Dodges sole offering in this segment straddles two sections of the SUV market. The Durango isnt too big or too small; its larger in size than most midsize sport utility vehicles, such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee, with its V-8 engines and optional eight-passenger seating. It challenges full-size models like the Chevrolet Tahoe. Billed as the right size by Dodge, the Durango promises full-size SUV roominess combined with compact-level maneuverability.
A new entry-level SXT model joins the lineup for 2002. The Durango also can be equipped with step-up option packages, which include the SLT, SLT Plus and performance-oriented R/T. A new option group includes graphite front and rear fascias, grille and fender flares, as well as 16-inch aluminum wheels. Newly available curtain-type airbags for the front and second-row seats deploy from the ceiling. The Durango, which debuted for the 1998 model year and is based on the Dakota pickup truck, is due for a face-lift, if not a redesign, possibly for 2003.
From the windshield forward, the styling on the four-door Durango is the same as the Dakota pickup truck. Its overall length is 193 inches. The R/T edition includes 17-inch tires on cast aluminum wheels, performance shock absorbers, a limited-slip differential and a performance-oriented axle ratio.
Depending on the seating configuration, the Durango seats as few as five occupants or as many as eight. Two front buckets and a three-place second-row seat are standard for five-passenger capacity. For eight-passenger seating, a three-place bench can replace the front buckets and an optionaltwo-place third-row seat can be added. The middle and rear seats fold flat for a maximum cargo volume of 88 cubic feet. A new DVD-based backseat video entertainment system is available as an option.
Under the Hood
A 235-horsepower, 4.7-liter V-8 that drives a newly enhanced five-speed-automatic transmission is the base engine, and a 250-hp, 5.9-liter Magnum V-8 that teams with a four-speed automatic is optional. The Durango comes either with rear-wheel drive or a choice of two four-wheel-drive systems. Standard 4WD cannot be used on smooth, dry pavement, but the optional 4WD system is a full-time unit. Both systems may be engaged with a dashboard-mounted switch. Antilock brakes are standard.
SUVs arent supposed to sound like Dodges sporty, performance-oriented Durango R/T edition. It emits lushly gurgling exhaust notes that would befit a sports car and sounds like its ready to lunge into space. While its reasonably vigorous, the performance from the Magnum V-8 engine falls a bit short of what one is led to expect from that muscular sport-tuned sound out back. On the plus side, the automatic transmission reacts promptly and smoothly for passing.
The Durango is essentially pleasing all around, but it isnt quite as friendly to the driver and occupants as, say, the new Ford Explorer. Steering is easy and little correction is required, but its not quite as precise as on some SUVs. Its difficult to overcome a tendency to avoid pushing too hard in tight curves. Appealing seats offer excellent support and firm but comfortable cushioning with plenty of space for the driver and passengers, though the rear seatbacks arent very tall.