A new Dodge Durango arrives for the 2011 model year, and though it carries the same name as the old 2009 model, the two could hardly be more distinct. The old one used a truck platform and delivered near full-size space; the new one's derived from Dodge's recent relationship with Mercedes and it feels like a thriftier M-Class, in all the best ways.
We're giving the Durango an 8 on the FamilyCarGuide ratings chart. With seating for seven, a real sense of heft and quality, great interior space and features, the new Durango's only letdowns are middling fuel economy, somewhat anonymous styling from the side and rear, and the transmission's relative lack of gears.
Like its cousin under the skin, the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, the new Dodge Durango is one of the products of the former DaimlerChrysler. There's Mercedes content lurking not very deeply under its sheetmetal, and in fact, the Durango's nearly the size and shape of the current Benz GL-Class SUV, within an inch or so in most directions. Interior room shows the dividends of sharing platforms: the Durango has a spacious cabin around its front bucket seats, and the great head and leg room extends to the second-row bench. The third-row seat isn't easy to get to, or particularly useful, for adults but it does have fold-down headrests--another giveaway to its Mercedes roots. Both the third- and second-row seats fold forward to give the Durango enough cargo capacity to rank alongside the likes of the Ford Flex and the Honda Pilot, two main crossover competitors.
The Durango's more SUV in flavor, but its safety features are equal to those of the best sedans. Test results aren't in from either of the main crash-test agencies, but the Durango has standard curtain airbags, stability control, and tire pressure monitors, with options for blind-spot detectors and a rearview camera, which we almost always recommend where available.