Dodge generally doesn’t try to blend in as a brand, favoring bolder styling than most competitors. That’s what some of us like about Dodge.
Dodge’s Durango though is a bit different in that it stands out from other large SUVs, especially with its wide full-body width taillights. Yet, in its own way, Durango blends in with Dodge’s own minivan styling. Several people asked me if this was a new Dodge minivan, when, to me at least, it seemed obvious the Durango is an SUV.
First, it looks bigger than a minivan, and to be honest, Dodge did its best to distinguish the bright red (Redline Pearl) SUV from anything on the road. The test ute was the R/T version, which means there’s a HEMI under the hood, and this also was the Blacktop edition. Who doesn’t like the sound of that?
Blacktop means the red ute has gloss black aluminum wheels, gloss black Durango badges and an equally gloss black grille and outside mirrors. All that glossy black costs just $295 extra and actually makes this big ol’ SUV look pretty darned sporty, like a ute with attitude!
Naturally putting Chrysler’s muscle-bound HEMI V8, all 5.7 liters worth, under the hood gives it some rumble power. The V8 cranks 360 horsepower and a monster 390 ft.-lbs. of torque. Tromp the gas pedal and Durango R/T gallops to life. That’s no small deal for a 5,531-lb. SUV with all-wheel-drive. But this one feels energetic right from the get-go.
Dodge helps smooth out that power with an 8-speed automatic, which also is designed to make the HEMI go easier on gas consumption. Nice try!
While the shifting is fairly smooth, I got a measly 15.6 mpg in about 60% city driving. The EPA says to expect 14 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. While I had a passenger aboard a few times, most of my driving was solo and with no luggage. Load this hauler up and your gas mileage will likely suffer.
I certainly know that outdoorsmen with boats, jet skis, snowmobiles or campers to tow aren’t going to be too concerned with gas mileage. But for long-term hauling you may want to consider any of the other Durango models that come standard with Chrysler’s 3.6-liter V6. Those models will tow about 6,200 lbs., while the R/T with a $995 towing package, will pull 7,200. Consider too that when I tested a V6 version previously I managed 18.3 mpg. Over many years of ownership that difference adds up.
But power is fun and this has it bigtime, plus decent handling for a larger SUV. Durango is a bit smaller than Chevrolet’s Tahoe, but steering feel is on the heavy side and there is moderate play in the wheel. Durango handles well and exhibits no body lean in the R/T model that features a sport suspension that is slightly lowered from the standard model, plus sport springs. It also rides on low-profile 20-inch tires while standard Durangos run on 18-inchers.
The result, beyond the improved handling, is a rough truck-like ride. This is firmer than I like, especially on city streets and bumpy rural roads. Ride is fine in highway driving.
As mentioned before, this one had AWD, so will be more sure-footed in snow, slush and mud.
Dodge really excels of late on its interiors. This one looks much more modern and civilized than most big ute interiors. It’s also much quieter than some, feeling more luxurious and refined.
Roomy? Sure, in some models you can fit seven passengers, while the R/T had captain chairs in the middle row and the third row, which folds flat into the floor would hold just two passengers, so six total. Even with the third row up there’s moderately good cargo space behind the seats. Folding them down is easy too.
Luxury starts with front and second row seat heat, plus a heated steering wheel. Dodge also creates an attractive, more youthful look than the other more staid SUVs. Black leather, of course, but with red R/T badging and red stitching. That’s on the seats and door armrests along with center armrest/storage box.
Seats are moderately contoured with the backs having more shape than the seat cushions. The driver’s seat has power lumbar controls and two memory settings in the R/T too. The second row seats fold and tumble forward to create more cargo room. Such seats are $995 extra, but worth it if you would use this feature a lot. There’s also a full console in the second row, another $300.
Major kudos to the dash design. Dodge uses its standard large gauge pod that features bright numbers and crisp graphics, plus everything is easy to see and reach. The touchscreen for its radio and nav works well and all buttons and knobs are intuitive. This dash shows style can be accomplished without sacrificing function.
The visors slide, there’s a big open storage bin beneath the dash’s center stack and I like the rotary shift knob on the console. Gone is the goofy big shift lever sticking out of the steering column (manual tilt/telescope), or even more annoying, the ones that stick out of the center stack. I also like that there’s an inside button to release the power hatch in back.
For the kiddos there’s a rear seat DVD entertainment center with screens that fold out of the front seats’ backs, efficient to be sure. That costs you $1,995, but then what price is rear seat silence and peace worth.
No ute is without a few bugaboos. Here I find the large A-pillar/outside mirror combination to create a large front to side blind spot and sadly this model had no blind-spot warning system either, although that’s helpful for rear blind spots. There is a backup camera and rear park assist though. I also dislike (although it looks fine) all the thin chrome trim rings around air vents, the console and door handles. On sunny days there’s a fair amount of glare off the chrome, which is distracting.
Price of entry is reasonable for a base Durango SXT with rear-drive. That begins at $31,390 and features the standard strong Flex Fuel Pentastar V6. AWD is available in that and other models below the R/T, which is priced at $42,195. The test ute added enough options to hit $48,170, including a $995 delivery fee. Citadel is the highest trim level.
Yes, this one has a hefty price tag, but consider that all large utes are in the $50 grand neighborhood when well equipped. Durango isn’t the biggest, but it is comfortable and much more stylish inside, and out, than most. Consider a V6 though and you won’t be paying a huge premium at each fill-up either.
FAST Stats: 2015 Dodge Durango R/T Blacktop AWD
Hits: Bigtime power, decent handling, plus AWD in a roomy ute with luxury look and feel interior. Can seat up to 7 in quiet interior with comfy seats, heated first two rows and steering wheel, excellent dash layout and look with rotary shift knob on console. Good towing vehicle.
Misses: Big front A-pillar blind spot, stiff ride, too much chrome trim inside can cause glare, no blind-spot warning system and heavy gas drinker.
Made in: Detroit, Mich.
Engine: 5.7-liter HEMI V8, 360 hp
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 119.8 in.
Length: 201.2 in.
Cargo: 84.5 cu.ft (seats down)
MPG: 14/22 (EPA)
MPG: 15.6 (tested)
Base Price: $42,195
Dealer’s Price: $41,195 (includes delivery)
Blacktop package (20-inch black gloss alum. wheels, Durango gloss black badges, exterior mirrors and grille), $295
Rear DVD entertainment center w/dual screens, $1,995
Trailer tow group IV, $995
Second row fold/tumble captain chairs, $995
Second row console/armrest, $300
UConnect HD system w/nav, $400
Test vehicle: $48,170
Sources: Dodge, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage