2013 Dodge Durango Performance

8.0
Performance

The 2013 Durango carries over its choices in engines, and both are good ones. The expected upgrade in transmissions hasn't happened just yet, though, which means gas mileage is still more of a concern for some than it would be in a lighter-duty crossover.

With either the V-6 or the V-8, the Durango can be fitted with all-wheel drive with real capability--i.e., a low range. The engine choice determines exactly what kind of Durango you'll have, though, and the two versions have distinctly different driving feel and missions.

The Durango's a bridge between crossovers and SUVs, with strong HEMI acceleration, decent V-6 mileage, and moderate off-road capability.

Lighter-duty drivers will want to swing toward the 3.6-liter V-6. It's rated at 290 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, and it's strong enough to make the Durango a passenger hauler of a higher order. The powerplant's become Chrysler's mainstay over the past two years, and in this installation, there's less exhaust boom than we've found in the similar Grand Cherokee. The V-6 still teams here with an older five-speed automatic that ends up being smoother than the new six-speed in other Chryslers--but its highway fuel economy tops out at 23 mpg. That's 2 mpg lower than the same engine coupled to a new eight-speed automatic in the Ram 1500 pickup. The Durango will inherit a version of the same eight-speed soon enough, but likely, not until the 2014 model year.

Drivers who tow or regularly carry a full load of cargo and people should opt for the strong, snarly HEMI 5.7-liter V-8. Its six-speed automatic is updated this year for better performance, but while it's terrific at stoplight launches and interstate cruising, if you're not in love with the sound of the engine or don't really need it for towing (rated at up to 7,400 pounds), you're going to feel the sting of its disappointing fuel economy figures, which fall as low as 13 mpg city. As with the V-6, the V-8 now couples to an eight-speed automatic in the pickup trucks, and it'll make an excellent companion in the Durango, when it arrives.

The Durango's independent suspension, hefty but precise steering feel, and big brakes mean it's never felt better to drive. Aside from some side-to-side head toss, the Durango has a very well-damped ride, even without the air suspension fitted to its Mercedes cousins (it's related, somewhat, to the Mercedes-Benz M-Class and GL-Class).

The steering is impressive, as is the Durango's maneuverability and handling at low speeds. It unwinds with real feedback, and even if you add the larger 20-inch wheels the front end doesn't lose its composure. Ride quality is on the firm side but nicely damped, although the Durango's 5,000-plus-pound heft is ever-present.

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