2017 Dodge Durango GT AWD Review - Modernity Meets the Large Cruiser
2017 Dodge Durango GT AWD
If you’re over a certain age – say 30, or 35 for sure – you remember the large sedans of the ‘90s. Comfortable, quiet, and roomy, those LeSabres and Park Avenues weren’t fun for enthusiasts, but they moved five or six people across town with relaxed ease.
That’s now the purpose of lots of crossovers, including the Dodge Durango pictured here. They’re built to haul families and cargo in comfort, and if they’re even a little bit fun to drive, well, that’s gravy.
That means, on balance, I tend to look askew at this category of vehicles, no matter how well they’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 – the one that counts for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles – 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 there’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 wasn’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.
Let’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 isn’t quite as stout as it might be, but there’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 – the Durango continues to have steering that is far less distant than that of its competition. That doesn’t make it “sporty,” 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 wasn’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 area’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 shouldn’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 – 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 you’ll see signs of dollars saved. Dodge isn’t the only make to do this, but it’s frustrating nonetheless.
Room isn’t an issue – legroom and headroom are plentiful in this thing. The second-row captain’s chairs sit opposite personal DVD screens. That’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, “masculine.” Definitely truck-like, and still attractive despite the fact that this generation Durango has been around a while. I didn’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 don’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 it’s supposed to, and that’s not too much to ask.
[Images: © 2017 Tim Healey/The Truth About Cars]
Join the conversation
Latest Car ReviewsRead more
Latest Product ReviewsRead more
- The Oracle I say let the clunkers stay on the roads.
- Jpolicke Twenty-three grand for a basket case? And it has '66 wheel covers and gas cap so who knows what else isn't original?
- Scott Can't be a real 1965 Stang as all of those are nothing but a pile of rust that MIGHT be car shaped by now.
- 56m65711446 So, the engineers/designers that brought us the Pinto are still working at Ford!
- Spookiness I dig it. The colors are already available on the CX-50. The terracotta is like a nice saddle brown. The non-turbo Carbon Edition has a bluish gray and a burgundy leather interior. A nice break from the typical relentless black and 50 shade of gray palette. Early CX-30's had some dark navy blue (armest, console, and parts of the door) but I guess that was just too weird and radical so they switched to all-black.I'd be fine with cloth in colors, leather is over-rated, but I'll never have an all-black interior in a car ever again.
I drive a 2015 Durango Limited (the GT seems to have replaced the Limited trim). This review is pretty much on the mark. I'd add a few comments although few will disagree with what's written in the review. I find the 3.6L to be excellent. It has plenty of power and acceleration. It's no the V8 but it's fine and smooth and works well with the transmission. Performance and efficiency are class competitive while refinement is probably toward the top of the class. Interior materials are fine. There are some bits that feel cheap like the interior "chrome" trim and the sunglasses compartment. But there are other parts that feel rock solid like the wiper stalks and shift paddles (those paddles feel like they could be in a $100K+ car). But most of the car feels like just about everything else in the class...mostly good but not extraordinary. But what's missing from the assessment of specific materials/components is the overall sense of solidity that you don't really see elsewhere in this class. That power liftgate drives me crazy too. Wish it was manual. The ride is very quiet. I would say it's best in class unless you start throwing in some luxury makes. Handling is pretty good for a car this size but it was a step down from my prior car (Mazda CX-9 which I would say is the class leader for handling, steering, engagement, etc.)
Any infotainment system in cars these days is going to have a bit of a learning curve. The uconnect is one of the most user friendly, yet writers who live with the car for a few days gripe about the usability. In this case he had to "hunt" for the seat climate controls. I lived with a unconnect for 3 years and it was two quick taps accomplsihed in 1 second to select heated/cooled seat functions, actually much easier than multiple buttons low on the dash. This was another "I don't know why people buy SUVs; I don't need one or understand them, but I guess this one's ok" review that really didn't say much of anything useful.