With the makers of so many sport utility vehicles stressing the car-like handling of their output, it's quite a relief to finally drive one that's thoroughly truck-like. You don't sip a latte driving this rig. It's more like a big gulp. I really had to adjust my attitude to drive this macho machine. I started walking differently, I drank a lot of cheap beer, began scratching myself in inappropriate places and watched an awful lot of professional wrestling. It thoroughly prepared me for the Durango, whose broad muscular flanks scream, "This ain't no secretary's 4x4." There are no running boards. Real men don't need running boards. But, they need lots of stump-pullin' power. That's where Dodge's V-8s come in. The test vehicle came with Chrysler Corp.'s tried and true 5.2-liter V8, whose gruff 230 horsepower and 300 foot-pounds of torque will get you going quite nicely, although not with the liveliness of Ford's overhead-cam engines. Optional is a monstrous 5.9-liter V8, with a bit more horsepower (245) and a bit more torque (335). A V6 is also available. Skip it. All three engines are fed through a four-speed automatic transmission that downshifts smoothly just when you need it. Handling is decent, but it's not for wimps. The brawny tires pound the bumps through to the passenger, but the chassis does a good job of eliminating most (although not all) side-to-side rocking. It's just enough to remind you of this vehicle's true mission in life. The ride is quiet, with only a little road noise filtering through. Wind noise is non-existent. Ditto engine noise, except when you're really spooling up the power. Grip is better than the Dakota pickup on which it's based, but driving in rear-drive only, it's still possible to lose your grip occasionally. Don't let it surprise you. Despite its mid-size length, the vehicle still somehow manages to feel bigger than it is. It's odd, because maneuverability is quite good, as is the power-numbed steering. But real men take their trucks off-road, so this Dodge comes equipped with a part-time 4WD system. Optional is a full-time system. Both are engaged with a floor-mounted lever, an increasing rarity among sport utilities. Both include a low range for extra-challenging situations. But even real men have to haul their families, and here's where Chrysler's minivan experience comes in. The dash is familiar to anyone who has spent time in a Dakota. Instrumentation is complete and includes an oil pressure gauge. To the right of the speedometer are vertically mounted rotary knobs that work the climate control. In the center of the dash is the audio system. In the test vehicle, it was an optional AM/FM-cassette-CD player eight-speaker Infinity sound system. It was pretty good -- the CD never skipped, despite the pounding this vehicle takes. There's a useful roomy center console up front, as well as an extra power outlet. In back, there are two rows of seats, quite an accomplishment considering the overall 193-inch length of the vehicle. The roof is raised to allow better headroom back here, but only small humans will want to spend a lot of time in the last row. Both seats fold quickly and easily to increase luggage capacity. There's room only for a couple of bags with all the seats in place. A hidden compartment stows small flat objects out of sight. The strongly contoured front bucket seats were lacking lower back support, and their spongy foam feel helped little. Spend some time in them before you decide. Leather surfaces are an option. But real men don't need no stinkin' leather. Other interior touches include units to house a garage door opener and sunglasses holder. Rear ventilation, with controls, also is included. There's no charge either for the plethora of minor rattles that afflicted this truck. It might be the result of the very hard plastic surfaces -- undoubt dly durable, but they sure look cheap. However, that's the only real complaint in a truck that's sure to be stiff competition against Chevrolet's Blazer and Ford's Explorer, not to mention the Jeep Grand Cherokee. But this sport utility is different from all of them, with the tough Dodge truck look that's sure to make even real men drool for one.
1998 Dodge Durango SLT Standard: 3.9-liter V6, four-speed automatic transmission, dual air bags, power front disc-rear drum brakes with rear-only anti-lock, speed-sensitive wipers with intermittent, rear intermittent wiper, rear window defroster, shift-on-the-fly part-time four-wheel drive, air conditioning, dual power mirrors, AM/FM-cassette stereo, 15-inch aluminum wheels, full-sized spare tire. Options: Package 26D (SLT Decor Group, tilt steering, cruise control, power windows, power locks, keyless entry, illuminated entry, P235/75R15 OWL all-season tires with aluminum wheels, light group), skid plate group, overhead console group (overhead console, illuminated visor vanity mirrors, auto dimming mirror), four-wheel anti-lock brakes, floor mats, full-time transfer case, anti-spin differential, 5.2-liter V8, power folding 5x9 mirrors, fog lamps, eight-speaker Infinity AM/FM-cassette-CD audio system, 31x10.5R15 OWL all-season tires, wheel flares. Base price: $25,810 As tested: $31,100 EPA rating: 13 mpg city, 17 mpg highway
|Anita And Paul Lienert||The Detroit News||April 15, 1998|
|Larry Printz||The Morning Call and Mcall.com||March 1, 1998|
|Bob Golfen||AZCentral.com||January 17, 1998|
|Terry Jackson||The Miami Herald||January 8, 1998|
|Paul Dean||Los Angeles Times||December 19, 1997|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||November 21, 1997|
|Richard Truett||Orlando Sentinel||November 13, 1997|
|Paul Lienert||The Detroit News||October 15, 1997|
|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||October 10, 1997|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||October 5, 1997|
|Tony Swan||Detroit Newspapers||October 2, 1997|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||September 30, 1997|
|George Moore||IndyStar.com||September 28, 1997|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||February 9, 1997|
|Al Haas||March 6, 1998|
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