The 2011 Dodge Durango is substantially overhauled from previous iterations, keeping only its name, optional Hemi engine and perhaps a couple of hidden electronic pieces. It's a big change likely to win its share of "most improved" awards.
A Durango is for those with varied needs: plenty of seats, cargo hauling flexibility, towing, or four-wheel drive. To that end it can accommodate seven, even seven adults. It can be configured to carry big boxes or four people AND a 10-foot long-board inside. It can tow a minimum 3500 pounds fully loaded and up to 7200 in a lightly loaded V8, considerably more than most of the crossover competition that's based on front-wheel-drive platforms. And you can get low-range 4WD with the V8, though it's not as tough underneath as the old truck-based Durango.
The standard setup is rear-wheel drive, yielding even weight distribution, a compliant bump-soaking ride, nice quiet cruising and good response to driver commands.
An all-new 3.6-liter V6 brings 290 horsepower and is paired with a 5-speed automatic transmission, but they are saddled with 4900 pounds to haul around. On the plus side, the V6 gets 23 mpg on the highway and has a big fuel tank, so those 400-mile scenic routes won't have you worrying where the next gas station is located. Those less concerned with mileage will opt for the Hemi, not because of its 70 added horsepower but for the extra 130 lb-ft of torque and the V8 soundtrack.
Durango's interior now seats seven (except the Heat model) but it feels larger than before and looks better. Materials and fit-and-finish are miles ahead of its predecessor and remain wholly appropriate for the SUV mission.
Pricing runs from about $30,000 to about $46,000. The base Durango Express model is far from basic and a loaded Durango Citadel has everything you need and a lot more. Options, especially compared to some imports, are reasonably priced; our Durango Crew model had just $1,550 in options on it and left us wanting for naught.
The only Big 3 vehicle that's undergone wholesale change like this is Ford's Explorer, but it no longer offers rear-wheel drive, a V8, or similar towing capacity, and dare we say isn't as much improved as the Durango. By class benchmarks the Durango has a refined ride and cabin; by previous Durango standards it's beyond comparison.
Durango competes in a fairly crowded market, against the GMC Acadia, Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave, Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander, Hyundai Veracruz, Kia Sorento, Subaru Tribeca, Mazda CX-9, and Honda Pilot. Top-drawer Durango models could also compete with the Acura MDX and Volvo XC90, yet Nissan's Pathfinder is the only seven-seat, rear-wheel-drive competition to offer a V8 in this price range.
If you do no towing and don't need the V8, we would suggest the Dodge Grand Caravan. With the same V6, a 6-speed automatic and less weight to cart around it is quicker, gets better mileage, handles as well, has more people room, and as much cargo space behind the second row as the Durango does behind the front seats.
The 2011 Dodge Durango is offered in six trim levels, all with a 5-speed automatic transmission. Rear-wheel drive (2WD) is standard. V6 models offer full-time all-wheel drive (AWD) that splits power 50/50 while V8 models use a two-speed transfer case (4WD) with low-range gearing, automatic mode for on-highway use, and a Neutral position that allows it to be towed on its wheels, as behind a motorhome.
Durango Express ($29,195) is the base model and comes only with a 290-hp 3.6-liter V6 engine. It includes cloth upholstery, three-zone climate control, power windows/locks/heated mirrors, 18-inch alloy wheels with 265/60R18 Michelins, fog lamps, 50/50-split folding third row seats, 60/40-split fold/tumble second row seats, fold-flat right front seat, and Media Center 130 AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo with one-year subscription to Sirius satellite radio. Express is available with AWD ($31,195). Options include a popular equipment package ($1295) with 30GB HDD upgraded audio, Bluetooth streaming and voice, leather-wrapped steering wheel, auto-dimming inside mirror, rear park sensors and a rearview camera. A towing package includes Class IV hitch, 7 and 4-pin plugs, full-size spare tire, upgraded cooling, load-leveling rear shocks. Also available: skid plates, roof rails/cross bars ($250), engine block heater ($50), sunroof ($850).
Durango Heat ($30,295) is basically a 295-hp V6 version of the R/T. It adds 265/50R20 tires on painted alloy wheels, body-colored trim, auto-dimming inside mirror, sport suspension and a 5.9-cubic-foot storage well under the floor behind the second row seat. The Heat is the only five-passenger Durango, the only V6 with dual exhausts, and has no overhead rear AC controls. Options include three-season performance tires ($175) and most Express options except the roof rails and tow package. The Heat is available with AWD ($32,295).
Durango R/T ($35,465), for Road/Track, is the sportiest Durango and comes with a 360-hp 5.7-liter Hemi V8, revised suspension, bigger brakes, 20-inch wheels, body-color trim, digital suede red-stitched upholstery, HID low-beam headlamps, HomeLink, keyless entry, security system, remote start, leather-wrapped wheel and the Media Center 430 audio system with Bluetooth, nine speakers, and 506-watt Alpine amplification. Durango R/T 4WD ($37,865) is identically equipped. R/T extras include audio upgrades, navigation, adaptive cruise control with forward collision warning. A Leather Package ($1395) for 4WD versions includes leather-trimmed seats, heated first and second-row seats, power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, power front seats, auto-dimming exterior driver-side mirror, LED signal repeaters on the mirrors, and two-position memory system for seat/mirrors/wheel/radio presets. A DVD rear entertainment ($1695) system is available, usually requires sunroof.
Durango Crew ($33,195) and Crew AWD ($35,195) is the mainstream model, and adds to Express the 506-watt Media 430 sound system, power liftgate, power folding mirrors, remote start, driver memory system, roof rails/cross bars, power 8-way driver and 6-way passenger seats, leather wheel, HomeLink, keyless entry/run, rear camera and park sensors, and a 115-volt 150-watt outlet. Crew options include a 5.7-liter V8 ($1495), polished 20-inch wheels ($1150), an entry navigation/commuter group ($695) that includes navigation system, power tilt/telescope steering wheel, rains-sensing wipers, SmartBeam auto-dimming headlamps. Also available: rear DVD entertainment, block heater, sunroof, tow package, and blind spot warning.
Durango Crew Lux ($38,195) and Crew Lux AWD ($40,195) come standard with leather with four heated seats and power front passenger seat, navigation system, 20-inch polished and painted wheels, SmartBeam headlamps, rain-sensing wipers and chrome door handles and mirrors. Options are the V8, sunroof, rear DVD, tow package and Media Center 730 sound/navigation system with Sirius traffic, voice-recognition and a USB port.
Durango Citadel ($41,795) and Citadel AWD ($43,795) upgraded from Crew Lux with Nappa perforated leather seat trim, ventilated front seats, sunroof, Media Center 730, HID low-beams, eight-way power passenger seat (does not fold flat like all other Durango), heated steering wheel, blind spot warning, rear cross-path detection, adaptive cruise control with forward collision warning, R/T brakes, and 20-inch alloy wheels with chrome covers. Upgrades are limited to the V8, block heater, tow package, and Inferno red paint.
Safety features on all Durangos: front and front-side airbags, full side-curtain airbags, and electronic stability control with trailer-sway control. Optional safety features include blind spot warning, rear cross-path detection, adaptive cruise control with forward collision warning, rear camera, rear park sensors, and all-wheel drive.