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2011 Dodge Durango
Dodge's go-anywhere wagon applies for reinstatement into the sport utility club

By Malcolm Gunn

2011 Dodge DurangoOnce left for dead, the Dodge Durango has made a surprising comeback for 2011, after a two-year absence. Still, it faces an uncertain future as steadily rising fuel costs could derail its return before it really gets off the ground.

Chrysler has redesigned or reformulated most of its 2011 product lineup and nowhere is that more evident than in the Durango. The model was considered dead and buried by late 2008, but clearly Dodge had other plans.

They included building the big sport ute on a modified Jeep Grand Cherokee platform that's also being employed in the next-generation Mercedes-Benz M-Class.

Modifications include extending the distance between the front and rear wheels by nearly 13 centimetres and overall length by 25 centimetres to allow space for a third-row seat. The new Durango is now closely similar to the previous version, but is much easier to enter and exit due to its considerably less truck-like ride height.

2011 Dodge DurangoThe redesign has resulted in the best-looking Durango since the brand's 1998-model-year arrival. A bold cross-hair grille conveys a strong sense of Dodge-style attitude, while the views from the sides and rear are stylishly attractive in a way that the old Durango could only imagine. Dodge has also placed considerable effort on ensuring that the gaps between the various body panels have been reduced to an absolute minimum.

That goes double for the all-new car-like interior, with soft-touch dashboard and door panels, upgraded seats and a steering wheel with thumb-sized audio, cruise and communication controls that should be relatively easy to master.

All three of the Durango's trim levels - SXT, Crew Plus and Citadel - arrive with a 290-horsepower 3.6-litre V6, rated at 13.0 l/100 km city and 8.9 on the highway. Available on all but the base model is a 360-horsepower 5.7-litre "Hemi" V8 that deactivates half of its cylinders under cruise, coast and deceleration conditions, helping it achieve fuel-economy rating of 16.6 l/100 km in city driving and 10.1 on the highway. The old V8 Durango of similar weight achieved a 18.0/13.0 rating.

Standard on all engines is a five-speed automatic transmission, however, word is that an all-new unit with as many as eight forward gears will come on stream later this year.

Towing capacities will give the Durango's competitors a run for their money, especially V8 models that can pull up to 3,265 kilograms worth of boat, horse or vacation trailer. V6 units offer a 2,800-kilogram towing capacity, which is more than the old Durango's base 3.7-litre V6 or optional 4.7-litre V8.

2011 Dodge DurangoAll-wheel-drive is standard, but exact system depends on engine choice. V6 models use a permanently engaged system that automatically varies the torque between the front and rear wheels, depending on where it's needed. Choosing the V8 gets you a part-time unit with a two-speed transfer case for those times when maximum torque is needed, during severe off-roading and when heading up and down steep grades.

The base Durango SXT comes with more than just the basics, including climate control, three-row seating, fold-flat front passenger seat, heated outside mirrors, 18-inch wheels and hill-start assist that keeps the vehicle from rolling backward when stopped on an incline.

The remaining two trims pile it on with leather seats (heated and power controlled in front), push-button ignition, 20-inch chrome wheels,power liftgate and a touch-screen navigation system, to name just a sampling.

At about $39,500 (including destination charges), the base Durango is roughly $5,000 less expensive than the previous edition (with its standard 4.7-litre V8), making it more competitive with others in its class.

Certainly there will always be a need for the power and passenger capacity offered by the Dodge Durango. However it remains to be seen if a two-year absence will affect its ability to make friends among the changing New World Order of sport ute fanatics.

What you should know: 2011 Dodge Durango

Type: Four-door, all-wheel-drive, seven-passenger sport utility vehicle
Engines (hp): 3.6-litre DOHC V6 (290); 5.7-litre OHV V8 (360)
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Market position: The revived Durango follows the path of many other vehicles in the same class by doing away with the ladder frame and instead concentrating on ride comfort and fuel economy. Being based on a Jeep helps street cred.
Points: Rejuvenated model the most attractive Durango yet; Base V6 stronger that previous model's base V6 and V8 powerplants; Fuel economy no better/worse than others in its class; Watch for return of SRT performance model for 2012 model year; Durango and its competition could be in for rough ride if fuel costs continue to climb.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
L/100 km (city/hwy): 13.0/8.9 (3.6)
Base price (incl. destination): $39,500

By comparison     

Chevrolet Traverse AWD
Base price: $40,300
Comparable to Durango in size and fuel economy, but lacks a V8 option.

Ford Explorer 4WD
Base price: $34,550
New-for-'11 model also loses its truck frame. A thrifty turbo I4 is optional.

Mazda CX-9 AWD
Base price: $40,100
Sharply styled model specializes in behaving like a sedan on the road.

Malcolm Gunn is an automotive writer based in Moncton, NB, and a regular contributor to CarTest!

Posted May 25, 2011. © CarTest.ca TM


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