Reviews

2015 Dodge Durango 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.

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