Dodges sole offering in this segment straddles two sections of the sport utility vehicle market. The Durango isnt considered too big or too small. It is larger than most midsize SUVs, such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee, but it falls short of a true full-size model. With its V-8 engines and optional eight-passenger seating, Dodges SUV challenges full-size models like the Chevrolet Tahoe and Ford Expedition. Billed as the right size by Dodge, the Durango promises full-size SUV roominess combined with compact-level maneuverability.
The Durango is available in Sport, SLT, SLT Plus and high-performance R/T forms; the entry-level SXT edition joined the lineup for the 2002 model year. The Durangos 2001 sales dipped by 24.6 percent to 130,799 units, as reported by Automotive News. Changes for the upcoming model year will likely be modest, but Dodge has not yet released details on changes for 2003.
Optional curtain-type airbags for the front- and second-row seats deploy from the ceiling. Based on the companys Dakota pickup truck, the Durango debuted for the 1998 model year and is due for a redesign.
The four-door Durangos styling is the same as the Dakotas from the windshield forward. The Durango rides on a 116.2-inch wheelbase and measures 193.5 inches long overall. The R/T edition includes performance shock absorbers, a limited-slip differential, a performance-oriented axle ratio and 17-inch tires on cast-aluminum wheels.
The Durango seats as few as five occupants or as many as eight, depending on the seating configuration. Two front bucket seats and a three-place second-row bench are standard, which accommodate five passengers. In order to fit eight passengers, a three-place bench replaces the front buckets and an optional two-place third-row seat is added. The middle and rear seats fold flat for a maximum cargo volume of 88 cubic feet. A DVD backseat entertainment system is available as an option.
Under the Hood
A 235-horsepower, 4.7-liter V-8 is the base engine; it drives a five-speed-automatic transmission. A 250-hp, 5.9-liter Magnum V-8 that teams with a four-speed automatic is optional. The Durango comes with either rear-wheel drive or one of two four-wheel-drive (4WD) 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.
As a rule, 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 it sounds like its ready to lunge into space. While its reasonably vigorous, the Magnum V-8s engine performance falls a bit short of what one is led to expect from that muscular sport-tuned sound out back. On the positive side, the R/Ts 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 the Ford Explorer. The Durangos steering is easy and little correction is required, but its not quite as precise as that of some SUVs. Because the Durango sometimes feels like its ready to lean excessively if speed is increased, the driver may have a tendency to slow down around curves a little more than necessary. Even though the rear seatbacks arent very tall, the SUVs appealing seats offer excellent support and firm but comfortable cushioning with plenty of space for the driver and passengers.