Dodge Durango Often Overlooked

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2014 Dodge Durango.

2014 Dodge Durango.

You may have seen comic Will Ferrell in his “Ron Burgundy” newscaster character in ads for the Dodge Durango. The commercials (mostly ad-libbed) draw attention to the Dodge Durango SUV in a different way. We usually see sport utility vehicles in outdoorsy settings in commercials, showing us how well they’d serve our adventurous needs.

The campaign has certainly put the spotlight on the Durango, which is a good thing. It got a few tweaks here and there for the 2014 model year, and sometimes flies under the radar of those shopping for family-friendly vehicles. Which is too bad, as it’s really a very nice take on the SUV theme.

Its corporate sibling, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, seems to get much more attention. Between the Jeep design cues and buyers’ ability to say they drive a Jeep (even though many times they’re typical couch potatoes who will never go anywhere “rugged” in their lives), the Grand Cherokee has a huge leg-up on the Dodge.

But the Durango does the Jeep one better in the form of a third-row seat, as well as a slight stretch in length and wheelbase. More room inside for people and cargo, at the expense of not being able to negotiate steep ruts and trails off the paved road. As if 99.9% of the people who buy them care.

The Durango also gets by with “all wheel drive,” instead of a traditional four wheel drive system with low-range gears as we find in the Grand Cherokee. In conditions like loose gravel or snow, the all wheel drive does just fine.

You can get the 5.7 liter V8 in the Durango (it’s standard in the R/T model), but the base 3.6 liter V6 is such a wonderful engine that it really is a better choice for most situations. Unless you’re planning on doing some heavy-duty towing or hauling, go with the V6 and save the fuel.

The other component to fuel savings is the new standard 8-speed automatic transmission, which mates perfectly with the V6’s power characteristics and is so smooth in its shifting that you never even know it’s there. You could try to count all seven shifts when moving form rest to higher speeds, but only if you really pay attention.

Official EPA ratings for a V6/AWD Durango are 17 city and 24 highway for a combined number of 19. (Skipping all wheel drive adds on mile per gallon to each figure.) The V8 is rated at 14 and 22, city and highway, which works out to 17 combined.

Other revisions for 2014 include an updated instrument cluster and center touch screen for the Uconnect system. Many such integrated screen systems (Ford’s MyFordTouch, for instance) get criticized for being fussy, complicated, and difficult to operate. The Chrysler system is great. Large icons along the bottom with symbols for radio, navigation, and so on, are quite intuitive and easy to find at a glance.

Another cool thing on the Durango is the rotary switch for gear selection. Taking up much less console space than a traditional lever, the knob is easy to twist from Park to Drive (or Reverse, obviously) to get going. It’s a variation on the one Jaguar introduced a few years ago on the XF. For manual gear selection there are the ubiquitous paddles behind the steering wheel.

So feature-wise, the Durango is right up there with the competition. It also has one thing that stands out when it’s compared to the Ford Explorer and Chevy Traverse, for example. Dodge is sticking with rear wheel drive for its chassis layout, a more traditional approach when it comes to SUVs. Sure, many of these end up as all wheel drive models when customers make their purchases, but there’s something inherently “right” about the fell of the engine sitting lengthwise under the hood and driving the rear wheels.

The Durango, like most vehicles in popular categories, runs the pricing gamut. Base models start out at just under $30,000 or just over $32,000 if you want all wheel drive. The top model is called Citadel and with all the options tops out around $50,000. In other words, just about where the competition is priced.

But, against the competition, the Durango really does stand out. Perhaps not so much in styling, or even in popularity. Feature for feature, however, it stacks up really well.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @ABC7DaveKunz, Facebook: ABC7DaveKunz

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