2015 Dodge Durango Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
May 26, 2015

The 2015 Dodge Durango hits the sweet spot between crossover and SUV.

The 2015 Dodge Durango isn't quite a crossover, nor is it strictly an off-road-ready SUV. It's built from the architecture that brought us the Mercedes GL-Class and M-Class, as well as Jeep's Grand Cherokee, so it's a utility vehicle with considerable rugged capabilities and exceptionally nice road manners. Top it off with grabby front-end styling, and it's neither fish nor fowl--it's more like SUV red meat done nouvelle Americain.

On the outside, the Durango gets projector-beam headlamps plus hockey-stick-shaped LED running lamps on all but the base SXT. Top R/T and Citadel models get HID headlamps, while projector foglamps and the slimmer new textured crosshair grille, in combination with a resculpted hood and lower front fascia, makes the Durango look brawnier. Attractive wheel designs, including a Hyper Black finish, help punctuate the look, and in back the Durango features LED racetrack lighting, which forms a ribbon of light across the tail with 192 individual lamps.

Last year, the Durango was updated with the same, excellent new eight-speed automatic transmission that's used in the Jeep Grand Cherokee and other Chrysler products. The Durango gets 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 and 260 pound-feet, and a 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 making 360 hp and 390 lb-ft. Both are helped by the eight-speed auto to achieve acceptable fuel-economy numbers. HEMI feature so-called Fuel Saver Technology (cylinder deactivation), and all models have a selectable Eco Mode that changes throttle sensitivity and transmission shift points to maximize fuel savings.

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The Durango also offers a choice between rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, 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.

The smooth instrument panel resembles the one in Dodge's Charger sedan, and can house either a five-inch or 8.4-inch Uconnect touch screen in the center stack. As in other Dodges, the gauges are made up of a seven-inch reconfigurable TFT screen.

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 six-foot couch and a coffee table, or to carry 10-foot 2x4s.

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 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. A new Limited model has been added to the lineup and includes leather upholstery, heated seats, a heated steering wheel, and the 8.4-inch Uconnect system. Newly available this year is an HDMI and Blu-ray rear entertainment system, with screens integrated in the back of front headrests and a remote. 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 2015 model year brings some new options and packages. For those who want the R/T's look but aren't interested in the HEMI V-8, a new Rallye Appearance Package brings the monochromatic look, black 20-inch wheels, and a black interior to V-6-equipped SXT and Limited models. The Rallye pack also includes a dual exhaust that brings the V-6 up to 295 hp. There's also a new Blacktop Package, which includes a grille, badging, and 20-inch wheels all done in gloss black, as well as monochrome-painted ground effects and a dual exhaust. There's an optional Beats by Dr. Dre audio system with 10 speakers plus a subwoofer. It will have late availability and will be standard on the top Citadel and also optionally available on Limited models. For the interior, a new red Nappa leather package will be optional on R/T models, also a late-availability choice.

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2015 Dodge Durango

Styling

The Durango has one of the best SUV interiors in its price class; the sideview's a little benign.

The original Durango was more of a rugged-looking truck with a wagon body, but in the latest generation it has transformed into one of the slicker unibody crossovers out there. It still retains the SUV look, but it has now grown up with a cleaner set of cues and an overall shape that maximizes interior utility.

The big crosshair grille up front sets up the classic SUV stance. It makes all the difference in carving out a sport-ute silhouette for the Durango, distinct from the more carlike creatures in its class. Where it doesn't look quite as rugged is from the rear quarters: From some angles, the look is heavy, although the monochrome treatments and dual exhaust help to but a little sport back into the design.

There are hockey-stick-shaped LED running lamps on all but the base SXT, and HID headlamps on top R/T and Citadel models. The textured crosshair grille was made slimmer last year, while the hood and lower front fascia were resculpted slightly. LED racetrack lighting, one of the latest Dodge family traits, forms a ribbon of light across the tail, with 192 individual lamps in all. That's the detail we'd question--the racetrack shape might be more than enough.

There's more visual impact in the cockpit, where 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, 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.

New for 2015, a red Nappa leather interior will have late availability in the R/T model. This hue has been seen before in Dodge's Charger and Challenger, and should make this the only three-row crossover available with red seats.

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2015 Dodge Durango

Performance

Great for towing weekend playthings with the Durango's HEMI, we still would sip less with the six-cylinder/eight-speed combo.

The 2015 Dodge Durango offers a choice between a more efficient V-6 engine and a powerful HEMI V-8. Both are paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission, new to the lineup last year.

For those who want the Durango's 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 when equipped with the Rallye Package) 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. 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.

Drivers who tow or regularly carry a full load of cargo and people should opt for the strong, snarly 5.7-liter HEMI 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.

The eight-speed automatic even comes with shift paddles in some versions, but the programming could use some work. Instead of the 30-second cycle back into automatic mode that's common on many paddle-shifted non-sports cars, the Durango persists in manual mode until you hold the upshift paddle for three seconds--this is likely a concession to those who want to choose their own gear while towing.

With either the V-6 or the V-8, the Durango can be fitted with all-wheel drive; V-8s get a true low range, while V-6 models make do with a single-speed unit.

The steering is impressive, as is the Durango's maneuverability and handling at low speeds. The wheel 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 still noticeable.

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). 

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2015 Dodge Durango

Comfort & Quality

The front seats could use more bolstering, but the Durango's cabin is a knockout, especially at its price.

The Durango is sized between larger crossovers like the Ford Explorer and the big SUVs from Chevy, GMC, Ford, and Lincoln, among others. And unlike those larger SUVs, the Durango is no longer truck-based; instead, it uses a unibody architecture shared by the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Mercedes GL-Class and M-Class. This translates to more usable space inside.

The recent reworking of the dash and controls pushed the Durango's interior a few more grades toward business class. It was good to begin with, and now the shapes and textures are very rich-looking on most versions, though to get the pretty, bright 8.4-inch touchscreen, you'll have to upgrade the Durango's base audio system. The trims and materials are substantial to the touch, and the cabin is quiet and refined, with a tightly sealed feel that's still absent from many other utility vehicles.

The Durango has a very good driving position, with ample space in every direction and good adjustment range to the driver's seat and steering wheel. The seats themselves are bolstered well enough on the backrests, but the leather seats we've been in more recently felt flatter and less supportive than prior versions--possibly because of the now-available seat ventilation.

The second row accommodates three adults comfortably. The Durango can be ordered with bucket seats in the second row instead of the usual second-row bench; so outfitted, it gets a low console containing a cupholder between the seats. There's also a larger one available, containing dual cupholders as well as a second USB port and a 12-volt outlet for charging phones and gaming devices.

It can be tough for full-size people to get into the third-row seats; they're slightly more difficult to access than those in the Mercedes GL. The seats don't fold way down into the floor like those in a minivan, either--so if you're looking for more than the total of 84.5 cubic feet with the second and third rows folded down, you're probably better off with the flat cargo floor of a Dodge Grand Caravan.

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2015 Dodge Durango

Safety

Safety scores aren't complete, but what's there is above average.

The Dodge Durango earns solid crash-test scores from both nationally recognized safety groups.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the Durango four stars overall, with four in frontal crash and five in side crash. The rollover ratings depend on the number of driven wheels; rear-drive models score four stars, while all-wheel-drive versions get only three.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rates the Durango's performance as top 'good' in all four tests it has conducted—moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraints and seats. Yet it's kept from reaching the top tier because it only achieves a 'marginal' rating in the small overlap frontal category.

Dual front, side, and curtain airbags are all standard on the Durango, as are anti-lock brakes, and traction and stability control. A blind-spot warning system, a rearview camera, and parking sensors are available, as are adaptive cruise control and a forward-collision warning system that can fully stop the Durango at low speeds if an obstacle is detected.

Because outward visibility isn't that impressive, you'll probably want the extra electronic assistance of the rearview camera and parking sensors.

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2015 Dodge Durango

Features

UConnect infotainment is one of the cleaner systems you can buy; Citadel Durangos are true luxury trucks.

The 2015 Dodge Durango is offered in four trim levels—SXT, Limited, R/T, and Citadel—with numerous options and appearance packages to aid further customization. The upper trim levels are especially well equipped, rivaling the content in some luxury sedans.

The base Dodge Durango SXT includes standard power windows, locks and mirrors; remote start; air conditioning; an AM/FM/CD player; 18-inch wheels; a tilt/telescope steering wheel; and three-row seating. Bluetooth is standard, and the audio system display is a 5.0-inch touchscreen. Options include a larger touchscreen with smartphone-app connectivity; second-row captain's chairs; heated seats; and a heated steering wheel.

The Durango Limited gets the upgraded Uconnect audio system; leather seating; a heated steering wheel; heated first- and second-row seats; power front seats; a rearview camera and rear parking sensors; and a 115-volt outlet in the cabin. The HEMI is an option here, as are second-row captain's chairs; a navigation system; a power sunroof; a power tailgate; and Alpine audio. A Blu-Ray DVD system is an option on Limited models and above.

The R/T adds on a blended upholstery, a combination of suede and synthetic leather, and red interior trim. It also gets premium audio; 20-inch wheels; its own suspension tuning; and the HEMI V-8. Options include the navigation system; Blu-Ray; blind-spot monitors; and a towing package.

For about $42,000 base, the Durango Citadel includes standard Nappa leather seating with ventilated front seats; 20-inch wheels; a heated and power-telescoping steering wheel; the Uconnect navigation system; and a sunroof.

The 2015 model year brings some new options and packages. For those who want the R/T's look but aren't interested in the Hemi V-8, a new Rallye Appearance Package brings the monochromatic look, black 20-inch wheels, and a black interior to V-6-equipped SXT and Limited models. The Rallye pack also includes a dual exhaust that brings the V-6 up to 295 hp.

There's also a new Blacktop Package, which includes a grille, badging, and 20-inch wheels all done in gloss black, as well as monochrome-painted ground effects and a dual exhaust.  It's available on SXT, Limited, and R/T models.

Audiophiles will enjoy an optional Beats by Dr. Dre audio system with 10 speakers plus a subwoofer. It will have late availability and will be standard on the top Citadel and also optionally available on Limited models.

For the interior, a new red Nappa leather package will be optional on R/T models, also a late-availability choice.

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2015 Dodge Durango

Fuel Economy

Even in six-cylinder form, the Durango doesn't put gas mileage as a priority.

Last year the Durango adopted an eight-speed automatic across the lineup. It improved fuel-economy ratings, but not enough to catapult the big SUV out of the EPA doldrums.

With the V-6 engine, the EPA rates the Durango at 18 miles per gallon city, 25 miles per gallon highway, and 20 mpg combined in rear-drive form. That's an increase of 2 mpg over prior versions. All-wheel-drive versions are rated 1 mpg lower.

Large crossover vehicles tend to have similar gas-mileage ratings--that's despite the Durango's sturdier towing credentials.

Opt into the HEMI-equipped Durango and fuel economy slides to 14/23 mpg, or 17 mpg combined, good for a 3-mpg highway improvement and 1 mpg combined. With all-wheel drive, it's pegged at 14/22 mpg or 16 mpg combined. That's better, but it still makes the HEMI Durango one of the biggest guzzlers on the market.

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Performance 8
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