2011 Dodge Durango R/TEnlarge Photo
Chrysler's reformatting its corporate drivetrains by deleting its antique sixes and deleting a mid-range V-8 from the Durango checksheet. Down to only a 3.6-liter V-6 or the HEMI 5.7-liter V-8, the Durango gets focused on superior powertrain performance, and wins the battles for acceleration, responsiveness and towing capacity.
We spent some of our Durango first-drive time in the Pentastar V-6 and thought it mated better with the essentially carryover five-speed automatic, than it does with Chrysler's new six-speed gearboxes. The gears are spaced well enough, and the V-6's 290 horsepower and 260 pound-feet or torque spin out predictable mid-range acceleration in the 8-second range--though with a little less of the exhaust boom we found in the Grand Cherokee. The combination yields EPA numbers of 16/23 mpg for rear-drive versions, and 16/22 mpg with all-wheel drive--pretty acceptable numbers for a vehicle of the Durango's size.
Opt into the HEMI-equipped Durango and fuel economy slides to 14/20 mpg (or 13/20 mpg with all-wheel drive), since the same five-speed automatic is in charge of switching gears (an eight-speed is in the pipeline, Chrysler says). But the penalty comes with all those fantastic HEMI drivetrain noises, and the thrust of 360 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. It's the anti-crossover, especially with the HEMI and R/T trim, and if the world still sanctioned big SUVs for small families, the Durango R/T would be elbowing out the Flex, the Acadia and other big crossovers capable of fuel economy in the mid-20s. With the six, it's good enough, but with the V-8 the Durango is great--and it's rugged enough to tow up to 7400 pounds.
With its new everything underneath--independent suspension, big brakes, meaty steering feel--the Durango's never felt better to drive. From the driver's perch, the not so eerie resemblances to the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class emerge. There's some head toss to deal with, the kind that comes from lateral stiffness induced to create more carlike driving feel, but the steering winds and unwinds with more precision than in a Caliber hatchback, and ride quality's tremendously good even with the optional 20-inch wheels and tires. There's none of the bounding you'd find in a Grand Caravan, which also seats seven--the Durango's heft mutes it out, even without the optional, advanced air suspension of the Grand Cherokee and the GL-Class.