For 2004, Dodge presents a brand-new version of the Durango. The most noticeable change from the previous generation is its increase in size. The new Durango is 7 inches longer, 3 inches higher and 3 inches wider. Of course, with a brand-new, larger exterior, there is also a new interior that is roomier, with three rows of seating.
Even better, the Durango offers new power options in the form of a 4.7L V-8 or the 5.7L Hemi V-8, the latter of which was under the hood of our tester. It produces 330 hp and 370 lb-ft. Resting behind the new engine is the 545RFE five-speed automatic transmission that also features a tow/haul mode.
But that's not all--the rear suspension also is all-new. Gone are the old leaf springs. They've been replaced by coil springs with a Watts link, which helps keep the solid axle positioned properly. In the front there's the now-standard independent system. Rear disc brakes off of the Ram 1500 have also replaced the rear drums of the previous generation.
What We Liked
Most of our judges liked the Durango's new interior. It is fairly quiet, and proved to be comfortable for a wide range of body types. The front seats feature a lot of adjustability, the new interior is roomy and the dash/gauge layout is uncomplicated and easy to read.
The new rack-and-pinion steering got high marks from most of our judges. It offers a crisp feel and quick response. Another mechanical component that the majority of our judges liked is the Durango's new four-wheel disc brakes, which offer good feel and effective stopping power.
What We Didn't Like
The Durango's major lack of under-chassis clearance was a major sore point for our judges. On the trail, the Durango would scrape its very low belly almost everywhere. The approach angle of the Durango is also poor, making it difficult to cruise the trails with confidence.
More gripes came on our trail rides. The Durango features a very firm suspension that tossed us around on the trail like marbles in a soup can, whether creeping along in low-range or at speed. Visibility on the trail was also poor, as the giant hood limited what we could see. The new suspension of the Durango does not offer much flex, which limited where we could take the Durango in the dirt. Some of our judges also thought that the traction-control system took too much wheelspin to engage.
Most of our judges thought the power output of the Durango was adequate at best. It was never described as poor or as great, but mostly just adequate. Maybe it was the Hemi badge that threw us, but the Durango was not as powerful as we expected. The throttle on the Durango was also fairly touchy, making it hard to use finesse while in low range.
The new Durango is definitely an improvement over the old version. Nowadays, however, many car manufacturers are making their SUVs more carlike and this has definitely happened to the Durango. While this has improved the Durango in some aspects, it has hurt it in others.
Check It Out If:
You always wanted a bigger Durango.
Avoid It If:
Driving a 4x4 that is as low as a car scares you.
The Short Version
An SUV whose 'wheeling possibilities are limited by its clearance and approach and departure angles.