- Hemi V-8 performance and character
- Feels substantial and refined
- Confident steering feel
- V-6 gets engine stop-start
- Third-row access is difficult
- Ride can be busy
- Gas mileage is so very low
The 2016 Dodge Durango hits a sweet spot between crossovers and SUVs—if you're willing to overlook the thirst, that is.
The 2016 Dodge Durango isn't a car-like crossover, and it isn't an off-road-focused SUV. Instead it's somewhere in between—a longer, three-row vehicle closely related to the Jeep Grand Cherokee and built from the architecture that brought us the Mercedes GL-Class and M-Class.
The Durango, to distill it down to the essence, is a utility vehicle with considerable rugged capabilities and exceptionally nice road manners. With handsome, suave styling, a refined cabin feel, and superb performance, it's one of the best ways to go if you have a growing family—and a boat to tow on the weekends.
Whether your idea of what a utility vehicle should be is soft and organic, or whether you're a fan of boxy SUVs with brush guards and roof carriers, you'll probably come to an agreement that the Durango is one of the better-looking three-row SUVs on the market. It combines some of the traditional, with a good dose of contemporary sculpting. The classic SUV stance is set up by the big crosshair grill, as well as a silhouette that doesn't arch too much in any way—or taper. It's just boxy enough without looking slab-sized. LED racetrack lighting, one of the latest Dodge family traits, forms a ribbon of light across the tail.
Inside, almost none of the truck-like heritage has been carried over. The soft, flowing dash has thin metallic rings framing the major controls and a large touchscreen to rule the infotainment world. With leather upholstery, woven red inserts and red stitching, and white trim rings on the dials, the Durango feels less like an on-a-budget utility vehicle and more like a luxury SUV, done right.
Last year marked the debut of a red Nappa leather interior for the R/T model; this year all models get new wheel finishes, four new exterior colors, and a few new appearance packages the combine gloss black and body-color details—aesthetically building a bit more on the Mopar motorsports and muscle-car cues elsewhere in the Dodge lineup.
The Durango includes the same, excellent new 8-speed automatic transmission that's used in the Jeep Grand Cherokee and other Chrysler products. It's controlled via a stylish rotary shifter like the one used in the Ram 1500 and Chrysler 200, as well as paddle-shifters for all models. A pair of strong engines is available: the standard 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 making 290 horsepower (or 295 hp) and 260 pound-feet, and a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 making 360 hp and 390 lb-ft. Both are helped by the 8-speed auto to achieve acceptable fuel-economy numbers. Hemi engines feature so-called "Fuel Saver Technology" (cylinder deactivation), while V-6 models now include engine stop-start technology, and all models have a selectable Eco Mode that changes throttle sensitivity and transmission shift points to maximize fuel savings.
The thirstier V-8 may be worth it if you tow or need just an added amount of ruggedness, though. The Durango also offers a choice between rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive (AWD), depending on the model. Two different AWD systems are used; V-8 models get a low-range transfer case, while V-6 models use a simpler a single-speed unit. Towing capability tops out at 7,400 pounds with the V-8.
Seating for up to seven (or optional seating for six, with available second-row dual captain's chairs) is one of the Durango's top selling points. Its third-row seat is quite usable compared to other models this size, and it's split 50/50, able to be folded flat into the floor. The standard second-row layout folds forward, too, to greatly expand cargo space. Dodge says there's room for a 6-foot couch and a coffee table, or to carry 10-foot two-by-fours.
The Durango scores well in crash tests and comes with a very impressive set of safety features, including seven standard airbags, full-length three-row side-curtain bags, and active front headrests. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross path detection are available, as are adaptive cruise control with stop, and Uconnect Access, which includes some emergency and roadside-assistance services.
The smooth instrument panel resembles the one in Dodge's Charger sedan, and can house either a 5.0- or 8.4-inch Uconnect touch screen in the center stack. As in other Dodges, the gauges are made up of a 7.0-inch configurable display screen.
The Durango is offered in SXT, Rallye, Limited, R/T, and Citadel models, with all but the SXT and Rallye getting the 8.4-inch Uconnect system that wraps together audio, climate controls, calling functions, and in some cases navigation. Turn instructions, audio info, or trip info can be displayed on the gauge cluster as well.
In recent years, Dodge has been pushing the Durango up the luxury ladder, first with a Limited model—leather upholstery, heated seats, a heated steering wheel, and the 8.4-inch Uconnect system—and now with a Citadel model that piles on even more like the Beats by Dr. Dre audio system (10 speakers and a subwoofer). There's an available HDMI and Blu-ray rear entertainment system, with screens integrated in the back of front headrests and a remote. And Uconnect Access Via Mobile also has voice-command capability (including to read text messages) and enables media apps for streaming audio like Pandora or Slacker.
The EPA rated the Durango at 19 mpg city, 27 highway, and 22 combined in rear-drive form. Those numbers slip to 18/25/21 mpg with all-wheel drive. With the V-8, ratings slide to 14/22/17 mpg. And with all-wheel drive, it's pegged at 14/22/17 mpg.