This second-generation Durango, which first appeared as an '04, is significantly larger than the original, slipping between the Chevy Tahoe and Ford Expedition in exterior dimensions.
For 2007, the Durango has been significantly face-lifted outside and updated inside. An entirely new front end maintains Durango's identity, while adding smoothness and sophistication.
Second-row bucket seats are now available. Seat fabrics are more stain resistant, and Limited models now feature dual-zone automatic climate control. Also new for 2007 are power windows that operate in express mode both up and down. A new one-touch lane-change feature allows the driver to quickly activate a three-blink turn signal when changing lanes just as with a Mercedes. Limited models can be ordered with full-screen CD/DVD navigation and Bluetooth hands-free communications.
Safety has been enhanced by making an electronic stability program (ESP) and side-curtain airbags standard. A tire pressure monitor is now standard in most models and ParkSense ultrasonic parking assist is standard on Limited and optional on SLT. Dual-stage front air bags and an occupant-sensing system for the passenger-side front air bag became standard beginning with the 2006 models.
Perhaps the best news of all is that, despite all this new equipment, Durango prices are actually lower this year than last.
One thing that has not changed is Durango's space efficiency. Durango can seat up to seven passengers with its folding third-row seat. With all seats folded, there's more than 100 cubic feet of cargo space. You can slide full-size sheets of plywood in back. And a properly equipped Durango with the optional Hemi engine is rated to tow up to 8,950 pounds.
A V6 is standard, but two V8s are available and both are superb. The popular 4.7-liter V8 is now a flex-fuel engine in 45 states, running on gasoline or up to 85 percent ethanol (E85). It's smooth and it's powerful, but drivers who want or need more can opt for the celebrated 5.7-liter Hemi. Both engines come with a five-speed automatic transmission that's smooth, refined, and responsive. This transmission includes a Tow/Haul feature we like that holds lower gears longer when towing to reduce gear searching.
Dodge Durango SXT ($26,280); SLT ($28,950); Adventurer ($31,445); Limited ($33,800); SXT 4WD ($29,260); SLT 4x4 ($31,930); Adventurer 4x4 ($33,565); Limited 4x4 ($35,925)
The 2007 Durango does not look radically different from the '04-'06. But in fact, the entire outer skin ahead of the windshield is new. The Durango's new face is at once sharper and better integrated. There's a crispness to the grille and lights that the previous model lacked, but that you wouldn't notice it lacked until you saw the new model. The new front bumper fascia mounts differently, so it flows into the overfenders without visible seams or gaps. The pouty scribe line at the bottom of the old bumper has been replaced by a better-defined rectangle, which is brightly plated on Limited. The front hood no longer wraps over the sides, eliminating one more unsightly seam.
Changes at the side and rear are more subtle. The '07 Durango still features a high beltline that suggests great mass or perhaps, to some, great safety. The short front and rear overhangs, not typical of a full-size SUV, contribute to Durango's forceful expression. The short hood and flared fenders give the Durango the look of a big-rig truck. That short hood leads into a steeply raked windshield and sloping roof. The front fenders make the hood look as narrow as it is short. The windshield is aerodynamically efficient and offers good visibility.
Eighteen-inch aluminum wheels are standard on 2007 SLT models with either black sidewall or outline white letter tires, and 18-inch chrome clad aluminum wheels now standard on Limited. Newly available 20-inch chrome clad wheels are now optional on both the SLT and Limited. All of these big rims are framed nicely by Durango's bold wheel arches. Larger (6x9-inch) rearview mirrors are heated and folding on all models.
The roofline still dips slightly at the rear, and the liftgate window curves in to meet it, which keeps Durango from looking like the box it came. Afterburner tail lamps, another Dodge hallmark, continue on the '07 model. The center high-mounted stop lamp is integrated smoothly into the rear roofline. A new, wider chrome applique accentuates the rear liftgate and features a centered, three-dimensional ram's head.
The aerodynamics are fine-tuned, including the contours of the exterior mirrors and the subtle ducktail at the trailing edge of the hood under the wipers that minimizes wind noise over the windshield. The motor mounts are calibrated to reduce the frequencies and harmonics of each engine. The windows have an extra layer of lamination to deaden sound. Foam is injected into many of the body and chassis crannies, which would otherwise serve as tiny echo chambers.
Despite its modern aerodynamics, however, Durango takes its styling cues from the 1946-68 Dodge Power Wagon, which was itself essentially a World War II T214 military truck with a longer wheelbase and civilian-style, fully enclosed cab. In the immediate postwar era, when the Willys Jeep pretty much had the quarter-ton utility-vehicle market to itself (and mainstream pickups didn't yet offer four-wheel drive) the 3/4-ton Power Wagon was the first choice of rural contractors, fire fighters, and forest rangers who needed serious off-road capability and more load capacity than the Jeep could provide.
The front seats are comfortable, neither too soft nor too firm, and the four-spoke steering wheel is nice. Upholstery materials have been revised for 2007, and the standard YES Essentials fabric in SLT is said to be stain, odor, and static-resistant. The SLT has orange-hued wood trim, while the Limited presents a cleaner look with its brushed aluminum. And that trim is real wood and real aluminum, not plastic.
A new option for '07 is bucket-type seating in the second row, replacing the standard 40/20/40 bench. A second-row floor console is part of the bucket-seat package. And if you order the optional heat for the front bucket seats, the second-row buckets get it, too. As a compromise for customers who need to carry five adults, a 40/20/40 bench with recline feature remains standard on Limited, optional on SLT and Adventurer. Separate rear-seat climate controls are standard on those models and optional on SXT; that's a useful feature when carrying dogs. For '07, Durango models with rear-seat HVAC also come with a 115-volt power inverter.
Also new for '07 are power windows that operate in express mode both up and down. A new one-touch lane-change feature allows the driver to quickly activate a three-blink turn signal when changing lanes.
Details are carefully thought out, including convenient grab handles cleverly molded into the stubby rear leg of the second-row seat, which ease climbing back to the third row. Once back there, a small bubble in the ceiling provides additional headroom for third-row passengers. A one-piece third-row bench is optional on SXT and standard on SLT and Adventurer. On Limited models, the third row is split 60/40 for additional convenience. SLT and Adventurer (but not SXT) buyers can order the 60/40 split at additional cost.
Behind the second row of seats is 68 cubic feet of cargo space, equal to the total for many SUVs. Put the second row down, and there's 102 cubic feet of cargo capacity. The distance between the wheel housings is 48 inches, so full-size sheets of plywood can be loaded flat. Speaking of loading cargo, this task is aided by the liftgate, which opens very easily. A power liftgate is also available. The cargo floor is relatively low, thanks to the rear suspension design, making loading and unloading easier.
The second and third rows are notably easy to access because the rear doors open an exceptionally wide 84 degrees. The second-row seat easily flips forward with the touch of one hand, and the seatback flops flat just as easily. This is no small virtue.
Instrumentation is clean, handsome, easy to read and easy to operate. It looks classy. We especially like the simple black-on-white gauges and rectangular black Venetian-blind style heating and cooling vents. The center console is deep, under a removable tray. On Limiteds it is now covered in leather. Forward of that is another important compartment designed to serve as a fast-food bin. Two integrated cup holders with removable neoprene for different sizes of drink containers are provided.
We found the SLT's manual heating controls and the wiper controls fussy, and the high beams seemed a little lacking one wintry night. The Limited model's high-tech climate-control panel with automatic temperature adjustment is better. And we welcome the availability of seat heaters.
The 4.7-liter V8 engine is competent, powerful and very smooth. For 2007 it is rated at 235 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque; that's 5 more horsepower and 10 more pound-feet than in the 2006. But it still rates only 14/18 mpg with 4WD, using 87-octane regular.
The 5.7-liter Hemi is rated at 335 horsepower and 370 pound-feet of torque. That's a lot more power than the 4.7-liter, with around-town mileage suffering only slightly at 13/18 mpg with 89 octane recommended, 87 acceptable. The Hemi's fuel economy is enhanced by Chrysler's Multi-Displacement System, which disables four of the eight cylinders when cruising by deactivating the valve lifters. In our tests of variable displacement on other Chrysler products, we found the transition between cruising and power modes nearly indiscernible. The Hemi seems like a good value. Plus, it can tow up to 8,950 pounds with the optional 3.92 rear axle, compared with 7500 pounds for the 4.7-liter. Also, the two-speed transfer case comes standard on 4WD models with the Hemi, while it's optional with the other engines.
Hemi, by the way, refers to the overhead-valve, hemispherical combustion chamber design, and harkens back to the 1960s when the 426-cubic-inch (7.0-liter) Hemi dominated both NASCAR stock car and NHRA drag racing. That engine was itself a revival of the original 1951-58 Hemi. Chrysler modernized the basic design in 2003 after it had been gone (but not forgotten) for decades. Still, the Hemi didn't feel like 335 horsepower to the seat of our pants. The 5.7-liter Hemi felt a little more powerful than the 4.7-liter, but it wasn't a night-and-day difference. The double overhead-cam, 5.6-liter, 305-horsepower Nissan Armada feels more responsive than the 5.7-liter Durango, which feels solid, but heavy.
We were most impressed by the five-speed automatic transmission that comes with both V8 engines. The shifts were incredibly smooth. Shifting up or down between third and fourth gears is undetectable. The transmission features a Tow/Haul mode, which holds the gears longer and will even downshift under deceleration, as might be needed with a trailer on mountainous terrain. It's cool when you come toward a turn at high speed and back off, and your automatic transmission drops a downshift for you.
The best fuel economy comes from the 3.7-liter V6, rated at 210 horsepower, 235 pound-feet of torque and 16/21 mpg. It comes with a four-speed automatic and is rated to pull a 3750-pound trailer.
The Durango has good brakes. When you need to slow down or stop, they'll be there. They're big vented discs with twin-piston calipers in front, just the thing for holding back this heavy beast. ABS helps the driver maintain steering control by eliminating wheel lockup, while electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) balances braking forces front and rear for more stable stopping. We slammed on the brakes several times from 70 mph and found the Durango stopped steady and true.
Cornering and handling are excellent, maybe even superb, for a big SUV. The earliest Durangos borrowed some running gear from the Dakota pickup; but since its first major re-design for 2004, Durango has been built on its own mechanical platform. Chassis rigidity benefits from hydroformed box-section frame rails. The ride quality is quite good as well, thanks to plenty of wheel travel built into Durango's suspension. Up front, torsion bars absorb impacts while providing tight control. Out back, Durango centers its live rear axle with a three-segment Watt's link instead of a single-segment Panhard rod. This
Dodge Durango is smooth and powerful with either of the two V8 engines. It rides well and handles especially well, and has excellent engineering touches and details. It was value-priced last year, and with prices reduced and standard equipment added for 2007, it's a better bargain than ever. If you're in the market for a large SUV and like the Durango's rugged looks, you should check it out.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses filed this report from Austin, Texas; with NCTD editor Mitch McCullough reporting from Detroit.