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car review

2012 Dodge Durango.

Driving the 360-hp, 5.7-litre Hemi-powered 2012 Dodge Durango Citadel AWD will curl your toes.

Not because the acceleration of this 2 3/4-tonner is scary quick – it would need a nuclear reactor not a Hemi under the hood to seriously raise your pulse rate – but because after driving it and watching the fuel gauge needle descend at a determinedly steady rate, you find yourself curling your toes to depress the throttle pedal with more delicacy. And possibly thinking about investing in a pedicure to make throttle application daintier still.

Not that it helps much. Despite improved aerodynamics and the Hemi's multi-displacement technology – that cuts the spark to unneeded cylinders – plus a new six-speed automatic for 2012, the Durango's fuel economy ratings are 16.6 litres/100 km city and 10.0 highway. But in the real world plan on 17-plus in downtown traffic and 12-plus when cruising with the traffic flow on a four-lane. Which is pretty daunting, but the price you'll have to pay if driving something this size and with this level of power is what you need.

"Need" being the operative word here, as driving this large, cumbersome vehicle isn't something you should choose to do on a daily basis if you don't have to. And driving one just because you could afford to put gas in it isn't very sensible. Not like, say, driving a Dodge Challenger SRT8 392 with 6.4 litres and 470 hp. Now that would be fun, whereas the Durango basically isn't.

The Durango reappeared after going missing for a couple of years in all-new. third-generation form for 2011 that saw it trade its truck-based SUV roots for a kinder gentler more crossover-y approach with an emphasis shifted from serious rock-crawling (which nobody did in one anyway) to improved highway manners.

Dodge is meeting different levels of customer need with four all-wheel-drive versions of the Durango that have a few new features for 2012. They start with the 3.6-litre, 290-hp six-cylinder SXT at $37,995; then step up to the V-6 Crew Plus at $46,195 and then to the Hemi-powered R/T for $47,195 and then the Citadel this review is based on, which goes for $50,195.

The new Durango is based on the Jeep Cherokee's underneath bits (with a stretched wheelbase), which means it's now a modern "unibody" rather than old-school SUV body-on-frame design. And it comes with updated steering and suspension, including an independent multi-link system at the rear, that give it much improved driving manners. Its mass means it's a lot less than agile, and will put a premium on tire grip in slippery conditions, but it's easy and pleasant enough to drive.

But it's still really big, despite an overall length pared 25 mm to 5,075 mm, and it's also significantly wider, although a little lower in the name of much improved aerodynamics than the old one. And still very capable, able to hold seven inside now (you could wedge eight into the previous version) or fit 2,390 litres (down from 2,900 litres) of cargo inside.

With the Hemi motor, the Durango can tow a moderately prodigious 3,357 kg and, despite having evolved from its more primitive previous form, it can still tackle rugged-road and likely (we didn't venture off tarmac) moderately tough off-road challenges with a useful 207 mm of ground clearance and an all-wheel-drive system with two-range transfer case. The automatic AWD system's low range will likely be put to use by most users on boat-launching ramps.

The V-6 offered in the Durango will likely suit most owners' power needs and with fuel economy numbers of 13.0 litres/100 km city and 8.8 highway maybe save them some money.

But there's no denying the 5.7-litre Hemi delivers serious power. It makes 360 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque and, when you flatten the pedal, produces a great V-8 sound and a surge of momentum that you'll enjoy, but possibly feel guilty about, not to mention the pangs of pain it will induce in your wallet area.

Its bulk and fuel burn rate are about all that's not to like about the Durango, however, particularly in Citadel form.

The interior of the gold test vehicle was done in black leather with white stitching and touches of chrome for sparkle. Not overly fancy in keeping with its truck-y nature, but nicely done and fitted with power, heated, ventilated seats, a power sunroof, navigation, a good sound system, heated/leather wrapped wheel, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and remote start. The power tailgate is a nice touch and gives wide access to the cargo area. The passenger-side middle-seat folds out of the way to allow access to the rear seats.

The driving position is fine, the big leather-wrapped wheel feels good in your hands, things you need to work with are where they should be, it's quiet and tracks with the stability of a bulk tanker at highway speeds.

Options included a $300 off-road protection kit, $1,300 rear DVD system, $750 trailer tow package with self-levelling rear suspension and the $2,000 Hemi engine, which brought the price to $57,045.

Chrysler has done a great job of turning the traditional-style Durango into a new-age crossover that still retains the capabilities it needs to get the job done for people who need a vehicle of this type.

2012 Dodge Durango Citadel AWD

Type: Luxury crossover

Base Price: $50,195; as tested, $57,045

Engine: 5.7-litre, Hemi V-8

Horsepower/torque: 360 hp/390 lb-ft

Drive: All-wheel

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 16.6 city/10.0 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Buick Enclave, Ford Expedition, Acura MDX, BMW X5, Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Acadia, Mazda CX-9