Some of you may recognize the redesigned Durango from its commercial debut alongside Ron Burgundy, who seemingly has become the spokesman for the new eye-catchingly bold SUV. Dodge brought the Durango back in 2011 after a 3 year hiatus. Now redesigned for 2014, Dodge added a host of LEDs and a smaller grille for a more intimidating front end. The SUVs has had to adapt over the years as crossovers grow in popularity. Very few in this segment continue to offer an optional V8. It’s why we’ve been interested in getting behind the wheel of a Durango R/T. Does the V8 midsize SUV still have a place in the the world of crossovers?
The Durango has an aggressive presence while out on the open road. This is especially true at night, when the LED “racetrack” taillights illuminate. From a design perspective, a lot of work went into making the bar of LED lights look flawless. According to Joe Dehner, head of design for Ram & Dodge, the Durango used an arrangement of 192 LEDs to give the appearance of a single light. Combined with the granite crystal metallic paint, one of best amongst Dodge’s color options, and the R/T’s dark wheels, the new Durango has an intimidating presence.
The focus on interior design is extensive as well. All the touch points are designed to be ergonomic and make use of soft-touch materials. The only complaint was the glare off the dashboard in low-angled sunlight. Our tester came with optional black lux leather-trimmed bucket seats; they were well contoured but felt unexpectedly firm for an SUV. The instrument panel includes an all-new 7″ thin-film display and the optional UConnect system upgrades the center console to an 8.4-inch touchscreen. The infotainment system is currently by far one of the best in the business. It is intuitive and easy to use. The UConnect system works quite well providing text-to-speech capability for text messages and a larger selection of voice controls. It also has the ability to control the Durango’s climate controls. We did have some trouble getting it to shift to night-mode however. More screens come as part of the optional rear entertainment package. The pair of 9″ screens are in the headrests are Blu-Ray and DVD capable.
When it comes to power and ride, the Durango performs. For 2014, all Durangos get a new eight-speed automatic transmission. It shifts relatively smoothly, but we did notice a few times where it could have shifted into a lower gear sooner. The new transmission also improved its fuel economy rating, but rather minimally. The R/T is equipped with the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 shared with the Ram 1500, which has 360 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque. Like the Ram, the Durango R/T has cylinder deactivation to help contain its thirst. A small Eco button on the center console can toggle between savings or all-out power. The AWD Durango R/T is rated 14 city and 22 highway. In the week that we drove it, both city and highway driving, we managed a combined 16.5 mpg. On highways the fuel economy increased quite rapidly and we achieved nearly 22mpg on a longer highway run. A 3.6-liter V6 is also available.
Although the Durango sits quite high and appears very truck-like, it rides and handles in a more car-like manner. Its steering is responsive and handles well on any road, whether a city street or highway. Before getting behind the wheel, I was expecting a stiff ride and was pleasantly surprised—even with the sport suspension that comes with the R/T trim level. Any preconceived opinions you may have about the Durango are quickly extinguished. There’s still a child-like sense of glee in taking manual control of the transmission and running the big V8 towards redline. We know it isn’t good for mileage, but the V8 induction paired with the exhaust rumble on upshift is immensely satisfying. The V8-powered Durango also gets AWD with a locking low-range as standard.
We commend Dodge on the amount of effort they put into the new 2014 Durango R/T. For its demeanor and truck-like appearance it feels much more upscale, which makes it even more appealing. On Dodge’s website they claim “it’s a Dodge muscle-car inspired SUV.” The R/T trim level brings this sentiment to reality. It has the overall performance and gratifying deep exhaust note when accelerating, yet the interior is comfortable and entertaining for passengers. This is not your typical “mom” SUV, even though it has an optional third row. It brings much more to the table—you can drop off the kids at school before having a fun drive to work with a bellowing V8. Clearly Dodge, or Ron Burgundy, has done something right. Sales last month spiked, meaning that the highway just got a little more intimidating.
|2014 Dodge Durango R/T AWD
|Rear DVD Entertainment Center||$1,995|
|Premium Nappa Leather Group||$995|
|Safety/Security and Convenience Group||$825|
|Second-Row Fold/Tumble Captain Chairs||$895|
|As Tested MSRP||$47,500|