2015 Dodge Durango Expert Reviews

Expert Reviews

2015 Dodge Durango

G.R. Whale
© 2015 NewCarTestDrive.com

The Dodge Durango’s last redesign, for 2011, qualified as a wholesale advance on its predecessor. The current Durango offers a combination of traditional SUV ability with crossover-like comfort, quiet, and features.

For 2015, a Blacktop Package is newly available on SXT, Limited, and R/T models. For audio buffs, a new Beats by Dr. Dre system will become standard on the 2015 R/T and available for Citadel and Limited models. Red Nappa leather seating is newly available for R/T models. Also for 2015, the Rallye Appearance Package option has been expanded to Limited models as well as SXT, including the R/T’s 20-inch wheels and monochromatic exterior. An SXT Plus package also is offered.

Every Durango has three-row seating, with second-row captain’s chairs available in all but the base model.

Durango works best for those with varied needs: plenty of seats, good cargo capacity and hauling flexibility, and top-tier towing capacity. The standard setup is rear-wheel drive, yielding even weight distribution, a compliant bump-soaking ride, quiet cruising, and good response to driver commands.

Engine choices include a refined V6 with a lighter appetite for gas, or a strong Hemi V8. Durango V6 can be ordered with all-wheel drive; the V8 offers on-demand four-wheel drive with low-range gearing.

The standard 3.6-liter V6 brings 290 horsepower paired to an 8-speed automatic; from takeoff it gets more torque to the wheels than the old V8/6-speed combo. On the plus side, the V6 gets an EPA-estimated 25 mpg Highway (18 mpg City) and has a big fuel tank, so those 450-mile scenic routes won’t leave you worrying about the next gas station. Those not concerned about mileage can opt for the Hemi, not because of its 70 added horsepower but for the extra 130 pound-feet of torque, V8 soundtrack, and higher tow rating. With AWD, the V8 gets an EPA estimate of 14/22 mpg City/Highway.

Durango can tow a minimum 3500 pounds fully loaded and up to 7400 with the V8 (more than most crossover competition, less than traditional V8 SUVs). With low range available in four-wheel drive V8s, it can handle ascents or descents that you shouldn’t even consider attempting in most crossovers.

Durango SXT is the base model, but it’s far from basic, with three-zone temperature control and a decent stereo with standard satellite radio. The loaded Durango Citadel has everything you need and a lot more, including ventilated seats. The sporty Durango R/T is bold, quick and genuinely fun to drive, despite its substantial size. Options run the gamut from blind-spot warning to 506-watt Alpine audio.

Durango competes in a crowded category against the GMC Acadia, Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave, Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander and 4Runner, Nissan Pathfinder, and Honda Pilot.

The Durango is a great vehicle for drivers who can take advantage of its strengths. Those who do no towing, never go off-highway or don’t need the V8 might consider the Dodge Grand Caravan, which has more people room and as much cargo space behind the second row as the Durango does behind the front seats. However, the Grand Caravan is not as nimble, fun to drive, or work-oriented.

Model Lineup

Dodge Durango SXT ($30,495), Durango SXT AWD ($32,995); Durango SXT Plus ($32,495), Durango SXT Plus AWD ($34,995); Durango Limited ($36,895), Durango Limited AWD ($39,395); Durango R/T ($39,795), Durango R/T AWD ($42,295); Durango Citadel ($40,995), Durango Citadel AWD ($43,495);

Walk Around

Completely redesigned for 2011, the Dodge Durango gained new styling and new wheels for 2014, to keep it contemporary.

By exterior dimensions, the Durango falls near the middle of the three-row sport-utilities and crossovers in its competitive set. At 201 inches long, on a 119.8-inch wheelbase, Durango is shorter than a Chevrolet Traverse, but longer than Ford Explorer or Honda Pilot. Durango has a longer wheelbase than any of them.

Because of its rear-wheel drive and optional V8, the Durango has higher tow ratings too: 6200 pounds with the V6 and up to 7400 with the V8. That betters the closest crossover by 1000 pounds minimum.

It wouldn’t be a Dodge without a big crosshair grille, and the Durango doesn’t disappoint. Its grille is broad and tall enough to deliver presence, especially given its forward slant in a class where most front ends slope rearward for aerodynamic reasons. On upper trim levels with LED position lamps and HID headlamps, it bears a strong resemblance to the Ram full-size pickups.

The hood flows out to the fenders, rather than sloping off as on the previous-generation Durango. Combined with a deep air dam in front, it creates a more wagon-like proportion in side view (remember the Dodge Magnum). The long rear side doors look even longer because they have no fixed quarter window at the rear. In total, Durango creates a fairly subtle shape, with chrome down low on most models and even more sprinkled about on fancy ones. Its windows are neither Hummer-like slits nor particularly tall.

The rear end slopes gently, neither as upright as the ultra-practical Pilot nor as fastback-slanted as Traverse or Explorer. The rear lighting is simple, effective and elegant, essentially a racetrack configuration in LED, like many Dodge products. In substance, the Durango approximates a longer, three-row version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which itself was derived from the Mercedes-Benz ML and GL classes (Mercedes owned Chrysler when these vehicles began development). You might consider Durango the least expensive way to get some Mercedes engineering in a seven-seat package.

The cargo hatch in back is powered on top models, but the glass doesn’t open separately for small bags or packages. The manual hatch release is big enough to use with gloves. A rear wiper and small spoiler are standard on all.

Several exterior features are intended to improve durability. The rear bumper has a top cover to avoid paint damage, should you rest a heavy package or stand there to reach the roof. The low-profile roof rails have swivel-out crossbars built in so wind noise is reduced when there’s no cargo up there. At each rail end is a small attachment loop.

Unlike earlier Durangos, the current generation uses five-lug wheels, which means a wider choice for those wishing to customize. This one is available with wheels up to 20 inches from the factory, though the standard 18s are probably best for multi-purpose use. The 18-inch wheels deliver the best ride and probably the best all-season traction, and we wouldn’t guess that the typical Durango buyer will be overly impressed with the slightly improved steering response that comes with the lower-profile tires on the 20-inch wheels. Choosing 20-inch wheels is usually a styling decision.

The spare tire, whether temporary or full size, is stowed underneath the rear, in front of the rear bumper. It can be a nuisance crawling under there in mud or snow, but this storage system doesn’t require unloading or dirtying the cargo area to change a tire.

Interior

All Durango models seat six or seven adults comfortably in a cabin that puts space to good use. Materials and fit-and-finish are soothing, yet remain wholly appropriate for the SUV mission. Durango can be configured to carry big boxes, a sofa, or four people plus a 10-foot stepladder or stack of lumber.

The Durango’s interior blends a lot of the space, flexibility and family-friendly features of a minivan with seating that’s a bit more anti-utilitarian. Dodge has claimed there are 28 distinct seating configurations. We’re not sure precisely how they count that total, but we assure you that there are many.

A second-row bucket seat arrangement, with or without center console, is available. These decrease ultimate seating capacity by one passenger, but they can create a neutral zone between two kids sitting in the second row.

Trim varies by model, as expected, and the fit/finish is generally good. Above the waistline, materials are soft-touch or heavily textured, while those closer to the floor are harder plastics that are scratch-resistant and easy to clean. R/T models come with black, pseudo-suede upholstery broken up by red stitching. The SXT comes with cloth that negates temperature extremes, with a lighter headliner to brighten the cabin. Limited and Citadel have standard leather. Adopting a rotary shifter took away some chrome trim, but there are still touches that generate a lot of sunlight glinting.

Outward visibility is good to average. The windshield pillar is slimmed mid-way to aid front quarter vision but is still substantial, and the door pillars will be behind most drivers. Third-row headrests don’t block the view because a dashboard (or touchscreen) switch can drop them at the touch of a button, though heads in back definitely narrow the scope of the image in the rearview mirror. The optional rearview camera comes in handy when Durango is fully loaded with passengers. Front wipe/wash coverage is very good, the rear is good, and the headlights provide satisfactory illumination. HID headlights are available on some models.

The front bucket seats are on the soft side: very comfortable and not confining for short hauls, reasonably supportive to handle more miles at a time. The SXT comes with manually-adjustable seats, others with a power driver’s seat. Upper models have eight-way power adjustment for the driver (with four-way power lumbar) and a six-way power cushion for the front passenger. Most also have a manual front-passenger seatback, so it can fold forward and flat, though the Citadel has power adjustment and no fold-flat feature.

The tilt/telescoping steering column fits a range of drivers. It’s power-operated on the Citadel, and links wheel position with driver’s seat, side mirrors and audio settings in the memory buttons. The driver’s footwell is wide, so there is plenty of room for your left leg to relax.

In the dog-bone instrument panel, engine revs at left and fuel level and coolant-temperature at right frame a central screen that shows an analog rendition of a speedometer. Also visible is a host of other data, including the transmission gear selected and the gear engaged. Much of the display is configurable, operated via left thumb-switches on the steering wheel. All controls, the door handles, door pockets and the cupholders are illuminated. Gauges are back-lit in off-white.

Most controls are straightforward, and we’re fond of the simplicity in the switch layout. The rotary shifter offers P-R-N-D, and individual forward gear selection is done with paddles on the steering wheel. Some drivers will find the wheel crowded, with redundant radio controls on the back with the paddles, and up to 17 buttons facing the driver.

Temperature controls are split into three zones, and can be matched with the touch of one button. The rear controls are independent, if the driver approves by pressing a button. The lone stalk on the left side of the steering column has high beams, turn signals and front and rear wash/wipe, so it gets a little busy. The impetus for stalk controls is keeping both hands on the wheel, but not all can be done without taking your hand off the wheel to twist this one.

The base audio system is adequate for family duty. The premium 500-watt, 9-speaker sound system has plenty of rumble. All are controlled through a touchscreen: 5-inch on lesser trims and 8.4-inch on others. The Uconnect systems are intuitive, easy to learn, and offer many more features when paired with your smartphone, including text-to-voice. Navigation works well, our only nits being some screen issues with polarized lenses.

Interior measurements are very competitive. You might gain an inch here or lose one there, but when your six-foot-plus correspondent can find a comfortable driving position, ride comfortably behind that in the second row, and then easily clamber into the third row and sit without knees, toes or head scuffing anything, we can’t argue that Durango is shy on space.

The second-row seat is split with its narrow section on the passenger side. It keeps two kids belted in the middle row, while letting two more get in back. The center position has a soft cushion, but the backrest isn’t as soft as the outer positions because of the armrest within. The rear side windows don’t go all the way down, but the last few inches of glass that remain are flush and even with the top of the door panel all the way across.

Both sides of the second row recline slightly. There are aim-able reading lights and vents overhead, with more vents and a standard-plug, 115-volt AC outlet on the back of the center console. You don’t need an inverter to plug a game or computer into the Durango. There are recessed coat hooks in the roof, assist handles on the back side of the door pillar, bottle stowage in the doors, four grocery bag/purse clips flanking the front seatback nets, overhead controls for rear air, and good foot-room under the front seats.

Third-row access is very good. A one-pull strap folds and tilts up the second-row seat, and the walk-through floor space is expansive as such spaces go. There is more room back here than the legroom dimension implies, and it offers the same adjustable reading lights and overhead vents as the second row.

Cargo volume is 17 cubic feet behind the third row (comparable to trunk space in a capacious mid-size sedan), 48 cubic feet behind the second row (comparable to a compact SUV or crossover with the rear seats folded), and 84 behind the front seats. Those numbers are substantially less than what’s available in GM’s longer trio of crossovers (Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia, Buick Enclave), but competitive with other mid-size models. There’s a little bit more cargo volume in Durango than in a Ford Explorer, and a little bit less than in a Honda Pilot. Your correspondent doesn’t ride third-row in any of them.

A simple lever (or switch) drops either of Durango’s third-row seats flat. With the right seat section folded flat in each row, there’s more than ten feet of length. Durango can carry 10-foot items as narrow as a two-by-four or as wide as a folding ladder. The cargo deck is 32 inches off the ground. There’s one small, deep bin under the load floor on the left side, adjacent to where the spare hangs underneath, and a broader, shallower one under the main floor.

Even the base Durango SXT comes with hooks and a power point just inside the tailgate, with a pair of tie-down loops in the floor. The cargo cover can be mounted behind the second- or third-row seats. The gate has two loading or tailgating lights at the back/lower edge, and the close button for the power option is on the left side, low enough for a kindergartener to reach.

Driving Impressions

Any Dodge Durango offers a fine mix of passenger-friendly transportation and truck-style ability to work. It starts with rear-wheel drive, in a class increasingly dominated by vehicles built on a front-drive foundation, yet it has a fully independent rear suspension and it’s built with a one-piece unibody/frame, rather than a truck-style ladder frame. (The only similar vehicles are the much pricier BMW X5 rear-wheel drive and the Range Rover Sport.) The Durango is easy to drive, with a comfortable ride empty or loaded, and it’s quiet inside.

Both the standard V6 engine and optional Hemi V8 deliver plenty of power, with EPA ratings often better than the competition. Durango responds to steering and braking inputs in a fashion that will please those who enjoy driving, or go completely unnoticed by those who don’t.

All Durangos have an 8-speed automatic transmission. That gives the V6 initial acceleration like the earlier 6-speed with a V8, along with EPA ratings of 18/25 mpg City/Highway in two-wheel drive, matching Honda’s Pilot and bettering Traverse and Explorer by 1 mpg for both city and highway driving. The V8 rating is 14/23 mpg (or 14/22 mpg with 4WD), and it goes really well. The only crossovers or SUVs this big with comparable tow ratings and better EPA numbers are diesels.

Nearly all the vehicles in the Durango’s class are front-or all-wheel drive, built up from a front-drive platform that started as a car or minivan. The rear-wheel-drive Durango is not. If you think you need front-wheel drive for traction, think again. Most front-drive vehicles carry more weight over the front wheels, where it helps traction. The Durango carries as much weight on the back wheels as the front, and just winter tires and the standard traction control will take it farther than most owners plan to go. Durango’s excellent balance and rear-wheel drive also mean the four tires do more equal work. Front tires aren’t overwhelmed pulling lots of weight while doing the steering, and rear tires do more than hold the tailgate off the ground. This is one reason the Durango steers crisply and needs less U-turn space than its rivals.

We hustled the Durango along some mountain roads at a fast clip, and found a lot of grip in reserve if you miscalculate your road speed. That’s easy to do, given the subdued cabin and lack of wind noise, compliments of laminated front windows, dual firewalls, good aerodynamics, and a solid structure. We also noted that ride quality and handling dynamics didn’t really change with five adults and two kids on board.

Around town, the Durango soaks up big and small bumps alike with nary a quiver. The nose drops under heavy braking, and there is a little body lean in the corners, but it’s steady and predictable with no hint of drama.

Durangos with the V6 offer all-wheel drive with power routed to all four wheels at a steady rate all the time. The V8 models have a more sophisticated system, with low-range gearing for steeper inclines/descents and a Neutral position for flat-towing. In normal range, the V8 system delivers variable all-wheel drive, instantly changing the amount of power sent to the front or rear wheels depending on the amount of traction available under the respective tires.

We’d rate the current Durango’s off-highway prowess about equal to its predecessor. This generation’s suspension is better and more flexible, and ground clearance is about the same. A skid-plate package is available, but it has things like aluminum suspension arms that may not take abuse or grounding quite as readily as the old model’s truck-style steel bits. You don’t want to hammer it over rugged terrain, but Durango has enough off-highway capability for most needs. Durango will go much farther afield than most owners would consider, and tires will likely be the limiting factor for slogging through mud.

The 290-horsepower, 3.6-liter V6 engine is smooth and generally quiet, getting mildly raucous only above 5000 rpm. Although its peak torque delivery comes at a high 4800 rpm, it has enough grunt to climb a 7-percent grade at 80 mph, fully loaded in fifth gear. The V6 Durango will merge easily at speed provided you mash the gas pedal early, and it will downshift as needed: one gear for mild increases, as many as four gears for max propulsion.

The 5.7-liter V8 Dodge calls the Hemi has 360 hp, but it’s the 50 percent increase in torque and lower revving nature that make it feel more powerful than the V6. The Hemi features cylinder de-activation technology that shuts down some of its eight cylinders in certain steady-state driving situations. The V8 still lops a few miles per gallon off the top, but if you have a big trailer or just enjoy stirring acceleration, you’ll appreciate it.

Durango’s rear-wheel-drive architecture means better towing. All models are rated to handle a 5,000-pound trailer. With the tow package, the V6 rates 6,200 pounds and the V8 7,400 pounds max (7200 with 4WD). A fully loaded vehicle generally means 1,000 to 1,500 pounds off those maximums, but in all cases the Durango has the best tow ratings in its class. Unless you consider the far-more expensive, distantly related Mercedes-Benz GL in the Durango’s class.

Even if we never planned on towing anything, we would seriously consider adding the tow package. It brings a larger radiator, an alternator that delivers more juice, better-cooled brakes, load-leveling rear shocks, and a full-size spare. Besides, the hitch comes in handy for bike or stowage racks.

The Durango has been rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. All models have rollover sensing and trailer sway control. Optional safety features include rear cross-path detection, rear parking sensors, and active cruise control with forward-collision warning.

The Dodge Durango can carry six or seven people comfortably and rack up the vacation miles in quiet, comfortable solitude interrupted only by the half-kilowatt Alpine stereo. It can tow more than just about anything in its class, but it’s full of the conveniences you never thought of before and now can’t do without. The optional V8 is genuine fun and its addictive sound is frosting on the cake, but the V6 will suit most buyers better. By class benchmarks, the Durango has a refined ride and solidly finished cabin.

G.R. Whale reported from Southern California. J.P. Vettraino reported from Detroit.

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