2011 Dodge Durango R/T: First Drive Page 3

November 14, 2010
2011 Dodge Durango R/T

2011 Dodge Durango R/T

Family circus

Chrysler plainly said in its Grand Cherokee press materials that the new Jeep was related to the current Benz M-Class. There's no such boasting in the Durango's kit, but there's a short aside on the Durango's superior rigidity compared to the Benz GL-Class.

We'll let the numbers reveal how closely the vehicles measure up against each other. The Durango rides on a 119.8-inch wheelbase, is 75.8 inches wide, and has 84.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the front seats. The GL-Class? It sports a 121.1-inch wheelbase, is 76.4 inches wide and has 83.3 cubic feet of space behind the front seats.

We'll also point out that the seating arrangements, down to the flip-fold features of the third-row headrests, are strikingly similar to those in the Mercedes. And it's all for the good of the Durango: it's blessed with comfortable seating in all front five positions, and even the third row could be pressed into duty for small adults.

Safety should be another Durango strong point. Dual front, side and curtain airbags are standard; so are anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control. A blind-spot warning system, a rearview camera and parking sensors are available on the four different trim levels--and though it gives up a little of the visibility that the more glassy GL-Class offers to the rear quarters, the Durango has the high driving-seat position and squared-off corners to make parking and cruising easy enough.

The base Durango Express is priced just below $30,000 and includes air conditioning; power windows, locks and mirrors; an AM/FM/CD player; remote start; tilt/telescope steering wheel; and three-row seating. Satellite radio is also standard, but Bluetooth is an option and upgrades like power seats, seat heating, push-button start and a power telescoping steering wheel are not offered.

With the R/T comes a standard vinyl-and-suede seat (another detail shared with the GL-Class); 20-inch wheels; Bluetooth; a hard drive for music storage; and the HEMI V-8. A Durango Crew model adds on roof rails; a cargo cover; memory presets for seating and key fobs; rear parking sensors and the rearview camera. At the very top of the Durango pile is the Citadel model; for about $42,000 it bundles almost every option and feature including a sunroof; blind-spot monitors; adaptive cruise control; a Garmin navigation system; and a heated steering wheel. The HEMI V-8 is an option on Crew and Citadel models; so is Sirius Backseat TV and a more rugged towing package.

It's not so easy to see the family resemblance between the Grand Cherokee and the Durango--or to eyeball their essential closeness to the current crop of Mercedes-Benz sport-utes. All of them drive with the same engaging feel, and even minus the economy-leading diesels of the Benz utes, the Chrysler versions are strong enough to make the case for SUV superiority amidst the blur of seven-seat crossovers.

And who wouldn't want a $30,000 GL with a HEMI in the on-deck circle, anyway?

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