Road trip: Boston to NYC in a 2019 Dodge Durango GT

The Dodge Durango needs no introduction. The current, third generation of the three-row Dodge Durango has been around since 2011. It received a mild visual update in 2016 but features, trims, special editions, and other subtle changes have been ongoing, as they are with most FCA vehicles. Some of its architecture can date back to days when Daimler-Chrysler existed as one corporation, which I don’t see as a bad thing. Overall it seems like a solid contender in the three-row SUV segment.

Yet, when I talk to potential buyers about three-row SUVs, which happens more often than I care to admit, many of them dismiss the Durango. I may also have dismissed it myself, for reasons I still don’t understand. The weird part is that I really like the Grand Cherokee and the Durango is basically a longer, three-row version of it. I bought my 4Runner because I needed three-row SUV but I didn’t want a Pilot, Highlander, Explorer, and anything that was FWD-based. Having just spent a week with this Durango, I wonder if I made the wrong decision.

The interior is very similar to the Grand Cherokee and the Challenger/Charger twins. The typical Chrysler gauges, button and knob placement, and infotainment are intuitive and easy to use. I could nitpick and say that I’d prefer a separate wiper stalk or a light dimmer that also didn’t control the interior lights like it did in the 1960s, but that’s Dodge’s design prerogative. I find the UConnect infotainment system to be one best ones on the market – fast and easy to use. Unlike other systems, it doesn’t lock one into the Apple CarPlay screen when your phone is connected, but rather integrates it neatly into the vehicle’s other settings and features, making switching back-and-forth easy.

Dodge gives you several middle-row choices. A three-passenger bench is standard. Two captains’ chairs are optional. Those come with either a small console or an optional large console, which this test vehicle had. Personally, I prefer the bench as it provides an extra seat. Without the bench, and with the third row folded, the big Durango essentially becomes a four passenger ride. Typically the captains’ chairs have a benefit of providing an easy access to the third row, at least for kids, but not if there is a console in the way. My other criticism is that the third row does not slide – in other vehicles, sliding middle row allows for more cargo space or more leg-room, depending on the location of the seat. But with the second row folded-and-flipped, the access to the third row is pretty good, even for adults.

This vehicle also had an elegant rear seat DVD/Blue-ray player that’s neatly integrated into the front seats. It’s an easy to use system with two flip-up screens, wireless headphones, and a remote. There are video input for other video sources, such as a video game system. It is easy to work it and there are secondary controls for it from the front touchscreen. It sure provided good entertainment on the road with the DVDs I got from a local library. But there are no streaming options or cool built-in apps like on the Chrysler Pacifica, and at $1995 it isn’t exactly cheap.

One thing I am frequently asked about is the amount of available space behind the third row seats. The Durango happens to have a lot of it. The data for this metric is difficult to find, and if found cargo volume numbers don’t always translate to actual usable space. As seen in the picture, standard carry-on suitcases can fit behind the erected third row seat. There is also a good amount of space in an under-floor locker. On a highly unscientific estimate, if you want more usable space behind the third row, you’ll need a full-size body-on-frame SUV.

The Durango is a unibody SUV with four-wheel independent suspension. What makes the Durango special is that its engine is placed longitudinally and its power is sent predominately to the rear wheels. This setup yields surprisingly good handling and the ability to tow up to 8700-pounds in the powerful SRT model. Lesser V8s tow 7400/7200 (RWD/AWD) pounds, while the V6 models, such as this GT, are limited to a still reasonable 6200-pounds.

On the road the Durango is a smooth cruiser and it handles highway ramps better than expected, with little body roll. While the V6, with its 295-horsepower, is completely adequate for most buyers, I would have chosen a HEMI V8. I imagine that the V8 would provide a better response and refinement, with less shifting. The EPA says that the AWD V6 Durango gets 18/25 MPG city/highway and the V8 AWD gets 14/22 MPG, I believe that in my somewhat heavy-footed driving style, where the V6 had to work a little harder, that difference wouldn’t be as big. In my round trip from Boston to NYC, the V6 AWD Durango got about 20 MPG. That number dropped when driving around Manhattan and Brooklyn but I didn’t reset the trip computer for that drive.

 

Once in the city, I found the Durango to be a little easier to drive and park than a full-size SUV. I managed to easily squeeze it into car-sized street spots but I do have mad parallel parking skills. There is only one camera, rear, on the Durango, and the GT model had back-up beep-beep sensors only in the rear. The one cool feature is the self-braking (edited) system when the vehicle senses that you’re about to hit something despite the camera and beep-beep sensors. My wife needs that…

One thing I found to be insufficient on this Durango were the halogen headlights. They were simply weak and didn’t illuminate the road properly. High-beams were not much brighter. HID headlights are a part of an optional Safety/Security and Convenience Group, which is not available on all models. FCA just can’t seem to get the headlights right on its base model vehicles – you may recall me replacing the headlights on my mother’s Wrangler with a set of LED units.

The AWD GT PLUS model pictured here is around $49,000 because options such as the DVD player, captains’ chairs with a large console, and a performance hood drove it up. But the 2019 Durango can be configured in low/mid-thirties. But don’t be fooled by the MSRP. There are currently many rebates available and the actual sale price, as per TrueCar, is significantly lower.

The Durango is an interesting beast. It’s big without being large. Its chassis layout and V8 options make it desirable for the enthusiast parent. Its got the ability to easily tow a large camper or a track/toy car. And isn’t another blah Highlander/Pilot/Explorer. It’s a shame that more people don’t consider it and I kind of regret overlooking it myself.

[Disclaimer: FCA provided the vehicle for the purpose of this review. All images copyright Kamil Kaluski/Hooniverse 2019]

16 Comments

  1. I like the Grand Cherokee interior better than the Durango, but I think I’d opt Durango between the two, even though I don’t need the third row. I think the R/T hits the sweet spot.

    Anyone who checks the “performance hood” option on their V6 Durango needs to be… well not shot or anything, but we should all point, and laugh derisively in their direction.

  2. I was kind of hoping this would be a road trip story. I envisioned White Hen Pantry vs. Wawa coffee trials, a nuanced exegesis on the regional styles of completely batshit driving, and perhaps some complaints about the weather. All I learned was that Howard Stern is, inexplicably, still allowed a voice and people are still watching videos of cat butts.

  3. Seems like a handy vehicle, the V8 would probably be a bit heavy on fuel. I wonder how close FCA Australia came to selling the Durango here. The JGC is their best seller by far and most competition has 3 rows. They’d want to do a diesel though, 40-50% of JGC are sold that way here (might even be higher).

    1. The Hemi isn’t actually that far off the V6 in real world usage. It’s hard to compare exactly (since different driver and conditions), but in extended highway driving with an R/T a few years ago, I eked out about 20mpg (12L/100km) – even around town, I think I was about 16 mpg (15 L/100km).

      I suppose it’s interesting, that we get (got? I know emissions have been a problem) the diesel Grand Cherokee, and a diesel Ram 1500, but the Durango never got it. I think because they’re angling for a performance thing with the Durango (ride of choice for Nascar Dads, I guess).

        1. This is fair. Although, considering 3-row crossovers are still fairly big business, it’s surprising FCA doesn’t want to pursue more sales of a fairly competitive product. Mind you, I don’t know if a diesel engine would drive much difference – it’d be a unique selling point, but I don’t think it would bring enough buyers on board.

          1. I don’t know either. Maybe advertise it better?
            MB sells half as many GLSs but at a much higher profit. They, and BMW in the X5 (often cross-shopped), did offer a diesel. And the Land Rover Discovery, sold even in smaller numbers, is also available with a diesel engine. But that cannot possibly be their selling points. Perhaps it simply meets FCA’s outlook?

          2. Those 3 are interesting, a huge amount of their sales outside the US would be diesel for the torque and economy, but they also sell a lot of V8s to people who just don’t care about running costs.

            Aren’t they going to bring back a Jeep 3 row? While it will cannibalise the JGC I’m sure it will do better than the Durango (not sure they sell that in many other markets).

          3. Yes, the Grand Wagoneer. It’s in their master plan. When, I do not know. They pushed up a lot of their vehicles, keeping core models around longer.

  4. Halogen headlights on a $50 grand vehicle? When lots of cars costing half as much have standard LED or HID? (to be fair, I just noticed the same thing in a loaded rental Murano.)

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