Full-size crossovers and SUVs aren't the biggest market movers in Canada, accounting for only six per cent of sales. But three-row SUVs such as the Dodge Durango are hot commodities in the United States.
Since the first-generation Durango was introduced in 1998, Dodge has sold more than 1.4 million Durangos in the United States. "So the advantage to Canada is that the U.S. wants to have a very competitive Durango and we're the beneficiaries of that," says Ed Broadbear, vice-president, marketing, at Chrysler Canada.
For 2014, the Durango undergoes a mid-life refresh that includes all-new wheel designs, revamped front and rear fascias, more technology, a new trim and a new eight-speed automatic transmission.
The 2014 Durango comes in five models: SXT, Rallye, Limited, R/T and Citadel. The Limited is all-new for 2014 – it replaces the 2013 Crew Plus model – and costs $43,995, which is $3,500 less than the outgoing trim, and it adds $2,500 worth of extra goodies – including leather seats, heated front and second-row seats, 18-inch polished aluminum wheels, power front seats, park assist, a rear-back up camera, a remote start system, and a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel. I'd take this model – it's only a few thousand more than the base SXT's $39,995 price tag.
The most expensive Durango is the Citadel, which costs $51,995 and includes nappa leather bucket seats, 20-inch polished aluminum wheels, ventilated front seats, a power sunroof, power eight-way driver and passenger seats, a power liftgate and a power tilt/telescoping steering column.
You can opt for the standard 3.6-litre Pentastar V-6, which delivers 290 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, or the optional 5.7-littre Hemi with 360 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission with a new rotary dial shifter is mated to both engines. It improves fuel economy by 15 per cent on the V-8 and 12.5 per cent on the V-6. You can also manually shift gears with large paddle shifters on the back of the redesigned three-spoke steering wheel.
When it comes to towing, the Durango is a powerhouse. The Hemi V-8 can tow 3,265 kilograms, while the V-6 can tow 2,812 kg. I tested a Durango Rallye V-6 by towing a 2,041-kg Airstream RV. Around the city streets, it handles impeccably. The engine isn't strained or overworked. Without the trailer, the V-6 is quiet, composed and secure on the road – I prefer it over the Hemi V-8.
New technology helps save fuel, too. A new Eco Mode cuts the fuel delivery when the vehicle is coasting to reduce fuel consumption. The SUV automatically starts in Eco Mode, but you can disengage the system by hitting a button on the centre stack if you want a more spirited ride. The 5.7-litre engine has cylinder deactivation, which saves fuel by alternating between four cylinders when less power is needed or using all eight cylinders when more power is needed.
Dodge's signature split-crosshair grille gets a little slimmer with mesh textures unique to each trim. New redesigned projector-beam headlamps, a taller front bumper, new projector fog lamps and a sharply sculpted hood give it a prominent, sinister look. The lighting has changed, too. You'll notice it especially on the rear. The Durango now resembles its siblings, the Charger and the Dart, wearing Dodge's signature all-new racetrack rear tail lamps with 192 LEDs. Seven wheel designs from 18 to 20-inch are also available in silver painted, polished aluminum, or my favourite, Hyper Black.
The Durango seats seven in three rows – two in the first, three in the second, and two in the third row. But I'd take the optional two captain's chairs with a pass-through centre console in the second row. If you have car seats in both chairs they can stay latched and you can still easily access the third-row seats. You don't have to fiddle with fickle fold and tumble seats to access the third row. With all three rows in use, the cargo area is large with 487 litres of space. Drop the third row and it expands to 1,350 litres.
The interior is upscale and features a new instrument panel with a redesigned centre stack that is user-friendly and intuitive. One of the best changes is an optional Blu-ray rear entertainment system. It comes with two high-definition nine-inch screens located on each front sea back, which is a much better spot than the single high-mounted centre screen on the previous version. If you have two kids, they can each watch their own shows with the wireless headphones.
2014 Dodge Durango
Type: Three-row, seven-passenger full-size SUV
Price range: $39,995-$51,995
Engines: 3.6-litre V-6 or 5.7-litre V-8
Horsepower/torque: 290 hp/260 lb-ft for V-6; 360 hp/390 lb-ft for V-8
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.4 city/8.3 highway for V-6; 15.6 city/9.1 highway for V-8; regular gas
Alternatives: Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder, GMC Acadia, Buick Enclave, Toyota Highlander, Chevrolet Traverse