2011 Dodge Durango
The Mercedes-Benz-based 2011 Dodge Durango is an excellent SUV, selling for about half the price of a comparable Mercedes-Benz GL.
Here’s the skinny: The Durango started life based on the platform of the next Mercedes-Benz GL SUV. So the Mercedes and the Dodge share basic mechanical underpinnings.
The 2011 is refined, comfortable and pleasant to drive. It does, indeed, drive smaller than the 2009 Durango. It comes with a tidy V-6 (290 horsepower) or a Hemi V-8 (360 hp) with an engine cylinder shutoff system designed to save fuel. Pricing starts at $37,995.
The least expensive Durango has all the features and capabilities you’d expect in a rig this size and for this money: seven-passenger seating, all-wheel-drive, a pretty cabin with soft-touch materials wherever your bony bits might rub, plenty of noise-muffling materials (for example, a thick “Acoustic” windshield), automatic temperature control, a touch-screen media centre, hands-free controls, airbags galore and even fog lamps.
The standard Pentastar 3.6-litre V-6 is strong and this version has a 2,812-kilogram towing capacity. You might want the optional 5.7-litre V-8, and its greater fuel thirst, if you plan to pull a heavy trailer (up to 3,266 kg).
I’d put this one on my shopping list if I were looking for a large crossover SUV.
2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8
This is the Jeep with a 2,268-kilogram tow rating and a fire-breathing, 470-horsepower, 6.4-litre, Hemi V-8 under the hood. A track-capable SUV, the Grand Cherokee SRT8 has great brakes, which is what you want in a Jeep with a top speed of 256 km/h.
The 2012 Grand Cherokee SRT8 ($54,995) is the second version of this model, and unlike its predecessor, the highway ride in Auto mode is compliant enough to give the BMW X5 pause. Oh, yes, this Jeep has a suspension with adjustable settings that allow you to dial in the proper ride quality for the circumstances.
Most important of all, though, is the fact this hottie Jeep has the new platform derived from what will soon be the new Mercedes-Benz M-Class. Here we have one fine and very fast Jeep.
2011 Dodge Journey R/T
The improvements made to the 2011 Journey in the last year have been real and noteworthy. This five- or seven-passenger crossover is a family-friendly size and it’s affordable. The lacklustre four-banger (173 horsepower) in the base model isn’t much, though it does come in a version of the Journey starting at $20,995.
Dodge buffed up the 2011 Journey with a sophisticated interior and many useful features. Ride and handling may not be best in class, but the suspension and steering will do fine.
If you can swing it in your budget, forget about the four-banger; get a Journey with the new, more powerful 3.6-litre Pentastar V-6. At $30,995, the R/T with all-wheel-drive is powerful (283 hp), and delivers decent if not astounding fuel economy: 13.0 litres/100 km in the city, 8.4 on the highway.
Dollar for dollar, the R/T is the most rewarding Journey in the lineup. The cabin, with its soft-touch plastics, is no longer an embarrassment of bruising plastic with cheap graining and dull colouring. I am also a fan of the large touch screen in the dash. The readouts are huge and make for easy access to both audio and climate controls.
So, three years after the Journey first arrived, the designers and engineers have done what they should have done from the start. Better late than never.