Substantial and refined, the Dodge Durango is no carlike crossover. Nor is it a full-fledged SUV, clamoring for opportunities to scamper off-road. It’s simply a three-row utility vehicle with excellent road manners and capability for rugged use. Durango is rear-wheel drive, so it can pull a trailer and go off road.
For growing families, a Durango makes sense. All the more so, if you haul a boat or trailer at times. Towing capacity can reach 7,400 pounds with the available Hemi V8 engine.
This third-generation Durango was introduced as a 2011 model and revised for 2014 and is closely related to the Jeep Grand Cherokee. For 2016 there are few changes. All 2016 Durango models get new wheel finishes, and V6 engines gain stop-start technology. Four new body colors are available, and new appearance packages mix gloss black and body-color detailing, including a new Brass Monkey Appearance Package. Monochromatic exterior appearance is standard on the 2016 Durango Citadel.
Rear-wheel drive is standard, but all-wheel drive is available: V8 models get a low-range transfer case, while V6 models use a simpler single-speed unit.
Two strong engines are available. The 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 makes 290 or 295 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Dodge’s 5.7-liter Hemi V8 generates 360 horsepower and 390 pound-feet. Both engines mate with an excellent 8-speed automatic transmission. A stylish rotary selector controls the transmission, and all Durangos have paddle shifters.
The Hemi V8 uses cylinder deactivation to save fuel, while V6 models now include engine stop-start technology. All models have a selectable Eco Mode. Despite all that technology, don’t expect frugal motoring, especially from the V8, though Durango’s gas-mileage estimates aren’t much lower than other large crossovers.
Durangos have a solid list of safety features. Without the available rearview camera and parking sensors, outward visibility is poor. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated Durango Good, its top rating, in all of its four tests. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave it four stars out of five overall: four in frontal crash and five in side collision.
Over the years, the Durango has undergone a major transformation. The original Durango was essentially a rugged truck with a wagon body. In its latest iteration, it ranks as one of the slicker-looking unibodied crossovers, with a shape that maximizes space and utility.
Led by a large crosshair grille, presenting a classic SUV stance, Durango has just the right amount of boxiness to avoid looking slab-sided. Monochrome paint and dual-exhaust detailing help inject a little sportiness. LED racetrack lighting, with 192 separate lamps across the tail, is big and bold. All but the SXT get LED running lamps.
Little evidence of Durango’s truck-based heritage remains inside, and the cabin scores among the best in this class. On the soft, flowing dashboard, thin metallic rings surround major controls. A large touchscreen provides infotainment access.
Seating for seven is standard (six, with available second-row captain’s chairs). The 50/50-split third-row seat is more usable than in some rivals, though getting back there may be a challenge. It folds almost flat into the floor. The standard second-row layout holds three adults comfortably and also folds forward, to greatly expand cargo space.
The driving position is very good, for a wide range of driver sizes. Seats are bolstered well enough, but leather can feel somewhat flat.
The interior looks rich in most Durango models, with nice shapes and textures, and everything feels substantial.
Underway, the cabin is quiet and refined, feeling tightly sealed.
In some versions, the automatic transmission includes shift paddles, but programming could use some attention. Unlike other setups, Durango sticks in manual mode until you hold the upshifting paddle for three seconds.
With its fully independent suspension, Durango delivers a firm, but supple, ride. Steering is on the hefty side, but precise in feel and impressively confident, providing true feedback. If you’re towing two tons or more, however, you’ll know it.
Excelling in maneuverability and low-speed handling, a Durango is stable and reassuring, whether on city streets or highways. Aside from some side-to-side head tossing in pothole-riddled territory, the ride is well-damped, if somewhat firm. For 2016, a new Sport mode affects steering weighting.
Durango fares well against larger crossovers like the Ford Explorer, and full-size SUVs from Chevrolet or Ford. Big and sturdy, this family-sized seven-seater is modern underneath. This third-generation Durango is long in the tooth, so look for deals.
Driving impressions by Bengt Halvorson, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.