Dodge's full-size sport utility vehicle got a substantial redesign for the 2004 model year. Basic Durango styling cues continued, but the current model is 7 inches longer and more than 3 inches taller than its predecessor and features 15 percent more cargo capacity.
A new Adventurer model with heated cloth seats debuts for 2005. A full-screen navigation system and a new SXT option package are available. A V-6 and two Magnum V-8 engines are offered, topped by the famed 5.7-liter Hemi. Dodge also promises up to 8,950 pounds of towing capacity.
The Durango will likely be joined by a smaller SUV, the Nitro, in the next couple years.
Dodge promotes the Durango's "broad-shouldered presence," starting with a familiar crosshair grille. Single headlight covers conceal dual lights. The SUV's silhouette features short front and rear overhangs, a dramatically sloped windshield and what Dodge calls "powerful" wheel arches.
The Durango rides on a 119.2-inch wheelbase, measures 200.8 inches long overall and stands 74.3 inches tall. Standard 17-inch tires are mounted on steel, aluminum or chrome-plated wheels.
Durangos can hold seven people when equipped with three rows of seats. A five-passenger configuration is also offered. Cargo volume behind the third row is 19 cubic feet; that space grows to 102.4 cubic feet when both rear seats are folded down. Second-row occupants get reclining seats, and an optional DVD entertainment system is available. Reversible slush mats are included in the Adventurer model, which has a rubberized washable cargo liner with a built-in organizer.
Under the Hood
The standard engine in two-wheel-drive Durangos is a 210-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6. A 4.7-liter V-8 that produces 230 hp and 290 pounds-feet of torque is optional. Durango buyers can also buy a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 that cranks out 335 hp and 370 pounds-feet of torque.
A four-speed-automatic transmission mates with the V-6, and V-8 models work with a five-speed automatic. Durangos come with rear-wheel drive or full-time four-wheel drive, which has Low-range gearing.
All-disc antilock brakes include electronic brake-force distribution. Optional side curtain-type airbags protect all three rows of seats.
Steering is lighter than expected. The Durango has a comparatively soft suspension, which translates to an especially comfortable ride. This SUV can get a little woozy through repeated curves.
Handling is less than ideal, even on the expressway, as the Durango is a little too inclined to edge out of its lane. Suspensions differ among the three engine choices, but not dramatically.
Surprisingly, the new Durango doesn't stand above the pack in acceleration. Response from the Hemi V-8 is less vigorous than expected. Automatic-transmission response is better with the V-6 engine, which is a little noisier when pushed. The 4.7-liter V-8 might be a good compromise, but flooring the gas too often results in delayed, modest acceleration.
Overall, the Durango's performance stands tallest when it goes off-road. Thick A- and B-pillars obscure the view somewhat. Getting into and out of the Durango demands quite a climb, but running boards and grab handles help.