NewCarTestDrive

2018 Dodge Durango

The Dodge Durango is a crossover because it’s a unitbody, so it’s not built with the body bolted onto the frame like the more rugged truck-based SUVs. Durango behaves like a crossover, with very nice road manners, like a car.

It doesn’t look like a crossover, however, and some of its capabilities resemble those of a truck-based SUV. It’s handsome, not too soft, clean but rugged like the SUV it used to be. It can tow up to 7400 pounds. It seats seven, with a third-row seat standard equipment on all models but the base SXT where it’s optional. It’s rear-wheel drive, not front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is optional.

Durango is built on the chassis of its cousin the Jeep Grand Cherokee, stretched with a longer wheelbase to make decent room for seven. It shares character with the Mercedes-Benz M- and GL-Class, which are also crossovers, arguably.

Durango’s competitors include full-size truck-based SUVs from Chevrolet, GMC, Ford and Lincoln, among others. Being rear-wheel drive, it’s sportier than rivals with front-wheel drive like the Honda Pilot and Nissan Pathfinder. Dodge PR says the Durango is the Dodge Charger of SUVs, and that’s a good description.

That’s a lot of competition in the class, and the Durango is getting a bit long in the tooth; the 2018 model is the eighth year of its generation, although there have been countless changes and upgrades along the way. And there’s a bunch more for 2018, changes to equipment and trim, but no redesign, unless you count the spectacular new SRT model.

Like the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT before it, the Durango bolts in Chrysler’s big 392 cubic-inch V8 making 475 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque. It’s all-wheel-drive only, using a beefed-up version of the 8-speed automatic that’s in all Durangos. It is awesome fast. So fast that it comes with a one-day session at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving.

The base engine is Chrysler’s strong 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 making 290 or 295 horsepower with 260 pound-feet of torque. The bigger engine is a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 making 360 hp and 390 lb-ft. Both engines use an 8-speed automatic transmission. The V6 can tow a class-leading 6200 pounds; the Hemi V8 can tow a class-leading 7400 pounds. It’s loud.

The V8 gets a rugged two-speed transfer case, while the V6 uses a simpler single-range electronic system.

Gas mileage is not so hot. The V6 gets an EPA-estimated 19/26 miles per gallon City/Highway, or 21 mpg Combined with rear-wheel drive, or 18/25/21 mpg with all-wheel drive. The 5.7-liter V8 is rated 14/22/17 mpg with all-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive. All come with the stop/start system that shuts off the engine at a stoplight.

The crash ratings are not so hot, either. The chassis might be showing its age, earning four stars overall from NHTSA; only three stars in rollover for all-wheel-drive models (four for rear-wheel-drive), but five stars in side crash. The IIHS gives it good scores in most of the tests, except for Marginal in the fearsome small-overlap.

New standard equipment for 2018 includes a rearview camera; sport steering wheel with paddle shifters; shifter with Auto Stick selector gate; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto using the Uconnect system with an 7.0 or 8.4-inch touchscreen radio system.

The camera has the eminently helpful trailer view that makes it easy to perfectly place your trailer-hitch ball under the cap on the trailer tongue. Also standard on other models is the UConnect infotainment system with 8.4-inch display screen.

Model Lineup

The 2018 Dodge Durango comes in SXT ($29,995), GT ($37,795), R/T ($43,695), and Citadel ($42,145) models. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.) All-wheel drive is optional ($2600).

Standard equipment in the SXT includes six airbags, full power, air conditioning, cruise control, tilt/telescope steering wheel, an AM/FM stereo, USB port and aux jack, 7.0-inch infotainment system, plenty of USB inputs, 18-inch alloy wheels, three-zone automatic climate control, keyless ignition, and manually adjusted front seats. 2018 Durango SXT’s also get a leather sport steering wheel and rear park assist.

Durango GT models get a power liftgate, paddle shifters and synthetic suede seats, plus a firmer suspension, special steering tuning, rear parking sensors.

Durango R/T gets the Hemi 5.7-liter V8. Plus a Beats audio system, upgraded leather upholstery, and ventilated front seats. Durango Citadel comes with Nappa leather.

Options include an Alpine audio system, blind-spot monitors, adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning that can bring the vehicle to a complete stop at slow speeds, heated front seats, third-row seat, satellite radio, 115-volt outlet, and 20-inch wheels. Second-row captain’s chairs are also available, along with a power sunroof, power tailgate, Beats by Dr. Dre audio system with 10 speakers and subwoofer, and HDMI and Blu-ray rear entertainment system.

Front Park Assist joins ParkSense Park Assist System with sensors in the front bumper to detect obstacles and includes a shut-off switch and is standard on Durango R/T, Citadel and SRT models.

Exterior

The Durango is classy, with a muscular nose and boxy profile with soft edges, conservative flat sheetmetal. From the rear, you wouldn’t say it looks like a truck, although you won’t mistake it for anything else. Monochrome trim and a twin exhaust give it some sport.

The R/T and SRT are wider and lower, with sharper front fascia with a lower valence to house a new cold-air duct, and LED fog lamps. It’s a three-slot hood scoop, with a center air inlet duct flanked by heat extractors.

Interior

Inside, there are no hints of its truck past at all. The tightly sealed cabin is rich but subtle, quiet and refined, feeling like a luxury SUV, like its foreign ancestor the Mercedes ML. The flowing dash is covered in soft-touch materials and displays metallic-ringed gauges and a bright 8.4-inch infotainment touchscreen on most models (SXT uses a 5.0-inch touchscreen). The R/T shows off leather upholstery with woven red inserts and red stitching.

Front passengers have it good, with well-bolstered cloth seats and a driving position that works for all sizes. The leather seats are flatter than the cloth, so if you like sporty driving that’s something to consider.

Three adults fit comfortably in the second row, with available captain’s chairs for two individuals, with a low console with one cupholder between them. It’s minimalist. There’s an optional larger console with two cupholders, 12-volt outlet and USB port. We suggest getting it.

Either way, there is a hump on the floor, over the rear-wheel-drive’s driveshaft.

The third-row seat is eminently usable compared to others. It actually fits two adults, although it’s a bit difficult to climb back there. It’s split 50/50 and folds, although not into the floor like the Chrysler Pacifica minivan, which might be a better option if it’s a people-carrier you need more than a tow vehicle. But when the Durango’s second row is folded there’s 84.5 cubic feet of space, room enough for a six-foot couch and a coffee table, or a stack of 10-foot-long two-by-fours.

The rear visibility is hindered by wide roof pillars, so with the SXT, the rearview camera option is a must.

As for the new SRT, it seems to deserve its available high-performance Demonic Red Laguna leather upholstery with carbon-fiber trim.

Driving Impressions

When the Durango isn’t showing off its SUV strength by towing a big load, it drives like a crossover, meaning it behaves more like a car. The independent suspension provides a supple and well-damped ride, although there’s some head toss on patchy pavement. The steering is heavy but precise, and the brakes are big and secure for towing.

If you do tow a lot, even though the V6 can do 6200 pounds, the muscular Hemi V8 might be a better choice, for its additional torque; it can tow with the best of them, including some Ram 1500 pickup trucks. The 8-speed transmission works for towing even with its wide ratios.

The 295 horsepower made by the V6 has a lot of weight to push, but the engine is smooth and quiet.

The ride in the SXT and Citadel is firm but supple, while the SRT borders on harsh. And the available 20-inch alloy wheels amplify bad things on pavement. Think twice if frost heaves are big in your town.

That harsh-riding SRT will shoot you from zero to sixty in a Viper-like 4.4 seconds, and on to the quarter-mile in 12.9 seconds (certified by the NHRA). With 470 pound-feet of torque, there’s enough pulling power to tie for the lead in the class with 8600 pounds towing. Never mind that the SRT is in a class of two, the other not coincidentally also called SRT, being the Jeep.

Durango’s 8-speed automatic shifts fast, predictable, and buttery smooth. It’s compatible with the V6, Hemi V8, or even the monster SRT, after being strengthened for the rigors.

Final Word

Solid engine, transmission, ride and handling, and excellent cabin and third-row seat. Despite its age, Durango holds its own. However, fuel mileage, if not crash-test ratings, might be a dealbreaker. But never a dealbreaker for the SRT, which we’d take in a heartbeat. It’s less nimble than the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT, being longer, but if you need that extra cargo space, it’s the hottest hauler you can buy.

Sam Moses contributed to this review, with staff reports.