Goldilocks is a girl in a fairy tale who strives to get things just right. The Dodge division of Chrysler liked this blonde's thinking and borrowed her motto in developing its first entry into the sport-utility market. Not too big, not too little, but just right. Despite the same story line, the 1998 Durango is no fairy tale.
Hot off the press, this all-new SUV has a 115.9-inch wheelbase that fits in between the compact Ford Explorer (111.5 inches) and Ford’s full-sized Expedition (118.7 inches), with a body that is longer, taller and wider than the Explorer but still smaller than the Expedition. It can carry eight passengers but fits into the average garage. Not too big. It can accommodate 88 cubic feet of parcels and pets and has a 25-gallon fuel tank. Not too small. It comes with three engine choices, including a 245-hp version, and can tow up to 7200 pounds. Just right.
So believes Dodge. And it would seem this big manufacturer is to be trusted. After all, the boldly restyled Ram and Dakota trucks, riding on their "biggest and toughest" image, have outsold all expectations and have garnered a number of industry awards.
It's no surprise, then, that Dodge borrowed this successful truck strategy and styling when developing the new Durango, which came to market in a scant 23 months. From the outside, there is a strong resemblance to the Dakota compact pickup. In fact, the front third of the Durango is the 1997 Dakota pickup, and the Durango's rugged underpinnings are derived from the award-winning Dakota chassis.
Truth is, the truck-tough Durango is two-thirds new and award-winning in its class as well. It's the first compact SUV with seating for up to eight and boasts best-in-class power, cargo and towing capacity. It also has the largest fuel tank, biggest glovebox and greatest payload in its class. It's the first Dodge product to offer available full-time four-wheel drive (Selec-Trac) with a standard part-time 4WD system (Command-Trac) that permits shifting on the fly.
1998 Dodge Durango
The Durango’s power comes from a standard 5.2-liter, 230-hp V8 Magnum engine capable of pulling a 4,300-pound load. An optional 5.9-liter, 245-hp V8 Magnum pulls a whopping 7,200 pounds when properly optioned for just $300 more. A more economical base-powered 3.9-liter V6 Magnum engine which produces 145 hp will be offered next year. All initial Durangos, 115,000 vehicles, will be built as 4x4 models mated to a four-speed automatic transmission, with 4x2’s coming on line in the 1999 model year.
Combined capacity for '99 will be 200,000. Base starting prices are $27,435 for the 3.9 V6, $28,025 for the 5.2 V8 and $29,475 for the 5.9 V8.
Inside the Durango are many laudable features. Caught in the middle of the third-seat dilemma, Dodge decided to remove 6 inches from the front door, raise the roofline 2 inches, lower the floor and move the B-pillar forward to create a larger rear door opening. It's 3.14 inches wide at step-in height and almost 42 inches wide at its widest point atop the rear wheel-well door cut-in. This means easy entry and exit despite the Durango's large size. All seats are designed to accommodate a 95th-percentile adult.
Seating choices can range from five to eight with optional front buckets or a standard 40-20-40 bench with a center fold-down console. Second seats are the same configuration and provide rear seating for three and cargo room access via the fold-and-tumble seats. A third-row seat is optional with both sides of the second seat accommodating a pass-through to the back. The third seat is raised theater-style, increasing visibility and legroom.
Practical features include a whopping nine cupholders, two concealed storage compartments built into the load floor and assist handles for passengers. A functional roof rack is also standard.
Safety and security features include depowered driver and passenger airbags, adjustable turning loops on front- and second-seat outboard shoulder belts, head restraints on all outboard seating positions and a remote keyless entry system with panic mode and driver's-door-only unlocking.
On the pavement, the Durango proved to be nimble and quick, with crisp steering and good braking available from its disc/drum brakes. Optional are four-wheel antilock brakes. The Durango is also capable off the highway, with a low-range set of gears and 7.9 inches of ground clearance.
The Durango is a contemporary yet rough- and tough-looking truck that clearly speaks to the go-anywhere, do-anything, adventurous image that many SUV owners desire. It's larger than the Jeep Cherokee but smaller than the Chevy Tahoe. It fills the gap between too small and too large. For many buyers, it will be just right.
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