If youâ€™re over a certain age â€“ say 30, or 35 for sure â€“ you remember the large sedans of the â€˜90s. Comfortable, quiet, and roomy, those LeSabres and Park Avenues werenâ€™t fun for enthusiasts, but they moved five or six people across town with relaxed ease.
Thatâ€™s now the purpose of lots of crossovers, including the Dodge Durango pictured here. Theyâ€™re built to haul families and cargo in comfort, and if theyâ€™re even a little bit fun to drive, well, thatâ€™s gravy.
That means, on balance, I tend to look askew at this category of vehicles, no matter how well theyâ€™re built or how well they do their assigned job. I like cars that are fun to drive, and I prefer sedans, wagons, and hatchbacks. Which means I am not the average consumer.
For the average buyer â€“ the one that counts for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles â€“ the priorities are different, and not so different from that of the large, front-wheel-drive sedans that once roamed suburbia before demands for utility and a higher seating position collided with the proliferation of unibody architecture, causing demand for crossovers of all sizes to explode.
All this rambling means that thereâ€™s more than one way to judge vehicles. Do you judge them based on how fun they are to drive and how they resonate with your enthusiast tendencies, or do you judge them based on how well they do their intended job, or some combination of both?
Full disclosure: FCA paid the shipping costs to return sunglasses I had left inside the vehicle, despite my protestation that doing so wasnâ€™t necessary.
For me, for most reviews, I try to judge on a combination of how well a vehicle executes its given duties and how much it taps into my enthusiast side. The Durango is great at the former and so-so at the latter.
Letâ€™s start with the 3.6-liter V6 under hood. Thanks to the all-wheel drive setup and a curb weight just shy of 5,000 pounds, acceleration from the 295 horsepower/260 lb-ft of torque mill isnâ€™t quite as stout as it might be, but thereâ€™s still enough punch for passing and merging. You just need a little patience to let the eight-speed automatic transmission do its work. If you want more power, your local Dodge store has a Hemi V8 or an SRT version of the Durango to sell you.
At least the automatic fades into the background, with no evidence of hard shifts.
Dodge has blessed the Durango with well-weighted steering that tightens nicely in Sport mode â€“ the Durango continues to have steering that is far less distant than that of its competition. That doesnâ€™t make it â€œsporty,â€� per se, but at least you feel engaged with what the wheels are doing, which is somewhat of a rarity among family-hauling crossovers.
When the press-fleet employee dropped the Durango off outside my building, he remarked that the Durango was one nice-riding vehicle, and he wasnâ€™t wrong. I schlepped myself to the suburbs three times while in possession of the Durango and found it to be plenty comfortable even on the Chicago areaâ€™s not-so-well maintained expressways and tollways.
Inside, the Durango offers plenty of knobs for radio and HVAC (yes!) controls, and UConnect remains one of the better infotainment systems out there, but some things disappoint. I was frustrated by the lack of buttons for the seat heaters and heated steering wheel. I shouldnâ€™t have to hunt through touch-screen menus to activate them, and nor should you. Yes, the icons are shown on the screen during startup, but one must be quick before they fade.
Ease of use aside, UConnect was occasionally slow to come to life and switch menus after startup. Maybe infotainment systems are like engines â€“ they need to warm up.
I also was dismayed by the presence of cheap plastic in a $50,000 vehicle. Most of these plastic bits were lower on the center stack or dash, and not easily seen, nor were they major touchpoints, but Dodge is one among many automakers that still seems to cut corners a bit when it comes to trim. You get the good-looking and good-feeling materials up high, but look about and youâ€™ll see signs of dollars saved. Dodge isnâ€™t the only make to do this, but itâ€™s frustrating nonetheless.
Room isnâ€™t an issue â€“ legroom and headroom are plentiful in this thing. The second-row captainâ€™s chairs sit opposite personal DVD screens. Thatâ€™s great for silencing children but the remote cut deeply into center-console room, eating up most of the space in the shallow unit.
Exterior styling remains bold, and for lack of a better word, â€œmasculine.â€� Definitely truck-like, and still attractive despite the fact that this generation Durango has been around a while. I didnâ€™t dig the blackout wheels on my tester, but to each his (or her) own.
No one expects great fuel-economy from a full-size crossover, but the Durango showed a range of over 500 miles when full, and I saw around 20 mpg on the trip computer. That range is no doubt helped by a fuel tank that holds nearly 25 gallons.
Available features included a power liftgate, blind-spot monitoring, cross-path detection, power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, the aforementioned rear-seat DVD, sunroof, heated second-row seats, and a trailer-towing package. Among those, the blind-spot monitoring system stands out for its intrusive override of the premium audio system, while the power liftgate confounds the impatient. If you try to lift it manually, it gets mad and shuts.
I found myself becoming more and more charmed by the Durango as time went by. It performs just well enough to engage the driver, it has enough guts for around-town driving without prodigiously sucking fuel, and it delivers comfort and room in spades. Its controls are easy to use, with minor exceptions.
Downsides include its heft and overall size, along with some touches of cheapness. A few electronic systems have annoying quirks. And 20 mpg is nothing to write home about (thought not awful given the Durango’s size), impressive range aside.
Personally, I donâ€™t have much love for large crossovers or SUVs (regardless of frame type) but I understand why lots of buyers do. The Durango does what itâ€™s supposed to, and thatâ€™s not too much to ask.
[Images: Â© 2017 Tim Healey/The Truth About Cars]