2011 Dodge Durango Crew
Chrysler, the smallest of the nation’s three major vehicle manufacturers, has steered its way back from bankruptcy, remarkably hanging in there without much new to offer the American public.
Now, with a fresh load of cars, trucks and crossovers from its three divisions, it is poised to lock onto solvency and, perhaps, enduring popularity as well.It started with the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, originally designed in concert with Germany’s Mercedes-Benz, the company’s former owner. Now, with bankruptcy behind it and an energetic new owner, Fiat of Italy, it presents a smorgasbord of revamped vehicles.
The most extensive is at Dodge, the traditional middle-class division, where buyers can eyeball—and perhaps purchase—the high-performance Charger sedan and retro Challenger coupe, a reworked Journey crossover and Avenger mid-size sedan, the upgraded Grand Caravan minivan, and the subject here, the all-new Durango.
They share vastly upgraded interiors with quality workmanship and materials, including one-piece soft-touch dashboards, and new exterior styling.
“We finally have broken the code,” says Ralph Gilles, Dodge’s president and CEO. “The Durango is a symbol of how hell-bent we are.”
The Durango, formerly a nearly full-size sport utility vehicle notable for its brutish character and lousy fuel economy, now has morphed into a sophisticated—what should we call it?—crisscross SUV.
See, the thing is that an SUV, like the original Durango of 1997, is based on a body-on-frame truck chassis, with rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive and V6 or V8 power, while the more modern and increasingly popular crossover is based on a unit-body car platform, with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive and four- or six-cylinder power.The [2011 Durango](http://www.carsoup.com/US-National/new-vehicles/make/Car-Truck/Nationwide/Dodge/Durango/?cont=1&mode=make "2011 Dodge Durango new car inventory") neatly straddles the divide. It has unit-body construction, like a car, but rear-wheel drive, like a truck, or all-wheel drive, like a crossover. Its suspension system is independent, like a car, but it maintains a substantial towing capability, augmented by its basic rear-drive layout. It has a V6, but you can order it with a V8—Chrysler’s 370-horsepower Hemi.
Despite its metamorphosis, the Durango is not unique because its underpinnings are similar to those of the critically-acclaimed 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee. But it is 10 inches longer, with an additional five inches between the front and rear axles.
That enables a three-seat, seven-passenger configuration, while retaining some SUV capabilities. For example, the previous-generation 2004 Durango could tow 5,900 pounds with its 230-horsepower, 4.7-liter V8 engine. But the 2011 rear-drive model tested here can haul 6,200 pounds with its 290-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 and five-speed automatic transmission. It’s a measure of progress in drive-train technology.
The new Durango now offers a credible and, likely to some, superior alternative to crossovers like the Chevrolet Traverse and Honda Pilot. Gone is the big, heavy and thirsty personality of the original but the size difference is hardly noticeanble. It is slightly smaller than the Traverse and larger than the Pilot
There are four versions, none listed as a base model because all come with full safety equipment like stability and traction control, side air bags and side-curtain air bags, along with amenities like remote starting, hill start assist and tri-zone air conditioning.
The rear-drive Express starts at $29,195 and the top-of-the-line Citadel has a sticker price of $41,795. In between are the tested Crew, with a $33,195 sticker and the CrewLux, at $38,195. Add $2,000 to any of those prices if you order all-wheel drive. The Citadel comes with three years of scheduled maintenance at no charge.Like other large crossovers with three rows of seats, the Durango delivers interior accommodations that rival, but do not equal, those of a minivan—Dodge’s own Grand Caravan, for example. But it does provide a good alternative for people who unaccountably have an aversion to minivans.
Despite its 4,838-pound weight, without passengers and cargo, the tested Durango Crew had capable handling, even on twisting roads. It is no sports sedan but it can negotiate curves with confidence as long as the driver doesn’t push too hard. The power steering, which combines electric and hydraulic components, has good feedback. The ride comfort is decent.
With its three rows of seats, the Durango can transport seven passengers, including the driver. The tested Crew model comes with sturdy cloth upholstery. Leather is optional.
Up front, the seats deliver good support and comfort, as do the outboard positions in the second row. The second-row center seat is acceptable and the third-row seats can accommodate adults, though getting back there takes agility. Second-row seatbacks recline; those in the third row do not.
A neat feature, likely a leftover from the Mercedes days, flops the third-row headrests down and out of the driver’s view with the touch of a dashboard button. It markedly improves sight lines to the rear.
The tested Crew had the $5,000 CrewLux package, along with other options that gave it some Mercedes-like traits, including adaptive cruise control that maintains a distance from the car ahead. It also had blind-spot warning (not needed if the outside mirrors are properly adjusted) and a motorized glass sunroof.