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Expert Reviews 1 of 15
By Anita And Paul Lienert
The Detroit News
April 15, 1998
Want to feel like you're wearing a suit of armor? You'll get that sensation driving the 1998 Dodge Durango, Chrysler's answer to slightly bigger sport-utility vehicles such as the Ford Expedition and Chevrolet Tahoe. The Dodge Durango, which
bears two venerable names out of the old West, is imposing - and cumbersome. And therein lies its charm. It does exactly what a sport-utility is supposed to do, and even provides seating for up to eight passengers. We're predicting it's going to
be a huge success. But that doesn't mean we necessarily give it our seal of approval. She: The Durango is so hip, so right on that when you read the $33,200 window sticker on our test vehicle, you notice little touches like the fact that it has
not a cigarette lighter, but a cigar lighter. I called Chrysler to congratulate them for being so tuned into pop culture, but they told me, nah, it's the same size as a cigarette lighter - we just decided to call it a cigar lighter to be cool. That tells
me all the stops are being pulled out for style, but not always functionality. That's why this beast only gets 12 miles per gallon in city driving. There's a price to pay for all that "fashion." He: I don't know how fashionable it is these days to
drive a 4,736-pound sport-utility with a 5.9-liter V-8. That's even bigger than the standard engine in a GMC Suburban or Lincoln Navigator. Of course, the Durango isn't in the same class as either one of those big utes. Chrysler put leather on our test
vehicle, along with a breathtaking price tag, but I still have trouble envisioning this as a premium model. A 10-minute test loop on our local side streets convinced me that the Durango, despite all the hoopla, is still a truck, plain and simple. Looks
like a truck. Drives like a truck. Quacks like a truck. What would you call it? She: A glorified truck. And that's why you'll either love it or hate it. Love it because it's cut from the same mold as the popular Dodge Ram pickup. It looks like the
Ram with the big chrome grille and the fenders that look like they're stuffed with stiff shoulder pads. And it's based on the mid-size Dakota pickup truck, so the instrument panel, engine and underpinnings are basically the same. The upshot: While you get
that trucky look, you also suffer with a harsh, choppy, rough ride. He: Some of the key selling points are also some of the weak points, in my book. Truck guys love that bouncy ride. It makes me nauseous. And they love the 250-horsepower V-8,
which costs an extra $885. But if you don't need the towing capacity, I'd just as soon settle for the smaller, less-thirsty 3.9-liter V-6. The engineers also managed to squeeze in a third-row bench seat, which is available as a $550 option. That's
something you can't get on a Ford Explorer or a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Problem is, it's tough to get back there to that third seat, and once you're there, there's not a lot of headroom or legroom. And when the third seat
is being used, there's very little space left behind the seat for cargo or luggage. I wouldn't plan on traveling a long distance with a family of six in this vehicle. She: But a lot of families are going to be attracted to the Durango, especially
active families who tow jet-skis and other gear. That optional 5.9-liter V-8 can tow 7,000 pounds, which beats much of the competition. But I can see some moms being disappointed by spending all that money and getting relatively few safety features in
return. After all, you don't get side air bags and you have to pay extra for four-wheel anti-lock brakes. You get standard rear-wheel anti-lock brakes, but that means you can lock up the front in a panic stop, which, ahem, I believe you did, dear.
He: Well, it wasn't exactly a panic stop. More hysteria, I'd say. The point is, you shouldn't have to pay extra for a safety feature that a lot of the competition includes as standard equipment. That seems to be the case with a lot of th
eatures on the Durango we tested. And even though the options inflated the $25,810 base price by nearly $8,000, you still feel an awful lot like you're riding in a blue-collar truck - a smartly styled and highly functional blue-collar truck, granted. And
I don't mean Chrysler should add a lot of fake wood and fancy gadgets. That's why they sell a Grand Cherokee. But they could probably upgrade the quality of the plastic and improve the trim fits on the Durango. She: The only other standard feature
it needs is the guy who stands at the airport gate with the earphones and orange sticks. He'd come in really handy when you're trying to park the Durango - or any other sport-utility of its size. But I guess you just light up that cigar, hold up traffic
and feel superior in what's likely to be one of the most desirable sport-utilities of the year. 1998 Dodge Durango 4x4 SLT Plus Type: Four-wheel-drive, eight-passenger sport-utility vehicle What's new for '98: All new
Price: Base, $25,810; as tested, $33,200 (including $525 destination charge) Standard equipment: Air conditioning, AM/FM radio/cassette, Roof luggage rack, Power mirrors, Rear window defroster, Rear wiper/washer, Intermittent wipers, Variable
assist power sttime transfer case Safety features: Dual air bags, Rear anti-lock brakes Options on test vehicle: Leather high-back bucket seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, suede door trim panel with map pocket ($670) EPA fuel
economy: 12 mpg city/17 mpg highway Engine: 5.9-liter V-8; 250 hp at 4,000 rpm; 335 lb-ft torque at 3,200 rpm Transmission: Four-speed automatic 12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan*: $1,121. Rates based on an
average family of four from the Livonia area whose primary driver is aged 40 with no tickets who drives 3-10 miles each way to work. Rates reflect multicar discount and, where appropriate, discounts for air bags and seat belts. Where built: