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First Drive: 2011 Dodge Durango

Posted in Vehicle Reviews on January 1, 2012 Comment (0)
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We recently had the opportunity to spend a week with the all-new, muscular-looking, third-generation ’11 Dodge Durango, and we found that aside from the name, there aren’t many similarities between the new Durango and its predecessor. It’s lower, shorter, and lighter than the previous generation and its unibody structure is 25 percent stiffer. It’s built on the same platform as last year’s Four Wheeler of the Year-winning Jeep Grand Cherokee; however, differences include a 10-inch-longer overall length and three rows of seating.

The Durango has a minimum ground clearance of 8.1 inches. For comparison, that’s ½-inch lower than the Jeep Grand Cherokee with the standard suspension and slightly more than the Jeep Liberty. The Durango’s 16.3-degree approach angle is dismal, but it’s due in part to the low-hanging air dam that helps increase fuel mileage by smoothing airflow, so it’s a trade-off.

Our tester was the high-zoot Citadel model (base price $43,795), which means it was packed with standard features. Speaking of models, it’s worth noting that the ’11 Durango no longer comes in a “base model.” Instead, it’s available in what Dodge calls “feature-filled lifestyle models” that are targeted at different user wants and needs. In addition to the Citadel, the Durango is offered in Express, Crew, and R/T. Our Durango had three options and they consisted of Inferno Red Crystal Pearl Coat exterior paint ($295); rear DVD entertainment system ($1,695); and the 5.7L MDS Hemi VVT V-8 engine ($1,895), which also adds a two-speed Magna Powertrain MP 3022 transfer case, heavy-duty engine cooling, and 220-amp alternator. With the destination charge ($850), our tester stickered at $48,530.

For that figure you get a luxurious, high-tech SUV. As a matter of fact, the moment we slid into the driver-seat we were impressed at the upscale design as well as the quality materials and textures of the interior. On-road, the interior is vault-like and a very pleasant place to be. Even with an astonishing amount of electronics (which explains the need for a 220-amp alternator), the Durango doesn’t have a steep learning curve. The auto-dimming high-beam headlamps and the Adaptive Cruise Control are amazing inventions and even tech-haters have to admit they’re pretty cool. The IFS/IRS suspension returned a smooth ride and confidence-inspiring handling. The Durango was a joy to drive, and it really impressed us with its surefootedness on everything from twisty roads to wet pavement.

From the Citadel’s heated and cooled front seats there’s good visibility over the hood of the Durango. The outside rear view mirrors are large and offer a good field of view. Visibility out the rear window is not the best, but the ParkView rear back-up camera helps, as does the Blind Spot and Rear Cross Path Detection system. Further, the third row headrests can be remotely flipped forward by using a handy dash-mounted switch. Interior lighting at night is outstanding and almost every button or switch is illuminated. Second- and third-row passengers also have a variety of creature comforts at their disposal, so they don’t feel like they’re sitting in a penalty box.

One of the biggest surprises of the test was the fuel economy of the VVT- and MDS-equipped 5.7L Hemi V-8 engine. During one segment of our test, we had five passengers and a slew of gear loaded into the Durango. We’d guesstimate passenger and cargo weight at approximately 825 pounds. The Durango averaged 19.8 mpg on that run from northern Illinois to Bailey’s Harbor, Wisconsin, on two- and four-lane roads. We consider this a very acceptable number, especially when factoring in that there was occasional stop-and-go traffic and the air conditioning was being used. During a trip to northeast Iowa with three passengers and a couple of suitcases the Durango returned 20.5 mpg.

Our tester was equipped with the 5.7L Hemi V-8 engine with MDS that’s rated at 360hp and 390 lb-ft of torque. Power was ample and the return on a gallon of gas was very good. It was mated to a 545RFE five-speed automatic transmission and a MP 3022 all-wheel-drive, electronic-shift, two-speed transfer case. Underhood electronics and the air intake were high-mounted and the engine compartment was well sealed to reduce the transfer of engine noise. FW

Our first love is anything unpaved, so naturally we pointed the Durango onto some rutted and rocky dirt roads as well as into a flooded quarry. As expected, the low stance that helped to generate those respectable mpg numbers meant we had to pay more attention than usual to protruding rocks and such on the trail. After all, the front air dam is only 7½ inches off the ground and the approach angle is only 16.3 degrees. Nonetheless, we got the SUV through a road that was “closed” without banging up the underbelly. Our tester offered up a 28.3:1 low-range ratio, which is identical to the ratio found in the ’11 Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Our Hemi-powered Durango came with the optional MP 3022 two-speed transfer case. The system offers full-time all-wheel-drive as well as 4-Lo. Gear selection is via a knob mounted on the center console. Versions of this case are also used in the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Liberty.

Changes for the 2012 Durango
There are a few changes for the 2012 Durango, including a new 65RFE six-speed automatic transmission for Hemi-powered models; improved highway fuel mileage for V-6-powered models; and second-row captain’s chairs. Dodge has also replaced the Express model with an SXT model.

What’s Hot: Power, fuel mileage, space, versatility.
What’s not: Approach angle, no off-highway-centric package.
Our take: The most luxurious and fuel-efficient Durango to date.

Bottom Line
It’s clear that the ’11 Durango is without question the most luxurious and fuel-efficient Durango to date. For those wanting an upscale SUV that can haul the whole family in extreme comfort while traversing inclement weather or mild trails, the Durango fits the bill. Naturally, we’d love to see Dodge add a Durango model geared toward off-highway travel. A Durango TRX4 maybe?

View Slideshow

Quick Specs*
Vehicle/Model: 2011 Dodge Durango Citadel
Base price/as tested: $43,795/ $48,530
Engine tested: 5.7L Hemi V-8 w/MDS
Max hp/torque (lb-ft) @ rpm: 360@5,150/390@4,250
Transmission: 545RFE 5-spd automatic
Transfer case: MP 3022 2-spd
Low-range ratio: 2.72:1
Frame type: Steel unibody
Suspension f/r: Short- and long-arm independent, coil springs, gas-charged twin-tube coilover shock absorbers, upper and lower control arms, stabilizer bar/multi-link, coil springs, twin-tube shocks (including load leveling for towing), aluminum lower control arms, independent upper links (tension and camber) plus a separate toe link
Max crawl ratio: 28.3:1
Steering: Power rack-and-pinion
Brakes f/r: 13.0x1.26-in vented disc w/two-piston twin-slider caliper, ABS/13.0x0.55-in disc with single-piston floating caliper, ABS
Wheels: 20x8 aluminum chrome-clad
Tires: P265/50R20 Goodyear Fortera HL
Wheelbase (in): 119.8
Length (in): 199.8
Width w/mirrors (in): 85.5
Height (in): 71.6
Base curb weight (lb): 5,397
Max approach/departure angles (deg): 16.3/21.4
Minimum ground clearance (in): 8.1
GVWR (lb): 7,100
Max payload (lb): 1,370
Max towing capacity (lb): 7,200
Observed mileage
city/hwy/trail (mpg): 20.1
Fuel capacity (gal): 24.6
* As Tested

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