2011 Dodge Durango 5.7 V8 review

Don’t call this a big softie to its face
By Shahzad Sheikh

Have you missed the big Dodge Durango? Well the good news is that after a short duration in the wilderness, the Durango is back. If you missed the big hunk-o-junk honesty of the old truck-based SUV and are after a capacious carry-all that majors on toughness and has little thrill for frills, will lap up the miles without complaint and will tow a horse box, a boat, some bikes and even a house, then look no further.

And if you’re feeling a little disorientated, I know why. This Durango looks the same, but different, and that’s because it is different. Very different. It’s smarter, slicker, sexier even and might well cause you to mouth the silent question (lest it hear you and bite your head off) – has the new Durango gone soft?

I mean trucks are big, trucks are mean and trucks are built on an old-skool ladder frame right? But this thing is a modern unibody construct – as are, in fact, most new cars these days. Yes, even SUVs.

Fret not, because check out what this thing is based on – the all-new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee. That’s currently one of my favourite all-round SUVs because it’s so good compared to its predecessor, it’s as if it has jumped two generations.

Plus of course, it’s a pretty awesome off-roader. I just recently witnessed its ample dexterity in both the sandy stuff and the rocky bits whilst we were doing a photoshoot – not at all bad for what for many will become just a school-run special, but then would you expect anything less of a car branded with the Jeep logo?

On the other hand, it’s also quite plush now inside. The Durango is less so though, preferring a more workmanlike aura of robustness and ‘can-do’ attitude. It’s bigger too, with a longer wheelbase, so it has more cargo-carrying capacity as well as a couple of extra seats, which when not in use, fold flat into the floor.

Even when the seats are up, there’s still a bit of space for your shopping and Dodge has come up with a clever solution should you not want prying eyes to check it out. Normally you take out the roll-out luggage bay cover when you pull up the last row of seats, and have to leave it at home because the back of the car is slightly narrower to fit it back. But this one has ends that detach and flip down underneath, exposing new clamps, thereby reducing the length of the thing which means you can slot it in behind the final row seats.

Before you get too excited though, it’s probably best to just leave those rearmost seats for kids, as they are a little tight. Even the middle row bench is a simpler, less cushy affair than the Grand Cherokee’s back seats.

Still think it’s gone soft?

Well how about this then, a massive 5.7-litre HEMI V8 lives under than hood churning out 360bhp and more importantly 390lb ft of torque at 4000rpm – now that’s pulling power for you. The Durango also comes with the new Pentastar V6, which is a brilliant unit, and for the Jeep Grand Cherokee, actually proves a better option. But in the bigger heavier Durango the lusty and grunty V8, whilst sounding and feeling a little subdued in this set-up, is way more in keeping with the personality of the Durango.

The transmission seems a little outdated, and sure enough a new gearbox is on the way for the group, but it gets the job done nonetheless. And managing to put in a 0-100kph time of 7.5 seconds whilst marching on to a top speed of 214kph, is certainly commendable for a big SUV.

It’s also longer than the Grand Cherokee with a larger wheelbase and sits slightly lower. It clearly won’t be as competent as its Jeep cousin, it doesn’t have that car’s terrain-select system, and it is slightly lower. Having said that, it has pretty much the same suspension and selectable four-wheel-drive, so it certainly shouldn’t be an embarrassment when you leave the blacktop.

Its firmer set-up also aids its dynamic abilities and for a big beasties, it’s not exactly a lumbering fool. It conducts itself well on the road and is nowhere near as sloppy as the old car. In fact its squared dimensions, high upright seating position and generally good visibility make it an easy drive around town, and a doddle to place and park – of course the reversing camera helps.

Our test car was a well-specced ‘Crew’ edition and was decked out with further drivers’ aids including blind-spot sensors, self-dimming mirrors (interior and exterior), active cruise control and even distance alert braking when you get too close to the car in front. Thankfully air-conditioning is strong and more gadgets include a a button to drop the rearmost headrests to clear your back view, and a powered tailgate.

Chrysler group are putting out great infotainment systems right now thanks to a tie-up with Garmin and the brilliant sat-nav/entertainment interface, whilst not quite as large, clear and easy to use as the system in the 2012 Charger, features Bluetooth phone connection, voice control, a brilliant sat-nav and even the ability to connect your iPod/iPhone through BT and play your own tunes wirelessly.

It’s got all the kit, is big, comfy and spacious, will carry you kids and your scuba kit, can go off-road and chase down hot-hatches on-road – does it supplant the Jeep Grand Cherokee in my affections? Well if you really need the extra space and seats, then go for the Durango. Otherwise the more nicely appointed Jeep, with its slightly lower price, particularly if you choose the V6 which is better suited to it, still remains the preferred choice.

But coming back to the question – has the Durango gone soft? Not a chance.

Spec
How much? $53,000 (Check prices with your local dealer)
Engine: 5.7-litre HEMI V8, 360bhp @ 5150rpm, 390lb ft @ 4250rpm
Transmission: Automatic
Performance: 7.5 sec 0-100kph, 214kph
Weight: 2500kg

Shahzad’s rating
7/10 – Everything you liked about the Durango, but now better

Pictures by me!

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