There sure has been a lot of talk about crossovers around here lately, hasn’t there? Regardless of your opinion on owning a CUV, it’s hard to deny the functionality that a three-row CUV offers the business and/or pleasure rental customer. The ability to carry an entire sales team to a meeting, as well as some presentation materials and suitcases? Useful. The capability to take a family of five to the beach, including assorted coolers and pool toys? Valuable.
Therefore, gents, if you absolutely must have a crossover for your rental or personal needs, well, you might as well have the manliest damn crossover money can buy. That honor goes to the 2016 Dodge Durango. Ladies, I have a feeling that you’ll enjoy the big D, too. Allow me to share my thoughts with you from the week I spent in the ATL with FCA’s entry in the hotly-contested three-row segment.
If you’re anything like me (and really, who isn’t?), you probably have a hard time remembering what the hell all of the various Dodge trim levels mean. My Durango was of the Limited RWD variety, meaning that it sits squarely in the middle of the lineup — below the pimpin-pimpin’ Citadel and HEMI-powered R/T, but above the SXT and SXT Plus. Except for the R/T, all Durangos are gifted with FCA’s ubiquitous 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, which dishes out an impressive 290 horsepower in this particular application. You also get the placidly smooth eight-speed 845RE automatic transmission in all non-R/T models, which helps make the Pentastar even more delightful to pilot.
Stepping up to the Limited gets you a whole host of upgrades, including the uConnect 8.4-inch touchscreen, standard leather-trimmed heated seats in the first and second rows, a rearview camera, and the option to add a DVD entertainment system for your offspring. You also get a blingy badge that says “LIMITED” because Dodge just doesn’t employ a single designer that desires understated details.
The uConnect 8.4 is reason enough to bump up those monthly payments a bit. While it’s not particularly user-friendly for the rental customer trying to figure out exactly how to lower the headrests in the third-row seats, the interface moves quickly and smoothly through the various menus. Nearly everything that you’d want to control as the driver — from music to climate controls — is handled through the uConnect interface. The Durango will even recognize cold exterior and interior temperatures upon start-up and immediately offer you the option to turn on the heated driver and passenger seats, as well as the heated steering wheel. That’s a feature I appreciated greatly during the unseasonably cold Atlanta mornings.
Inexplicably, directly behind that sizzling steering wheel, Dodge saw fit to place some utterly useless paddle shifters. While there is something satisfying about manually ripping through eight gears, I quickly decided that it was a pointless exercise. The 845RE was much better than I was at selecting the right gear, and I just felt stupid shifting gears in a crossover that weighs 4,838 pounds. Maybe there’s an application for towing or something? I don’t tow a lot, but the D is rated for max towing at 7,400 lbs, which is pretty goddamn impressive.
Yet despite this formidable strength and rugged exterior appearance, the Durango is not entirely unpleasant inside. While I find the Durango to be subpar in comparison to the nicer interiors in the class (think Toyota Highlander), it’s not as bad as some would have you believe. The seating is comfortable and supportive, and there is more than enough head and shoulder room in both the first and second row. I didn’t spend any time in the third row, because it should be for children and emotional support dogs.
However, there are a few areas where the Durango falls short of expectations, and the first is in the visibility department. The fifth-generation Camaro is a virtual Willis Tower Skydeck in comparison to the Durango. As someone who is right around the same height as your typical Durango driver (which is to say, slightly taller than most women and Jalopnik writers), I found it impossible to put myself in a seating position that enabled me to see clearly and safely in all directions. Changing lanes was a complete crapshoot; I mostly hoped that other drivers could see me and gave them suitable time to avoid the black behemoth headed in their general direction.
The second issue is in the realm of fuel economy. In the relatively flat Atlanta metropolitan area, and even though I didn’t drive during rush hour traffic, I wasn’t able to coax more than 17 mpg out of the Dodge, and that’s with the horrifically invasive and earth-shaking start/stop technology enabled. It’s the worst fuel economy I’ve ever experienced in a crossover, period. Hell, I used to get similar fuel economy in a Honda Pilot … while towing a Honda S2000 CR on a trailer behind it. Dodge claims a class-leading 27 mpg, and I just can’t understand how anybody could possibly get that number without a Ram truck pulling it downhill with a tow strap.
That being said, from a driver’s perspective, the Durango Limited is the most engaging and powerful crossover you can get for the money. It even sounds powerful, with an exhaust note that matches its masculine presence. If you can actually see the gaps in traffic from the driver’s seat, the Durango can shoot any of them. While the Pentastar does the job, it made me lust a bit for the Hemi-powered R/T Durango, because everybody knows what Baron Acton said about power.
The Durango is the crossover for the guy who doesn’t really want a crossover. It manages to do what the Explorer couldn’t quite, which is make the transition from body-on-frame SUV to CUV while maintaining a muscular visage and muscular performance. The Durango Limited, equipped as my rental was with navigation and power liftgate, retails for $38,885. It looks more money than that, it drives more money than that, and it feels solid as hell. In this segment, I’ve always been in favor of Flex Uber Alles, but if you can only have one vehicle, I’d pick the D.