The sporty, practical 2014 Dodge Durango is an SUV/crossover based on a stretched version of the unit-body platform of the award-winning Jeep Grand Cherokee, which is a really good start.
The new Durango looks better with a different, rather sinister-looking front end and revised rear styling with Dodge’s race-style LED taillight design. It has a new responsive eight-speed automatic transmission with a segment-first rotary shifter and efficient paddle shifters for manual operation. The automatic replaces one offered with either five or six speeds.
The updated interior has a new instrument panel. A third row 50/50 split seat that’s suitable for adults, at least on short trips, accompanies supportive front bucket seats and second-row seats, which fold and tumble for more cargo room, but are rather flat unless you get the optional “captain’s chairs.”
The Durango comes as the SXT, Rallye, Limited, R/T and Citadel models. It rides on a 119.8-inch wheelbase and is 201.2 inches long overall. It weighs from 4,756 to 5,397 pounds, making it one of the larger SUV/crossovers.
List prices range from $29,795 for the base rear-drive model to $43,395 for the top-line Citadel model with all-wheel drive (AWD). I tested the Citadel AWD V-8 version.
The built-in-Detroit has two AWD systems, one for the V-6, the other for the V-8.
Getting in or out of any Durango model calls for extra effort because the step-up is rather high, but occupants then sit high for good visibility in the roomy interior.
The cargo floor is wide, but also rather high. Cargo room is just adequate with the third-row in its normal position.But it’s generous with the rear seats flipped forward. Second- and third-row seats fold to provide a flat load floor that Dodge says lets one haul “a 6-foot couch with room for a coffee table.”Also, a fold-flat front passenger seat is standard on models not equipped with the ventilated seat option. There’s a fairly large, hidden covered cargo compartment below the load floor.
Families with children will find the available captain’s chairs with pass-through helpful, as two car seats can stay latched into the second-row seats. And there’s an easy pass-through for passengers to walk between the “chairs” to reach the third row.
Clever features are found throughout the Durango. For instance, an instrument panel switch remotely lowers the third-row headrests when they’re not in use.
Power comes from either a stout 3.6-liter, dual-overhead camshaft V-6 with 290 horsepower (295 in the Rallye) and 260 pound/feet of torque or a muscular 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 with 360 horsepower and 390 pound/feet of torque—and dual exhaust outlets.
The V-6 only needs 87-octane fuel. Dodge recommends 89-octane for the V-8, although it says 87-octane gas is “acceptable.”
The V-8 has Fuel-Saver technology that seamlessly shuts off four cylinders when less power is needed but also seamlessly goes intoV-8 mode when more power is demanded. An “Eco Mode” optimizes the shift schedule and throttle sensitivity and cuts fuel delivery when the Durango is coasting. Eco Mode is automatically engaged upon startup. A button on the center stack lets drivers disengage this mode if livelier performance is wanted.
Dodge says the V-8 provides “best-in-class” towing of up to 7,400 pounds.
Despite its economy features, the V-8 only delivers an estimated mediocre 14 miles per gallon in the city and a decent 23 on highways with rear-drive and 14 and 22 with (AWD). The V-6 provides 18 and 25 with rear-drive and 17 and 24 with AWD.
Fuel tank capacity is 24.6 gallons. That gives the Durango V-6 with rear-drive an estimated highway driving range of 615 miles on one tank of fuel.
The Durango is enjoyable to drive, with quick steering, an all-independent suspension, nearly 50/50 weight distribution and new lineup of 18- or 20-inch wheels. Aggressive shock and spring rates and large sway bars handle body roll in hard turning maneuvers.
Also helping keep the Durango hug the planet on and off road are electronic stability and all-speed traction-control systems.
The best-handling model is the R/T, which sits slightly lower than the other models and has wider 50-series tires on 20-inch wheels. It also has dark-tinted headlight bezels, body color front and rear lower fascias, wheel flares, grille and sill moldings.
The ride is supple, and the brake pedal has an assuring linear feel. It controls the four-wheel anti-lock brakes, which have a brake-assist feature for surer stops.
The upscale, quiet interior has quality materials that fit well together, and there are 5- or 8.4-inch touchscreens with Uconnect Access and navigation with 3D mapping.
An optional new dual-screen Blu-ray video entertainment system has screens mounted on the back of the front power seats. I first saw that setup on a top-line Jaguar XJ sedan several years ago.
Standard safety items include air bags, side curtains and a backup camera with a rear-park assistance system.
I suggest getting the available forward collision warning with crash mitigation, adaptive cruise control with a stop feature, Blind-Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Path detection to prevent close calls in, say, crowded parking lots. Here’s betting you’ll eventually thank me for that recommendation.
My test Durango Citadel had a standard power sunroof and a handy power tailgate.
The rather sexy new Durango excels in most areas and is no dull family vehicle. The V-6 is probably best for many families who don’t do lots of towing, but it’s hard to resist the thundering Hemi V-8.
Pros: Major improvements. Sportier look. Roomy. Agile. Nice ride. Better transmission. Fast with V-8. Third-row seat.
Cons: Rather high step-in. Rather low cargo floor. Low V-8 city fuel economy.
Bottom Line: The 2014 Dodge Durango is a nice blend of practicality and sportiness.
Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.