2012 Dodge Durango Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
February 6, 2012

Call it the anti-crossover: the Dodge Durango does SUV dirty work, but carries itself like a civilized family wagon.

The big Dodge Durango SUV has some Mercedes-Benz GL-Class genetics baked into its rugged form. It's significantly less expensive, of course, and for those that still need the big towing and seating of a more traditional sport-ute, it's one of the best choices available. For 2012 it returns with just a few changes, competing with the likes of the Chevy Traverse and Ford Explorer as well as Toyota's 4Runner and its sibling, the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

A little less distinctive-looking than it's been in the past, the Durango's still a handsome vehicle. The big Dodge crosshair grille sets up a tall SUV stance that smooths out down the sides. The shape reminds us more of a Toyota Sequoia than the old, flare-fendered Durango this ute replaced, but it's still a fairly muscular shape. It's inside where the Durango feels more authoritative. A big rectangular binnacle of gauges and a wide center stack of controls are wrapped in tightly grained finishes accented with touches of bright metallic trim. The major controls have big, simple knob controls, and the gauges have big red needles. It's a major upgrade from drab Durango cabins in the past, and even in the R/T, the extra dose of red detailing and white-trimmed instruments comes off as bold, but tasteful.

Dodge offers a choice of two drivetrains in the Durango, both with refined performance and available all-wheel drive with a low range, but with different missions. The 3.6-liter V-6 is for lighter-duty users. Its 290 horsepower pull the Durango strongly enough for passenger duty, and in the Durango there's less of the exhaust boom we've noticed with the same engine in the Grand Cherokee. The five-speed automatic's also smoother in shifting than the new six-speeds in Chrysler's revamped car lineup, while refinements this year have added a mile per gallon to its highway fuel economy--still mid-pack at best, at 23 mpg. 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, its fuel economy is disappointing, as low as 12/20 mpg. Towing is rated as high as 7400 pounds.

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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. The steering unwinds with real feedback, and doesn't go numb on versions fitted with 20-inch wheels.

The newly passenger-friendly Durango isn't quite as large as a Tahoe or Suburban, but has interior space about the size of a Ford Flex or Chevy Traverse. Close to the Benz GL in wheelbase, width, and in its 84.5 cubic feet of cargo room, the Durango has an excellent driving position and wide front seats with good give and ample side bolsters. In the second row, it's possible for three adults to sit comfortably. It's less easy for full-size people to get into the third-row seats, which seem a little more difficult to access than in the GL. Nonetheless, some of the features of the fold-down rear seats are identical, like the way the third-row headrests flip out of sight.

The Durango earns the IIHS' Top Safety Pick award, and has standard curtain airbags and stability control, while blind-spot monitors, a rearview camera, and adaptive cruise control are options.

Other standard features for the sub-$30,000 Durango include power windows, locks and mirrors; a CD player; cruise control; and air conditioning. Stepping into higher trim levels adds Bluetooth; 20-inch wheels; a music hard drive; and leather upholstery. For more than $42,000, the Citadel edition gets those features plus a navigation system; a sunroof; and a heated steering wheel. Sirius Backseat TV is an option, as is a towing package.

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2012 Dodge Durango

Styling

The 2012 Dodge Durango is a little less distinctive-looking than it's been in the past, but it's still a handsome vehicle--especially inside.

The 2012 Dodge Durango was completely redesigned last year, and arguably it's a little less distinctive, muscular and truck-like than the model it replaces.

With its all-new form last year, Chrysler built the Durango on the Grand Cherokee's unibody architecture and in the process, it honed off some of the bulges and brawny character. The big Dodge crosshair grille sets up a tall SUV stance that smooths out down the sides. The shape of this long-profile seven-seater reminds us more of a Toyota Sequoia than the old, flare-fendered Durango this ute replaced, but it's still a fairly muscular shape.

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There's more visual impact in the cockpit, where some of that more authoritative, truck-like heritage has been carried over. Like the Grand Cherokee, the new Durango sends outdated, hard-edge plastics to the recycling bin. Instead, there are tightly fitted, superb cabin appointments, with big red-needled gauges, simple climate-control knobs, and backpedaled touches of bright and soft metallic trim. With leather upholstery, woven red inserts and red stitching, and white trim rings on the dials, even the R/T feels bold yet very tastefully done. In any case, the Durango feels less like an on-a-budget utility vehicle and more like a luxury SUV, done right.
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2012 Dodge Durango

Performance

The 2012 Dodge Durango is a little more trucklike than some crossovers, but handling is very good, and the strong HEMI V-8 offers compelling performance.

There are two engines offered in the 2012 Dodge Durango. Both offer refined performance and available all-wheel drive with a low range; but otherwise, they carry very different missions.

The 3.6-liter V-6 is for lighter-duty users. Its 290 horsepower (and 260 pound-feet) pull the Durango strongly enough for passenger duty, and in the Durango there's less of the exhaust boom we've noticed with the same engine in the Grand Cherokee. The five-speed automatic's also smoother in shifting than the new six-speeds in Chrysler's revamped car lineup, while refinements this year have added a mile per gallon to its highway fuel economy.

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 (up to 7,400 pounds), you're going to feel the sting of its disappointing fuel economy figures (of as little as 13 mpg city).

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.

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2012 Dodge Durango

Comfort & Quality

The 2012 Dodge Durango is a supremely comfortable three-row utility vehicle, with top-rate materials and a refined ride.

The 2012 Dodge Durango looks way more passenger-friendly from the side profile, compared to its purely truck-based predecessor, and it is. The Durango isn't quite as large as a Tahoe or Suburban, but has interior space about the size of a Ford Flex or Chevy Traverse and is about the

Close to the Benz GL in wheelbase, width, and in its 84.5 cubic feet of cargo room, the Durango has an excellent driving position and wide front seats with good give and ample side bolsters. In the second row, it's possible for three adults to sit comfortably. It's less easy for full-size people to get into the third-row seats, which seem a little more difficult to access than in the GL. same exterior size as those larger crossovers.

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Interior appointments tend to be somewhat simple and straightforward, though they're far from drab. The trims and materials, up close, feel like a major upgrade from those in most other Chrysler products, and the cabin is quiet and refined, with a tightly sealed feel that's still absent from some utility vehicles. 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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2012 Dodge Durango

Safety

The 2012 Dodge Durango is a solid pick for families looking for a lot of safety as well as seating space.

The 2012 Dodge Durango is closely related to the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee, which has already earned a very impressive set of safety ratings. Now in its second year, so has the Durango. With those plus a great set of safety features, it's a solid pick for those who hold safety as a priority.

In the federal government's NCAP testing program, the Durango has earned four stars for frontal impact and five stars for side impact, for an overall rating of four stars. And for 2012, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has also improved its previous roof-strength rating to 'good'--allowing the Durango to receive top scores in all categories, and the Top Safety Pick designation.

Dual front, side and curtain airbags are all standard on the Durango, as are anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control. A blind-spot warning system, a rearview camera and parking sensors are available. And you might need it; we haven't found the Durango to be that impressive in outward visibility, though its squared-off corners do help in parking.

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2012 Dodge Durango

Features

The 2012 Dodge Durango has the cabin feel and features of a luxury SUV, but at a lower price.

The 2012 Durango carries the Dodge badge, but in many of its upper trims it might as well have a luxury badge. This is a thoroughly up-to-date, well equipped, and in some forms, lavishly appointed utility vehicle.

For just under $30,000, the base Durango includes air conditioning; power windows, locks and mirrors; an AM/FM/CD player; remote start; tilt/telescope steering wheel; and three-row seating. Satellite radio is also standard, but Bluetooth is an option and upgrades like power seats, seat heating, push-button start and a power telescoping steering wheel are not offered.

The R/T comes with vinyl and suede upholstery (though you won't hear the term MBtex here), plus 20-inch wheels, Bluetooth, a hard drive for music storage, and the HEMI V-8. A Durango Crew model adds on roof rails; a cargo cover; memory presets for seating and key fobs; rear parking sensors and the rearview camera.

The HEMI V-8 is an option on Crew and Citadel models; so is Sirius Backseat TV and a more rugged towing package.

For more than $42,000, the Citadel edition gets those features plus a navigation system; a sunroof; and a heated steering wheel. Sirius Backseat TV is an option, as is a towing package.

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2012 Dodge Durango

Fuel Economy

The V-8 versions of the 2012 Dodge Durango are no good for green shoppers; but the V-6 models are about typical among three-row vehicles.

The 2012 Dodge Durango sure isn't green, but in its base V-6 form it's not bad among vehicles with three rows of seating. The combination yields EPA numbers of 16/23 mpg for rear-drive versions, and 16/22 mpg with all-wheel drive—pretty acceptable numbers for a vehicle of the Durango's size.

Opt into the HEMI-equipped Durango and fuel economy slides to 14/20 mpg (or 13/20 mpg with all-wheel drive), making this SUV one of the biggest guzzlers on the market.

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Styling 8
Performance 8
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