There was a time when SUVs were SUVs. Built and designed with ruggedness in mind, the SUVs of yesteryear could go anywhere they saw fit. However, they were not the most aerodynamic, nor the most comfortable. They were capable, but lacked road manners.
Now, more often than not, traditional SUVs have been largely superceeded by the crossover. The unibody (monocoque) construction, along with car-like ride comfort and handling, the crossover is largely favored by those that want a relatively high-riding vehicle that is not an SUV per se. That said, certain nameplates that first started out life as body-on-frame SUVs have literally 'crossed over' to the other side.
This brings me neatly to such a vehicle, the Dodge Durango. On the outside, it may look like a traditional body-on-frame SUV but in reality is now a crossover. How you may ask? It is now underpinned by the same platform that sits on the current WK2 Jeep Grand Cherokee. So has the Durango lost its rugged charm in favor of pleasing the crossover-obssesed market? We find out.
While most SUVs and crossovers of today adopt sleek shapes along with a more flowing design, Dodge went for a broader, more traditional look for the third-generation Durango. While not groundbreaking, the Durango offers up a butch and muscular design that is uniquely Dodge. It also gets styling cues from the seventh-generation Charger thanks to the crosshair grill and distinct HID headlights with LED daytime running lights (DRLs).
But perhaps the most striking feature on the Durango is its taillights. It serves as a signature look for the brand and is seen in almost all of their models. But frankly, the one on the Durango is by far the most intricately designed. It is comprised of 192 LEDs that are bright for everyone to see, day or night. Large 20-inch polished wheels come as standard equipment on the Durango which complement the Durango's macho profile. But due to its gargantaun size, the 20-inch alloys somehow still look a bit small for the Durango.
Overall, I can describe the Durango's exterior as strong, sturdy and unapologetically American.
Climb aboard the Durango and you are immediately greeted by heaps of leather and soft-touch materials. All of the seats are wrapped in leather, including the multi-function steering wheel and center armrest. There are even neat touches of wood, faux metal trim and gloss black plastic on the Durango that gives the cabin a more upscale feel.
For a rugged vehicle, Dodge paid attention to detail to make the Durango look and feel a bit more posh which was a nice touch. Also worth mentioning is the car's unique rotary transmission which I find quirky yet unnatural to use. Should one feel the need to go through the gears themselves, the Durango does have steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters.
In terms of equipment, the Durango has quite a lot of standard features. Both the front seats and steering rack are electrically adjustable, with the driver's side benefitting from memory function. Meanwhile, the instrument panel gets a fully-digital speedometer and multi-info display that can display navigation, points of interests and multimedia menus.
The Durango also comes with a tri-zone climate control system (with separate rear vents and tempeature control), USB charging points for the second row seats, cruise control, automatic headlights and windshield wipers, remote engine start and heated front / second-row seats.
Sitting at the center of the dashboard is the 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system called Uconnect. Thanks to a tablet-inspired design and clear graphics, going through the menus was easy on the eyes. I just wished, however that the screen responded to inputs better and that the system had a faster processing speed. It supports AM/FM radio, Bluetooth, USB, Aux, SD and also comes with navigation. Did I mention that the system can also manage the climate control system, as well as the heated seats and steering wheel?
Those familiar with the Jeep Wrangler's V6 will not be found wanting in the Durango. Under the hood is a 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 that is connected to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Peak power of 290 PS is achieved at 6400 rpm while 350 Nm of torque is available at 4800 rpm. While it is not as appealing as the HEMI V8, the V6 is more than capable of hauling this near 2.2 ton leviathan.
On the city, the engine pulls along nicely and does not feel overburdened. Even though most of its power is at the top-end of the rev range, there is ample pulling power at the bottom-end still. Overtaking other cars in the city is a cinch thanks to the smart eight-speed automatic that kicks-down immediately when it senses the driver's input. However, I wished the transmission delivered smoother upshifts, particularly from first to second gear.
Longer and wider than most seven-seater SUVs, driving the Durango along narrow side streets can be a bit unnerving. Coupled with its hefty weight, one must take great care in navigating tight spaces with the Durango. Backing up towards parking spaces can also be quite the challenge but the Durango does have rear parking sensors and a reverse camera for easier and safer parking.
With just me in the Durango, the V6 is capable of returning about 8.0 – 9.0 km/l in the city. With four other people in tow, that figure can drop to around 7.0 – 7.5 km/l. Not great but not entirely bad either given its huge size and hefty curb weight.
It was along highways and expressways where the Durango truly shined. Thanks to its long wheelbase and relaxed powertrain, it makes for a great roadtrip vehicle. At an average speed of 95 km/h, the Pentastar V6 was just turning over at 1700 rpm. When one needs to pick up the pace, the powertrain will happily oblige. Put your foot down on the accelerator and the engine can easily deliver gobs of power to the rear wheels. It's no performance SUV by any means but it has pep nonetheless.
Driving solo, the Durango returned about 13.0 km/l at best. If you're carrying additional people, that figure will go down to 10.0 – 11.0 km/l. With a 90-liter fuel tank, the Durango can go the extra distance despite being heavier than its contemporaries.
While agility is not exactly the Durango's forte, its steering is finely weighted for both highway and city driving. Its ride quality, on the other hand, is both good and bad. Why? Well if one is seated at the front, the Durango rides lofty. However, passengers seating at the second and third row seats will experience a bouncier ride. I wish Dodge could have made the rear dampers softer.
Also, I was slightly disappointed of its lack of certain features which should have been made standard in my opinion. While I did mention it had plenty of in-car features, it does lack certain amenities like: power-folding side mirrors, power tailgate, power third-row seats, front parking sensors and sunroof. It's closest competitor, the Ford Explorer, has all of those additional extras as standard in both 2.3- and 3.5-liter EcoBoost models and are more affordable.
It does have a long list of safety tech however which will always be a plus. These include: electronic stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, hill-start assist, trailer sway damping, tire pressure monitoring, keyless entry, ISOFIX child seat anchors and a host of airbags.
With a retail price of Php 3,280,000, the 2017 Dodge Durango Limited is slightly more expensive than its contemporaries. However, it does make up for its price by being one of the biggest in the segment which means it has acres of space for both luggage and passengers. Ride quality could have been better but these vehicles were built for hauling so maybe I can forgive its slightly bouncy ride. Equipment list is generous but again, could have been expanded further. The addition of a four-wheel-drive system may also entice buyers but that would mean pricing the Durango far beyond its original price.
As full-size crossovers continue to grow, expand and become more high-tech, automakers are forced to adapt, change and rewrite the formula in making a family car. For the Durango, Dodge was able to make what was originally a rugged piece of machinery turned into a formidabble and modern seven-seat hauler for the 21st century. Personally, I think the Durango was able to bridge the gap between a traditional SUV and the more modern crossover.