By Kristin Varela
October 15, 2014
Editor's note: This review was written in February 2014 about the 2014 Dodge Durango. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2015, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
I expected the 2014 Dodge Durango to be a brute that I would have to manhandle, but instead I got a refined and capable SUV that comfortably hauls a serious load, a growing family and even just li'l ol' me.
The Durango even has enough extras to feel ultra comfortable and luxurious — not to mention the fact that it was nimble and easy to drive.
After driving the Durango I found its associated "Ron Burgundy" ad campaign, with the silent "D" in "Dodge," even more ironic given that this SUV is so refined. It's so not the Anchorman image, which would have been a much better fit for the older, more retro and brash Dodge Durango. For 2014, there are quite a few changes, including a new eight-speed automatic transmission, improved fuel economy and a face-lift. Compare the 2014 version with last year's Durango here. The Durango comes in both rear- and all-wheel-drive versions in SXT, R/T, Limited (which I drove) and Citadel trims. Compare the all-wheel-drive versions side by side here.
If the Durango isn't quite the perfect fit you're looking for, you may also want to take the time to research a few of its competitors: the Ford Explorer, Chevy Traverse and Honda Pilot. Compare them all side by side here.
Exterior & Styling The Durango's exterior definitely maintains a very masculine look and feel, yet it's not as extreme as previous renditions. The large front grille reminds me of a shark coming up to consume that fishy Smart car in a single gulp, yet from the side it looks sleek, well-balanced and sophisticated enough to let me feel like myself while driving it. Many large SUVs make me look and feel like I'm driving my husband's car while mine is in the shop.
I am not, however, a big fan of the rear, especially the "racetrack" lighting strip that's illuminated by 192 LEDs. While it certainly ties the entire Dodge lineup together and makes each one instantly recognizable from the rear, I think it looks strangely like overly injected, illuminated lips. It cheapens an otherwise aesthetically pleasing design.
For its size — which is substantial, at a length of 201.2 inches — the Durango is rather slim, with a width of just 75.8 inches. This svelte figure allowed it to slip quite comfortably into our garage. For comparison, the Pilot and Traverse are both 78.5 inches wide, while the Explorer is 78.9 inches wide.
When I walked up to the car, at my towering 5-foot-3 height, I did not feel like I was going to have to ascend a mountain just to get into the driver's seat. It was easily accessible in pants or a skirt, even without running boards.
How It Drives I'm usually a little apprehensive before driving a large SUV, especially one with a reputation that's all brawn and very little refinement. I'm generally not a fan of the "trucky" feel that many of them still exude on the road, with enough tilt and roll in the corners to make you seasick. I was pleasantly surprised by how easily the Durango drives.
The new eight-speed transmission is more than adequate. However, in Eco mode (which is the mode to which the vehicle defaults) there was a slight lag before accelerating past cars, which seemed to bother several of my coworkers more than it did me. (They drove a different but similarly equipped V-6 Durango Limited in Chicago as well as a V-8-powered Citadel model.) One commented that, with the V-6, the Eco mode could jerk the SUV around when it was time to pass or accelerate. Another editor cited some herky-jerkiness in stop-and-go traffic and said the first step on the accelerator was always a reminder to lean over and turn off Eco mode. They had less criticism for the V-8 version.
The Durango Limited's 3.6-liter V-6 engine gets an EPA-estimated 17/24/19 mpg city/highway/combined with all-wheel drive and 18/25/20 mpg with rear-wheel drive. This is a slight improvement over last year, when both the rear- and all-wheel-drive versions with the V-6 were rated 16/23/19 mpg.
For comparison, the Hemi V-8 version of the Durango is rated 14/23/17 mpg with rear-wheel drive and 14/22/16 mpg in the all-wheel-drive version we tested in Chicago. Appropriately, the SUV's thirst comes with substantial power. One editor likened its acceleration and sound to that of the Challenger muscle car — and averaged 14 mpg to prove it.
Traditionally, large SUVs tend to roll and tilt through corners, but the Durango felt tight and connected to the road. Even in tight cornering at speed, this large vehicle almost felt like it hunkered down a bit, with practically no body roll. This was confidence-inspiring, even in my native Rocky Mountain inclement weather and dicey road conditions.
You do, however, feel its size when backing up, and the high belt line makes rear visibility tough. The available backup camera was very useful and worked well along with the 8.4-inch screen. The Durango's size is also an issue for smaller drivers when pulling forward into a garage and not being able to see up and over the vehicle's nose. Every time I pulled into our garage, I wished I had front park-assist sensors to help me find the proper distance between the front bumper and the wall. Only rear park assist is offered.
While the power-assisted steering was light and easy to turn, the SUV's extended length was also a challenge to parallel park. Perhaps my recent experience of having a Land Rover Range Rover Sport that could park itself was just too fresh in my mind, but I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I now miss that obviously excessive and luxurious feature.
Interior I was once again pleasantly surprised when I opened the new Durango's door. The interior is very well-done and feels much more expensive than its price suggests. I love the rotary-dial gear selector; it's new and modern, and just simple and clean. Now there's no sliding stick to get in the way of the cupholders or blocking access to any of the other storage areas in the center console.
The standard digital, configurable instrument cluster took some getting used to, and while the large numerical readout was very clear, I preferred switching to the setting that looked like a traditional speedometer.
My kids loved the optional dual, flip-up entertainment screens with Blu-ray/DVD in back that were easy for them to operate with the rear remote control without my help. However, I was quickly disgusted by how instantaneously they took to this, opting to put on headphones and get absorbed into a movie the moment they got in the car after school rather than interacting with the family. After a couple of days, I outlawed the entertainment system for all trips, much to their chagrin. The kids also had easy access to a 115-volt AC outlet and USB ports, as well as audio-video and HDMI inputs on the sides of the seats in front of them.
Without a doubt, the biggest hits were the heated bucket seats in the second row along with the kids' ability to control their own heat via rear controls, plus air vents in the third row. One of the reasons for captain's chairs is that you want your passengers to be significantly more comfortable than they would be sitting on a regular bench seat. The fact that these chairs have all the bells and whistles of front seats really contributes to that overall feeling of comfort and luxury. My daughters (ages 9, 11 and 13) thought they were the "best thing ever!" and often fought over who got to sit in them. My girls loved that the captain's chairs were large and wide enough to sit "crisscross applesauce." Even my 6-foot-2 husband fit comfortably back there. Because the captain's chairs recline, you should be able to fit a wide array of child-safety seats.
One of our editors' growing teenage sons, who is about 6 feet tall, loved the quality and comfort of the second-row seats but found his knees a little cramped in the third row.
My only complaint is that I wish the second row would slide back and forth so I could provide the legroom where it was needed most.
Between the captain's chairs in my test car was a standard, in-floor "mini pass-through console" unit. My girls commented that it would be better if it could flip up when access was needed, then flip back down when not needed (similar to the one in the Mazda5). With the cupholder unit in the floor, it was hard for them to reach their drinks and they were worried the drinks would get knocked over by someone trying to pass into the third row. You can choose a full-size center console between the second-row captain's chairs if you prefer additional closed storage.
There was also a storage bin with bottleholders in each of the front and back doors, which can be a highly utilized feature when the whole family is onboard. One of our editors really liked the big cubby in front of the cupholders for his cellphone, toll money and "other assorted junk."
The front seats were just as comfortable as the second row. One of our editors, whose back can act up during long drives, said the driver's seat was "awesome" — big and wide with just enough support, causing no back discomfort on long commutes.
The optional power liftgate on my test car was a great feature. I am, however, hopeful that all SUVs will someday have a Ford-like foot-swipe sensor to open the liftgate. This technology would truly make day-to-day use much easier for the average parent out there who always seems to have his or her hands full.
The Durango's keyless entry was a little finicky for me. Sometimes it worked perfectly, but other times I would push the button three times and nothing would happen. Even when I pulled the keys out of my purse, thinking it was having trouble transmitting through the thick leather, it still wouldn't work. Then I would have to press the key fob's unlock button. This might have just been a funky remote or battery, not an ongoing issue for all Dodge owners. The Chicago editors noticed no glitches with their Durangos.
It seems like a small thing, but as a mom who has to deal with the harsh, low winter sun in Colorado, the fact that the Dodge's sun visors slide out on their hinges to extend the range of coverage was much appreciated. It's the little things that count, and it doesn't have to be expensive technology.
Ergonomics & Electronics I was pleasantly surprised by the ease of use and accessibility — not to mention the quality feel — of all the knobs, buttons and screens.
Another editor shouted praises for Chrysler's Uconnect system, calling the Uconnect 8.4 system one of the best touch-screen entertainment systems around. Its on-screen menus react quickly, with no lag. The layout is logical and the screen works even when wearing gloves.
My iPhone connected easily and worked seamlessly. The stereo's sound quality was great, and the operation was easy to understand without having to pull out and research a 2-inch-thick owner's manual. The touch-screen is large and clear, and I really appreciated the single button that turned it off to help save my night vision while driving in the dark. Turning it back on was also a breeze, with a single touch to the screen.
I and another editor did, however, miss having a physical button for the available seat heaters and steering-wheel heat; I don't like having to first press a button on the touch-screen just to get to the controls screen, then press a button for seat heat, as this is something I use every day for months on end. The options to adjust the heat do pop up when you first start the car, but they only stay on the screen for a couple of seconds, during which time I was — and I'm hopeful all other Moms would be — busy checking to make sure everyone was buckled up.
Cargo & Storage Even though the Durango drives smaller than it is, there's ample cargo space in the back, even behind the third row. A simple lever on the back of the 50/50-split third row folds both the headrest and seat to create more space and expand the cargo area to a maximum of 84.5 cubic feet. Easy-to-grab, long straps pull them back up without having to climb in the back of the car.
If you regularly need to haul just as much stuff as you do people, you may want to direct your attention more toward the Honda Pilot, which has 87 cubic feet of maximum cargo space, or the Chevrolet Traverse, which has a monstrous 116.3 cubic feet. The Ford Explorer has the smallest trunk of all, at 80.7 cubic feet.
The Durango offers a best-in-class tow rating of up to 7,400 pounds when equipped with the V-8 engine and rear-wheel drive, a big jump over the Traverse's 5,200-pound maximum tow rating, the Explorer's 2,000- to 5,000-pound rating, and the Pilot's 2,000 to 4,500 pound rating. Even with the V-6, the Durango's maximum towing capacity is a stout 6,200 pounds with either rear- or all-wheel drive.
Safety The 2014 Dodge Durango earned the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's highest rating of Good in its four main crash tests. In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests, the 2014 Durango received four out of five stars overall.
The optional blind spot monitor that my test car had was great and incorporated a warning tone as well as a visual indication for cars in my blind spot. The monitor did, however, occasionally go off when it shouldn't have (for example, when turning in a double turn lane, it would alert me that there was a car next to me in the turn lane). While I initially found this a little alarming, I will take the good with a little bad every day because this truly can be a life-saving feature. I hope these monitors will be required on every car someday, given their low cost and ease of implementation.
A forward-collision warning and mitigation system is another optional feature in the Durango that allows the vehicle to brake for the driver if the SUV approaches another vehicle too quickly. Cross-path detection is another optional feature that has helped me avoid rear collisions on numerous occasions in other Chrysler-brand vehicles.
The Durango performed well in our child-safety seat checks, earning both A and B ratings for ease of installation. View the complete Car Seat Check here.
See all the Durango's standard safety features listed here.
Value in Its Class The new Dodge Durango is truly an impressive model and probably the most surprising one I've driven recently. With the exception of the goofy taillight, this is a car that really impressed from the outside and the inside, as well as with its drive and overall functionality.
It has all the bells and whistles of significantly more expensive competition at a reasonable price, and it can serve as a muscle car, SUV, family-mover, boat-tower and everyday driver, all in one package. It's rare to find a vehicle that does all these things fairly well, but the new Dodge Durango checks nearly all the boxes.