Thumbs Up: Comfortable and feature packed, doesn’t ride like a truck.
Thumbs Down: The V6, though improved, could still use more power.
Buy This Truck If: You want a three row SUV designed for the (sub)urban jungle.
If you wanted to buy a Dodge Durango in 2010, your choices were limited to leftovers on dealer lots, since Dodge put the old Durango out to pasture at the end of the 2009 model year. It turns out that that’s a good thing, since it forced Dodge to start with a clean sheet of paper for the 2011 Durango redesign. Like the Ford Explorer, the Durango has graduated from a body-on-frame design to a unibody design, although critics have been far less vocal over the Durango’s switch to unibody than they were the Ford Explorer. The 2011 Dodge Durango gets two new engine choices as well, starting with a 3.6 liter, 290 horsepower V6, good for 80 more horsepower than the previous 3.7 liter V6, but with about 15% better fuel economy. If that’s not good enough for your needs, Dodge offers their updated 5.7 liter Hemi V8 that puts out 360 horsepower and 390 ft lb of torque. That’s down from the previous generation’s 5.7 liter Hemi V8, which put out 376 horsepower and 401 ft lb of torque, but highway fuel economy goes up by 1 MPG to 20.
Take one look at the 2011 Dodge Durango and you’ll see that the platform and engine choices aren’t all that’s been changed. The styling is completely new and far less “truck like” than the outgoing Durango. Previous generations were heavily influenced by the styling of Ram Trucks, but the latest Durango seems to go it’s own way. Dodge still uses the “crosshair” grille to tie back to other products in their lineup, but the Durango has a look that’s all it’s own. The lower roofline almost makes it look like a station wagon instead of an SUV; if you like hairy-chested man trucks, the Durango’s styling probably won’t do much for you. On the other hand, if you prefer clean lines over muscular flanks and bulging fender flares, I’m guessing you’ll like the way the new Durango looks.
The 2011 Dodge Durango shares a platform with the Jeep Grand Cherokee, but it’s an entirely different animal inside and out. In addition to offering third row seating that the Jeep lacks, the Durango has no pretensions of off-road capability. Sure, it’ll handle the dirt road to your summer cabin without any problem, and it’ll do fine in the snow (although I’d strongly recommend the AWD version and good snow tires), but don’t expect to get the Durango as far into the backcountry as you could take a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Both seem to offer similar levels of luxury, but the Durango is for urban exploration where the Grand Cherokee (if properly equipped) is geared more towards the wild.
Inside, my Citadel trim level had all the options you’d expect from a well appointed SUV. The leather front seats are both heated and cooled, and feature slightly firmer padding than in previous Dodge models (which were always a little soft for my tastes). Both driver and passenger get an inflatable lumbar support, which can actually be raised or lowered to increase comfort. Long days behind the wheel of the Durango would be no problem at all, and even a cross-country trip wouldn’t require multiple visits to a chiropractor.
Rear seat passengers get heated leather seats as well, but the rear seats lack the supportive hip and side bolstering of the front. They’re still plenty comfortable, and the driver’s side seat tumbles forward to allow easy access to the third row seats. As with most three row vehicles, the back row is most comfortable for kids, although smaller adults probably won’t complain too much on short trips.
The dash blends soft touch vinyl with contrasting hard plastic (to match interior color). Citadel models get chrome trim around the instruments, vents and infotainment system, and they also get what appears to be dark wood trim between the upper and lower portions of the dash. I suspect this is faux wood, but it looks good enough and doesn’t pop out like some of the brightly colored fake wood trim does. The leather wrapped steering wheel is heated for added comfort on cold days, and contains the same puzzling array of buttons and controls as used on the Jeep Grand Cherokee. If there was one thing about the Durango I didn’t like, it was these non-intuitive steering wheel controls, especially for the (already confusing) audio system. One back-of-wheel button controls the volume, so that’s easy enough to figure out. The second back-of-wheel toggle scrolls through presets. Unless it doesn’t, in which case it jumps to the next station in sequence. Try though I might, I never did figure out exactly how it worked on either the Jeep or the Dodge. Even the infotainment system was needlessly complex; as I complained about with the Jeep, audio systems should be intuitive, and you shouldn’t need to consult the owners manual for operation. When driving, you shouldn’t need to scroll through three screens to change a radio station, either. Please, Chrysler, fix this for the next versions of both vehicles.
The new 3.6 liter V6 is good for 290 horsepower, yet it returns 16 MPG city and 23 MPG highway. In a mix of both, I saw an indicated fuel economy of 19.1 MPG, which is almost exactly what the EPA tells you to expect. Power from this particular engine is adequate, as long as your expectations are reasonable. Zero to sixty takes just over nine seconds, and the Durango definitely pulls harder from a rolling start than it does for a standstill. Dodge says the 3.6 liter equipped Durango can tow up to 6,200 pounds, but I wouldn’t want to try it. If you do need to pull a heavier boat or a trailer, Dodge offers a revised 5.7 liter Hemi V8 for 2011 that increases the towing capacity to 7,400 pounds. This year’s Hemi V8 is down on power from the last version’s, and it only gets 1 MPG better fuel economy on the highway, so I’m a bit puzzled on the changes Dodge made to this year’s 5.7 liter mill. I haven’t driven a Durango with the Hemi V8, so I really can’t comment other than to say that more power in the 2011 Durango wouldn’t be a bad thing.
On the road, the Durango felt more nimble than the Cherokee despite its bulk. There was noticeably less body roll in corners, thanks to the Durango’s reduced ground clearance compared to the Cherokee. The ride was comfortable without being numb, so Dodge gets an enthusiastic thumbs up for their suspension work on the 2011 Durango. As you’d expect, all Durango models come with ABS, stability control, traction control, trailer sway control and side curtain air bags. My Citadel trim level tester also came with blind spot monitoring and a cross-path warning system, both of which worked well without being intrusive. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but I enjoyed driving the Durango more than any other SUV or crossover in recent months. It stacks up quite well against the new Ford Explorer for handling and ride comfort, and I’d really need to drive the two back to back to pick a favorite.
My Durango Citadel RWD came fairly well equipped and had a sticker price of $42,100 including a destination charge of $850. There were no options on my tester, but the only options left at the Citadel trim level, in RWD at least, are the $695 trailer tow group, the $1,495 5.7 liter Hemi V8 and the $1,695 Rear Entertainment Package. By way of comparison, a similarly equipped Ford Explorer would sticker at $42,490 and a comparable Jeep Grand Cherokee (which lacks the third row seating) would sticker at $42,970.
The Durango starts at just under $30,000 for a base model (called the Express) in RWD. Even if you check all the option boxes on an AWD Citadel, the price doesn’t break that $50k mark; that doesn’t make the Durango inexpensive, but it does make it a solid value that compares well against others in the segment.