There are many ways to determine whether a hybrid is worth its premium price or not, and the method most likely to justify its purchase is a comparison against a "comparably equipped" non-hybrid. Hybrids are usually at or near the top of a model line in terms of features and equipment, so it's only when you compare them to a comparably equipped non-hybrid that there's any question of benefit for the cost. Compare some hybrids to the most affordable trim level of the same model, and the price difference offsets any money you could hope to recoup on fuel alone. In cases where a low-priced trim level comes with a smaller engine and relatively high mileage, the money saved on fuel is even less significant. Considering the state of the economy, as well as gas prices, affordability seems as important as mileage, if not more so.
The table below compares the most relevant aspects of the various Durango trim levels and the cost/benefit.
|2009 Durango Drivetrains Compared|
|List price (lowest price for each engine/driveline combination)||Cost vs. Durango Hybrid||EPA-estimated mpg (city/highway — combined)|
|3.7-liter V-6 4x2||$27,630||-$15,110||14/20 — 16|
|4.7-liter V-8 4x2||$28,690||-$14,050||14/19 — 15|
|5.7-liter V-8 4x2||$32,660||-$10,080||14/20 — 16|
|4.7-liter V-8 4x4||$30,910||-$11,830||13/18 — 15|
|5.7-liter V-8 4x4||$35,035||-$7,705||13/19 — 15|
|Comparably equipped V-8 4x4||$40,275||-$2,465||13/19 — 15|
|Hemi Hybrid 4x4||$42,740*||n/a||19/20 — 19|
|Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid 4x4||$51,060*||+$8,320*||20/20 — 20*|
|*Price adjusted to reflect applicable federal hybrid tax credit: $1,800 for Durango Hybrid and $2,200 for the Tahoe Hybrid. Unlike the Durango, the Tahoe has a 4x2 hybrid version, rated 21/22 — 21 mpg and with an adjusted price of $48,255.|
The Durango Hemi Hybrid comes only in the top, Limited, trim level and with four-wheel drive, and it costs $42,740 (the adjusted price after subtracting an expected $1,800 tax credit). As the table reflects, a comparably equipped non-hybrid Durango Limited 4x4 costs $2,465 less. The most affordable 4x4 is $11,830 less, and if you're cool with a V-6 engine and rear-wheel drive, you could save more than $15,000.
When it comes to saving fuel, the difference for the Durango Hybrid versus the regular lineup is uncommonly simplistic due to the efficiency, or rather inefficiency, of the non-hybrids. All of them are only 3 or 4 mpg lower in combined city/highway driving, if the EPA estimates are correct. The V-6 version gives only a 1 mpg improvement over the 4.7-liter V-8, and the same performance as the 5.7-liter V-8. (For its size and output, the Hemi is pretty efficient thanks to its ability to run on four cylinders when cruising and under light acceleration.)
So if you're dead-set on a Durango, the inefficiency of the more affordable models benefits the hybrid, which looks like a star in comparison with its 19 mpg combined — a significant percentage improvement.
That leads us to the question of whether the Durango is a model worth being dead-set on in the first place. My opinion is no. As Kelsey Mays said of the Aspen Hybrid in his review, the Durango Hybrid's fundamental shortcoming is that it's a Durango — never our favorite mid-/full-size SUV, and one that's not aging with much grace. We try to judge how well a vehicle stays on course when turning on broken pavement, but I found this one doesn't always track straight when going forward on broken pavement. Getting in is more challenging than it should be. Being a body-on-frame SUV, the cabin is a bit high, but there are no grab handles for the driver and the running boards are too high. The objective of running boards and step rails is to split the difference between the road and the interior. The Durango's were better than having none at all, but I found myself stepping up onto them, then feeling like I had to lower myself down into the driver's seat, as you would with a low-riding car.
Durango as a Hybrid
Then there's the hybrid aspect, which is similar in principle to other "full" hybrids that can run electric only, gas only or some combination of the two. It's closest in operation to the Tahoe Hybrid (and its sisters, the GMC Yukon Hybrid and Cadillac Escalade Hybrid). The technology and some hardware were co-developed by GM, BMW and DaimlerChrysler (now the separately owned Mercedes-Benz and Chrysler). In some ways the so-called Two-Mode hybrid system is more natural feeling than Ford's and Toyota's because it combines its electric motors with a four-speed automatic, giving a conventional shifting sensation. But the Durango isn't as smooth as the Tahoe version; it exhibits some lag when you press the accelerator urgently, and it makes more foreign noises. When I didn't have the stereo on, I occasionally found myself checking the mirrors for emergency vehicles because the whir sounded just like a faint, distant siren.
The most trouble came when parking, because there wasn't much middle ground between stopped and moving. Every time I parked in a lot, creeping forward was an on-and-off affair that made me concerned I'd bash into the wall or vault a parking block. Overall the brakes felt more like those of a first-generation Prius than of the most refined current examples.
What Two-Mode definitely delivers is plenty of power. The Hemi V-8 alone is mighty, and the two electric motors only add to it. The Durango Hybrid really moves, and it seems to meet its mileage estimates, based on the onboard trip computer. It can also tow a trailer of up to 6,000 pounds, the same as the Tahoe Hybrid and its siblings, and it offers eight seats, including a more-usable-than-average third row.
The Tahoe Hybrid is a better vehicle overall, with higher interior quality, more refinement and higher mileage. The Durango's advantage is price, with an $8,320 divide between it and the Tahoe Hybrid 4x4, in spite of the Tahoe's higher tax credit of $2,200 due to its better mileage. For what it's worth, though, the Tahoe offers something the Durango doesn't: a 4x2 version at a lower price. The 4x2 Tahoe Hybrid is $5,515 more expensive than the Durango, and it boasts another 1-to-2-mpg increase over the Tahoe 4x4 with an EPA rating of 21/22 mpg.
Durango Hybrid in the Market
I have no doubt that the Durango Hybrid will find its buyers in the market, but the economy has put new-car purchases low on most consumers' to-do lists, and hybrids' typically premium prices mean they'll get extra scrutiny — even more than they were already getting in this time of high gas prices. When consumers decide what type of vehicle to buy these days, they're likely to appraise their needs more honestly than they have in the past, and that's sure to filter out consumers who recognize they don't need something this large. Of those who insist on a larger vehicle, some will decide they'd be better suited by a car-based crossover, which should cost less and deliver decent — if not hybrid-level — fuel economy. Slowly but surely, potential buyers start to peel away. It's the towing crowd that should be most interested in the Durango Hybrid, especially those who want to pay less than they would for a Tahoe Hybrid. In the end, I think if Dodge had hybridized the Journey car-based crossover — itself relatively inefficient — it would have a more attractive product for today's market.
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