It wouldn't be a Dodge without a big cross-hair grille and the 2011 Durango doesn't disappoint. It's broad and tall enough to deliver presence, especially given its forward inclination in a class where everything slopes rearward, yet with the chrome flourishes and finer detailing it's more elegant than the macho, blunt-snouted old Durango. The hood carries out to the fenders rather than sloping off like the old one, and combined with the deep air dam and bodywork gives it a much more wagon-like proportion in side view.
Dodge Durango falls right in the middle of the three-row mix of SUVs for outside dimensions, and the long rear side doors look even longer because they have no fixed quarter window within. It's a fairly subtle shape with chrome down low on most models, sprinkled about more on fancy ones. Windows are neither Hummer-slit nor overly generous, and the apparent proportions vary significantly with paint color.
The rear end of the 2011 Durango is sloped more than the previous Durango, not as upright as the ultra-practical Pilot nor as fastback as others. Rear lighting is simple, though we found them too similar to those on the all-new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Like the wheel-well openings, the lower edges all around the perimeter are dark plastic to avoid scuffing and rock chips.
A cargo hatch, powered on some models, does not open the glass separately, not such a big deal with pushbutton access. A lock button is camouflaged in the big chrome Dodge band across the back, and the manual hatch release is big enough to use with gloves. Rear wipe/wash and a small spoiler are standard on all.
The bumper has a top cover to avoid paint damage, though the toe of your boot may scuff the hatch standing up there to load the roof: Better to stand on a tire where you won't have to lift things around the antenna. Low-profile roof rails have swivel-out crossbars built in so wind noise is only added when cargo is up there. There is a small attachment loop at each rail end.
Unlike the first Durangos, the 2011 Durango uses five-lug wheels, which means a wider choice for those wishing to customize. Twenty-inch tires and wheels are available (or standard) on anything above Express but we consider the 265/60TR18 Michelin Latitude Tour tires and 18x8-inch alloy wheels far and away best for multipurpose use. Spare tires are stowed underneath the back, a nuisance in the snow, but do not require unloading or dirtying the cargo area.
Dodge Durango has a solid, substantial, but not heavy, feel to it. Some credit for that goes back to Chrysler's two-owners-back: The Durango approximates a longer, three-row version of the latest Jeep Grand Cherokee, which itself was derived from the Mercedes-Benz ML and GL classes. Dimensions are not identical, but consider this the least expensive way to get some Mercedes engineering in a seven-seat package.
The 2011 Dodge Durango has a pleasant cabin that combines some of the features and flexibility of a minivan with a less upright seating, usable materials and a dash of style. Above your waistline materials are soft-touch or heavily textured, while those closer to the floor are harder plastics that are easy to clean and scratch-resistant. Trim varies by model, no surprise, and the fit and finish is good. Sporty Heat and R/T models come with black upholstery broken up by red stitching, Express and Crew in gray or black cloth upholstery that negates temperature extremes, with a lighter headliner to brighten the cabin, and the Citadel offers black or tan leather. Our primary example, a Crew V6, had gray cloth with dark brown upper dash and door panels, a light putty color for lower trim, and ash-gray woodgrain trim for doors and dash. Our only nit-pick about cabin finish is generous chrome touches that generate a lot of sun glare.
The front buckets are very comfortable, supportive without being confining and able to handle many miles without feeling too firm for five-minute jaunts. The majority are 8-way power for the driver (with 4-way power lumbar) and a 6-way power cushion for passenger side, which has a manual backrest because it folds flat; the Citadel's does not fold flat, so it's also 8-way power.
A tilt/telescoping steering column fits a range of drivers, and a power column links to the driver seat/mirror/audio preset memory system. Unlike some newer models the footwell does not feel narrow, so there is plenty of room for your left leg to relax.
Engine revs and speed instruments house smaller fuel and coolant temperature gauges, with the EVIC electronic vehicle information center between. EVIC displays everything from fuel economy or oil temperature to how long the lights stay on when you park, operated via the left thumb-switches on the steering wheel. All controls, the door handles, door pockets and the cupholders are illuminated an icy-blue, the gauges off-white.
Most controls are straightforward. Climate controls are split into three zones, or can be matched with the touch of one button; rear controls are operable if the driver approves by pressing a button. The shifter's a model of simplicity with no buttons to press, merely push left to downshift or right to upshift from the Drive position. The lone stalk on the left side of the wheel has high beams, signals, front and rear wash/wipe, so it gets a little busy; not all can be done without taking your hand off the wheel to twist it, where the impetus for stalk controls was to keep your hands on the wheel.
Audio systems work well, and the 500-watt 9-speaker sound system has plenty of rumble. The mid-grade 430 with navigation audio system in our Crew played everything we wanted (though the radio mutes when you load/unload a CD), and adding navigation among other things as a $695 option is relatively cheap. The navigation isn't as advanced as that in the 2011 Charger yet the only behavior we didn't like was how it occasionally reset the map scale on its own, even without us locking the truck or changing the driver memory position. The display is up high dash center, but like the climate display, is affected by polarized sunglasses.
Outward visibility is fairly good. The windshield pillar is slimmed mid-way to aid front quarter vision, and the door pillars will be behind most drivers. The third row headrests don't block the view (heads might) because there is a dash switch that drops them at the touch of a button. Front wipe/wash coverage is very good, rear good, and the headlights provide satisfactory illumination; HID headlamps are available on some models, low-beam only.
In general the Durango's interior measurements are very competitive. You might gain an inch here or lose one there, but when your six-foot-plus correspondent can find a comfortable driving position, ride comfortably behind that in the second row, and then easily clamber in to the third row and sit without knees, toes or head scuffing anything we can't argue it's shy on space.
The second-row seat is split with the narrow section on the passenger side; you can keep two kids belted in the middle row while letting two more get in back. The center position has a soft cushion but the backrest isn't as soft as the outer positions because of the armrest within; a child seat won't be bothered. Both sides recline slightly, there are aim-able reading lights and vents overhead, and in the back of the center console above the 115-VAC outlet.
Side windows don't go all the way down but the rearmost few inches is flush because of the window shape. There are recessed coat hooks in the roof, assist handles on the back side of the door pillar, bottle stowage in the doors, overhead controls for rear air, good foot-room under the front seats, and four grocery bag/purse clips flanking the net seatback pockets.
Third-row access is very good. A simple strap-pull folds and tilts up the second row seat, and the walk-through floor space to reach the third row is almost twice what a Tahoe has for reaching the second row. There is more room back here than the legroom dimension implies and it offers the same adjustable reading lights and overhead vents as the second row.
The cargo deck is 32 inches off the ground and has one small deep bin on the left side and a broader one under the main floor. On Crew trim features include a small built-in LED flashlight, hooks and power point on the right and a pair of tie-down loops in the floor. The cargo cover may be mounted behind the second or third-row seats, the hatch has two loading or tailgating lights at the back/lower edge, and the close button is on the left side low enough for a kindergartener to reach.
Cargo volume is 17 cubic feet behind the third row, 48 behind the second, and 84 behind the front seats, all average measurements if GM's much longer trio (Chevrolet Traverse, GMV Acadia, Buick Enclave) is left out. A simple lever drops either third-row seat flat, and with the right seat section folded flat in each row you can secure ten-foot-long objects inside.