We’ll cut to the chase: This 2011 Dodge Durangois the brand’s best vehicle not called Charger. After a two-year hiatus, the Durango is back, with a unibody design based on the same underpinnings that spawned Jeep’s stellar 2011Grand Cherokee, which came in tops in its first comparo. As handsome as the last one was brash, the 2011 Durango offers rear- or all-wheel drive, standard seven-butt seating (the Jeep is shorter and seats only five), a swank soft-touch and chrome-trimmed interior, and assembly quality that rivals anything else in the segment. Although the new Durango is heavy—weights are quoted at 4750 to 5100 pounds with the V-6 and 5200 to 5350 pounds with the Hemi V-8—Dodge is nonetheless positioning it as a performance-oriented alternative to the current segment offerings, a claim backed up by the retention of rear-wheel drive and the resurrection of the Durango R/T, which nabs a standard Hemi V-8, unique exhaust tuning, sportier styling, and a lowered, tuned suspension.
We sampled V-6– and V-8–powered Durangos on the roads in and around Napa Valley, California, and as with the new Grand Cherokee, the Teutonic foundations—the architecture will also be put to work under the next Mercedes M-class—pay big dividends in the driving department. The base 290-hp, 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 is quiet and smooth, although it needs to be revved to its 6400-rpm redline to access all 290 hp. Its torque peak of 260 lb-ft is also somewhat high at 4800 rpm, so we often found ourselves deep in the throttle in our attempt to drive with any sense of spirit. With 360 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque at a more accessible 5150 and 4250 rpm, respectively, the Hemi V-8 makes for brisker acceleration, with an extroverted rumble replacing the V-6’s mechanized whir.
We didn’t have time to strap on test gear to any vehicles, but we expect the heavier Durango to add 0.2 to 0.3 second to the 0-to-60-mph times we’ve attained from Grand Cherokees with similar powertrains (we recorded 8.4 seconds in V-6 Laredo trim and 7.5 seconds in V-8 Overland regalia, both with four-wheel drive). Chrysler’s planned swap of both vehicles’ ho-hum five-speed automatics for more modern units with at least one more ratio could help hasten acceleration. (Most Pentastar-equipped Chrysler vehicles have six-speed automatics; a ZF-designed, Chrysler-built eight-speed is also in the company’s future.) The extra gears should help raise the Durango’s marginal-to-awful fuel-economy figures, estimated at 16 mpg city and 22 to 23 highway for V-6 versions and 13 to 14 mpg city and 20 highway for V-8 models. (Many vehicles in the segment return similar numbers, but that doesn’t make them any more acceptable.)
Thanks to: Car and Driver