2014 Dodge Durango Performance

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Performance

For the 2014 model year, the Dodge Durango stands by its choices of V-6 or V-8 power, both in good form. New to the mix is an eight-speed automatic transmission that pairs with either engine for better gas mileage and in some cases, a little bit of sporty flair in the form of shift paddles.

For those who need the passenger space but don't need to tow thousands of pounds regularly--most of us--the 3.6-liter V-6 is the better choice. With 290 horsepower (295 in the R/T) and 260 pound-feet of torque, it's quick enough and strong enough, and it's no longer boomy at midrange speeds as we've observed in the past. Now coupled to the eight-speed automatic--with a rotary shift control, a nice touch--the Durango six-cylinder gets up to 20 mpg combined, too--not great by any means, but a solid improvement.

A moderately talented off-road and towing machine, the Durango's at its best cruising interstates and pulling weekend toys.

That new transmission even comes with shift paddles in some versions, but the programming could use some work. Instead of the 30-second cycle into manual mode that's common on many paddle-shifted non-sports cars, the Durango persists in manual mode until you hold a paddle forward for three seconds--kludgy, in UI-speak, for drivers but better for towing.

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. It's terrific for stoplight launches and interstate cruising. But despite the presence of the same automatic, it's still pretty thirsty; 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 fuel bills more often, since gas mileage can be as low as 14 mpg city.

With either the V-6 or the V-8, the Durango can be fitted with all-wheel drive; V-8s have real heavier-duty capability--i.e., a low range--to enable that big tow figure.

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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