2012 Dodge Durango Crew HD Video Review

Picture this- I’m loading groceries into a Dodge Durango as a woman walks past to her Civic hybrid.  My “spidey sense” tells me she’s trying to hide her distain for the ute.  It isn’t working.  “That’s really big. Thought they stopped making things like that” she says surveying ute.  “People still tow stuff like boats, snowmobiles and jets skis” I offer up.  “That would not be good for your Honda”.

2011 Dodge Durango Crew

A light bulb switches on, her attitude softens.  “My dad towed his fishing boat with his old Ford pickup. It was really neat”. “Same thing with this” I say “only it holds seven people and has a DVD player”.  This actually gets a smile.

Loving To Loathe SUVs

People accept pickup trucks with their folksy Americana get-er-done image but sport utility vehicles picked up baggage as gas prices climbed to record levels.  The poster child of excess in the 90’s, the toughest duty many of them ever saw was a dirt parking lot dropping off a couple kids at the soccer pitch.

The SUV party ended fast and hard after people sobered up and realized they didn’t need a big truck to haul Brandon and Tiffini to daycare.  None was affected more than Durango.  Dodge pulled the plug on it and sister Chrysler Aspen.

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But now Durango is back.  With a vengeance.  The second generation was nice enough but the 2011 model clearly intends to impress inside and out.  Gone is the lackluster interior, replaced with a simple but elegant instrument panel with bright clear gauges. Gentle curves flow through the body, giving the impression the exterior designers were drinking Coca-Cola from bottles, not cans.  It’s an attractive and balanced piece of art, Durango gets a lot of compliments.

A German Surprise

This sleek ute looks like an All-American but underneath the svelte sheetmetal lays German lineage.  It rides on the same chassis structure as Mercedes sport utes.  The underlying platform was jointly developed for M, GL, Durango, and Jeep Grand Cherokee, thus becoming the last vestiges of the Chrysler-Mercedes union.  Compared to Grand Cherokee, Durango’s wheelbase is stretched by 5 inches with the whole vehicle growing in length by 10 inches to accommodate the third row of seats.

2011 Dodge Durango

The powertrain is completely different from the Merc.  My tester, a mid-level Crew model, is powered by the ubiquitous Pentastar V-6 that makes 290 horsepower here.  The all-wheel drive system on my tester is completely automatic, the transmission is a five-speed with manual shift mode.  Check with your Dodge dealer about your particular needs, there are two flavors of AWD with Durango.

There is a 360 horse 5.7-liter V-8 HEMI option but most buyers will be happy with the six-cylinder.  It’s smooth, sounds good and offers up solid acceleration. 0-60 happens in 8.5 seconds.

Easy Rider

Durango is a refined cruiser, ride quality is smooth and comfortable without being soft and mushy.  It’s as nimble in the corners as a seven-passenger sport-utility could hope to be.  Compared to Explorer the ride is smoother and more comfortable, though the Ford is a bit more crisp in the corners.

2011 Dodge Durango

Durango is no poseur, the V6 can tow 6,200 pounds, the HEMI V8 hauls 7,400. The all-wheel drive system is very capable but not for severe bolder hopping like brother Jeep Grand Cherokee.  EPA rated fuel economy is 16 city, 22 highway, decent considering it’s capabilities.

Inside Story

The step-in height is a bit high for some, no doubt aftermarket running boards would be handy.   Once inside, Durango looks pretty good.  Gauges are bright and easy to read, plastics have a quality feel, and so do the door releases.  Chrysler’s U-Connect system is not as sophisticated as, say Ford’s Sync or BMW iDrive, but it’s very easy to use so some will see it as a positive, not a negative.  Phones and iPods are supported.

2011 Dodge Durango

A nine speaker, 505-watt sound system does justice to your music collection and you can store much of it on the internal hard drive.  The Garmin nav system has a simple interface and the touch screen displays the backup cam.  Would be nice if there was a downward view for hooking up a trailer when solo.

There are many places to stash things.  Directional reading lights on the ceiling don’t bother the driver at night.  A button up front remotely drops the headrests of the third floor.  That’s a nice touch.

Three adults will be good-to-go in the second row.  It’s easy to get comfortable with a foldable center armrest and reclining seats.  Nice that the drive shaft tunnel has a very low profile. 2011 Dodge Durango  There’s storage for small stuff in the doors and pockets on the seat backs.  Hooks on the seats are good for hanging bags and passengers can dial in their own temperature in the back.  Crew comes with a 115v household type outlet and hook ups for a video game console are added when ordering the DVD entertainment system.

Easy Access

Second and third row seatbacks drop as expected to create a huge space plus the front seat folds forward to haul long things or act like a kind of tray for the driver.  If something needs to be lashed to the roof, the cross rails stow in the roof rack’s side rails so they’re always ready for use.  Also clever is a retractable security shade with extendable ends that snap into place so it can be used in two different positions.

Unlike some sport utes, the second row tumbles out of the way on both sides to clear the way for passengers to move into row number three.  Surprisingly two average sized adults will be okay in this space and the seat is raised “theater style” so visibility is good.

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My only real gripe?  With all the great features Durango has such as satellite television, auto high beams, rain sensitive wipers, keyless ignition, power liftgate and lighted cupholders it’s surprising to find the seats in my tester aren’t heated.

Why Keyless Rules

If you have your hands full, just keep the transponder in pocket or purse.  Unlock the door by pushing a small little chiclet on the exterior of the vehicle and pull the door handle (or lift the latch on the hatch).  Great for parents with their hands full of kids or groceries.  Durango’s tailgate is a little on the slow side and it doesn’t like to be hurried.

With the third row usable, there’s still a decent amount of room back here (four packs of TP) and under the floor there’s a place to keep a computer bag out of sight.  The third row drops very simply.  With that done, Durango effortlessly swallows up 18 bundles of my normal test metric.  That’s a pretty big cargo hold.

2011 Dodge Durango

Other utes that compete with Durango?  There’s Chevy Tahoe, GMC Yukon, Toyota Sequoia, Nissan Armada, and Ford Explorer.  And yes, the Ford has less towing capability at 5,000 pounds but it’s still very capable for many people.

A rear-drive Durango starts at 30 grand before incentives.  The mid-line Crew model I’ve driven for a week retails for 40 large.   SUV’s may not be flying off dealer lots the way they used to but for those who need to tow their toys, Durango is a compelling package.  Chrysler products have another hurdle other than high gas prices- a reputation for poor interior quality.  That’s a thing of the past but images die hard.  If Dodge can get people in the door, this ute should sell well in its class.  Those shopping for a hard working and capable sport-ute should put Durango on their test drive list.

FULL GALLERY BELOW.  ALL STILL PHOTOS PROVIDED BY DODGE.

6 Comments

  1. Toaster says:

    Nice review, as always Tom.

    I like this new Durango. I’ve always kinda liked the Durango for some reason, but it looks much improved. Love the crossrails!

    I guess the Ford has a tech advantage but the Dodge tows more. Still 5000 lbs. is plenty of towing power for me. Which has a roomier 2nd and 3rd row? Looks like the Durango might have a bit of a storage capacity advantage too.

    Very competitive segment and there are lots of good vehicles to choose from.

    I think I’d still go with the Ford, but this is a good option!

  2. crash says:

    ‘You knew that…you’re car guys’ – classic line Tom!

    Speaking of 8 speed tranny’s in the 300 / Charger – any idea on when you’ll get behind the wheel of one of those?

  3. dcfoster3 says:

    $40k without leather seats? Thats a little ridiculous. I have to give Chrysler props for improving its entire line-up though. The new 300 with the eight-speed auto transmission looks amazing and gets 31 mpg.

    • Ted says:

      R/T 4WD with leather/NAV/HID lamps retails under 40k…

      • TV says:

        True, it’s all on how you equip it. Personally I would never buy a DVD entertainment system. It’s much cheaper to buy a refurbished iPad for $300 and it has more functionality for the kids.