Read the complete 2014 Dodge Durango Review at AutoGuide.comSuccessfully filling a niche between crossovers and SUVs
by Aaron Gold
If you have a trailer to tow or a big family of nearly-grown kids to haul, a full-size SUV seems like the obvious choice. But along with their abilities come several drawbacks: lousy gas mileage, clumsy handling and the constant search for giant-size parking spots. The Dodge Durango offers a refreshing compromise: The capacity and capability of a full-size SUV with the day-to-day practicality of a large crossover.
SUV OR CROSSOVER?
The Dodge Durango neatly bridges the gap between big crossovers like the Honda Pilot and Chevrolet Traverse and full-size SUVs like the Chevrolet Tahoe, Toyota Sequoia and Ford Expedition.
Like the crossovers, the Durango uses unibody construction to save weight; V8 4x4 models are 450 lbs. lighter than a Ford Expedition and 700 lbs. lighter than a Toyota Sequoia. But they also use a truck-like powertrain layout, with primary drive to the rear wheels, optional low-range four-wheel-drive for V8 models and towing capacity of up to 7,400 lbs.
SAME ENGINES, MORE GEARS
The Durango in its current iteration dates from 2011, and for 2014 it gets what is known in the industry as a mid-cycle refresh -- a vehicular celebration of middle age that includes updated styling and upgrades for the interior and mechanical bits.
In the case of the Durango, the big mechanical change comes in the form of a new 8-speed automatic transmission, which replaces the 5- and 6-speed units in last year's Durango and offers the promise of improved performance and fuel economy.
Engine choices for the Durango remain the same, consisting of the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 (290-295 horsepower depending on trim level and 260 lb-ft of torque) and 5.7 liter Hemi V8 (360 hp, 390 lb-ft). Despite the wide spread in the numbers, the difference in real-world driving is not as significant as you might expect. The V8 certainly sounds better, but its stronger acceleration is hampered by an extra 300 lbs of weight. Coupled to the new 8-speed automatic, the V6 hustles along just fine.
The fuel economy benefits of the V6 are significant: 18 MPG city/25 MPG highway with rear-wheel-drive and 17/24 with all-wheel-drive, compared to 14/23 and 14/22 respectively for the V8. And the new transmission does aid fuel economy: compared to last year's Durango, combined EPA estimates are up by 4 MPG in the V6 all-wheel-drive model and 1 MPG in other configurations.
We averaged 19 MPG on our test drive of a rear-drive V6 model -- not as good as the last Honda Pilot we tested, but significantly better than the Ford Expedition and Toyota Sequoia.
What's best about the 8-speed transmission is that it always seems to be in the right gear. Many of these new mega-speed transmissions have to hunt around to find just the right ratio, but the Durango's 8-speed is much more intuitive. It's quick to downshift when power is demanded and just as quick to upshift for a quiet, efficient highway ride.
And yes, you can tow with the V6. We hauled a single-axle Airstream with a six-cylinder Durango, and while the pace was leisurely, the V6 had no problem getting us up to highway speed and staying there. The rig felt stable and secure, aided no doubt by the Durango's extended wheelbase. (The Durango is, at its heart, a stretched Jeep Grand Cherokee.)