The tailgate is very large and pretty heavy, but in GT trim it is electrically assisted which helps a lot. Even with all rows of seats erect, there is a reasonable amount of luggage space available, indeed among the largest you will find in vehicles of this type. It is a nice regular shape, and the boot floor is flush with the base of the tailgate which would make sliding heavy objects and in relatively easy. There is a small amount of additional space under the main boot floor. More space is created by folding down the third and then the asymmetrically split second row seats. They all fold completely flat, creating a sizeable luggage area when the third row are folded out of the way and a simply massive space when the second row of seats are down as well. The front passenger seat can be folded flat, too, giving a lot of length for something really big. Inside the cabin there is decent provision for odds and ends. Up front, the glovebox is modest, but it is complemented by bins on the doors, a cubby under the central armrest and a tray in front of the gearlever. For those in the second row, there are bins on the doors and nets on the back of the front passenger seats.

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The 2018 Dodge Durango comes in SXT ($29,995), GT ($37,795), R/T ($43,695), and Citadel ($42,145) models. All-wheel drive is optional ($2600). Standard equipment in the SXT includes six airbags, full power, air conditioning, cruise control, tilt/telescope steering wheel, an AM/FM stereo, USB port and aux jack, 7.0-inch infotainment system, plenty of USB inputs, 18-inch alloy wheels, three-zone automatic climate control, keyless ignition, and manually adjusted front seats. 2018 Durango SXT’s also get a leather sport steering wheel and rear park assist. Durango GT models get the third row of seats as standard, a power liftgate, paddle shifters and asynthetic suede and leather trimmed seats with those in the front being power-adjustable and heated front- and second-row seats, a heated steering wheel, satellite radio, plus a firmer suspension, special steering tuning, rear parking sensors. Durango R/T gets the Hemi 5.7-litre V8, plus a Beats audio system, upgraded leather upholstery, and ventilated front seats. The top of the range Durango Citadel comes with Nappa leather, ventilated front seats, automatic headlights, a sunroof, a power liftgate, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a nine-speaker Alpine premium audio system, an upgraded 8.4-inch touch screen, and navigation. Options include an Alpine audio system, blind-spot monitors, adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning that can bring the vehicle to a complete stop at slow speeds, heated front seats, third-row seat, satellite radio, 115-volt outlet, and 20-inch wheels. Second-row captain’s chairs are also available, along with a power sunroof, power tailgate, Beats by Dr. Dre audio system with 10 speakers and subwoofer, and HDMI and Blu-ray rear entertainment system. Front Park Assist joins ParkSense Park Assist System with sensors in the front bumper to detect obstacles and includes a shut-off switch and is standard on Durango R/T, Citadel and SRT models.

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I was expecting to like the Durango, and I did. The design may date back further than that of all its rivals, but a series of well-judged updates have addressed the weaker points of the early models and kept it feeling fresh and the equipment levels have steadily increased over the years. To my eyes, it looks better than any of the other large SUVs, though I perhaps would not choose what Dodge call Bruiser Gray which was the colour of the test car. The Durango looks pretty good in bright red, in my opinion! Good looks, a decent quality interior, sufficient power even from the 3.6 litre engine, and plenty of space for a lot of people and luggage mean that this car ticks all the important boxes for a vehicle in this class. Were I in the market for a car of this type, I think it is the one I would choose. I would, of course, be very tempted by the Hemi engine. I’ve tried that in the Charger and the Challenger and it adds another layer of appeal to already very pleasant cars. I am sure it would do the same here. Perhaps Hertz might add some of them to their future shopping lists? One can but hope!

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