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March 20, 2013

Current generation Dodge is luxurious, quiet

If your memories of the Dodge Durango are centered around a close cousin of the Ram truck, then throw those memories out the window.

Today's Durango shares nothing at all with its old, truck-like namesake.

In fact, it's surprising that Dodge decided to stick with
the Durango name since the new version shares its bones with the Jeep Grand Cherokee, a smooth-riding, luxurious crossover that in many ways is the polar opposite of the old blue-collar, workhorse Durango.

Despite its name, the Durango is moving into a gated, white-collar neighborhood of the automotive world.

The version I tested called the Citadel — topping the Durango range with a starting price around $40,000 — feels more like a Volvo than a typical Dodge. Not only is it shined up Tiffany-style with lots of bling on the body and 20-inch chrome wheels, but it comes with Nappa leather seats that are heated and cooled.

And even more reminiscent of Volvo are all the high-tech safety features. It's available with adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-path detection — a cocoon of electronic sensors more commonly found on high-end luxury cars.

The ordinary Durango, which starts around $30,000, comes with a 3.6-liter V6 engine that makes 290 horsepower. That's no slouch unless you need to do serious towing. If you need to tow up to 7,100 pounds, you can opt for the 5.7-liter HEMI V8 that makes 360 horses. It's perfect for pulling heavy loads but, unfortunately, is almost reminiscent of the old Durango in fuel economy ratings: 13 mpg in city driving and 20 on the highway with all-wheel drive.

Even that raw HEMI horsepower seems tame and refined under the Durango's blinged-out hood. It's a surprisingly quiet, smooth-riding crossover, which should be no surprise because it shares so many genes with its famous cousin, the Grand Cherokee.

Still, that Durango name may present its biggest challenge. It's a great crossover — which it has to be to stay competitive these days — but it also remains mentally tied to the old Durango in name.

When people think, "I want a luxurious, silent, high-end crossover," rarely will the Dodge Durango be at the top of their mind. Perhaps it should be.

Derek Price is a automotive columnist for CNHI News Service. Contact him at carcolum@gmail.com.

 

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