2014 Dodge Durango First Drive

Mopar’s biggest SUV gets a midlife makeover
Imthishan Giado

 2014 Dodge Durango

I love the Dodge Durango because I love the Toyota 4Runner.

To be more specific, the 1990 Toyota 4Runner. Back in the day, my parents had one for a bit and I adored its pickup-with-a-bed-top styling, and the way Durango’s stretched silhouette unwittingly mimics those 20 year-old dimensions brings a certain joy to my cold heart.

In the past, the Durango has never been quite sure of its place in the world, especially vis-à-vis its Grand Cherokee brother. Now with this 2014 refresh, the split is clear: the GC is the do-anything-luxo-SUV, while the Durango fills the niche of 7-seat-take-everything-with-you cargo hauler.

2014 Dodge Durango

This new Durango was only introduced in 2011, but Chrysler’s really accelerated their update cycle and so here we are with a significantly refreshed vehicle that brings it bang up to date. On the outside there’s a new split-crosshair grille designs for all the trim designations, a more raised front bumper and redesigned headlights and a gently massaged hood. Now we also get the HEMI R/T truck; lower by 20mm, dark-tinted headlights, body coloured fascias, it’s the new bruiser of the range – though I didn’t get to drive it, boo!

The tail receives the ‘racetrack’ style LED lighting that’s proved such a hit on the Charger. Durango one-ups its sedan cousin though, because these LEDs look less pixelated and more like something out of Tron.

2014 Dodge Durango

Like the Grand Cherokee, the Durango’s interior is where the real change is – and clever on Chrysler’s part since that’s where drivers actually live. As with the GC, the driver faces a 7” inch touchscreen featuring a virtual speedometer and more information than you’ll know what to do with, while the main console has been tarted up with either a 5” or a massive 8.4” touchscreen featuring the predictably excellent navigation and HVAC system. It’s idiot-proof, intuitive and in my opinion a must-buy if you’re getting one of these. Oh, and no more fumbling around in the glovebox to plug in your iPhone: underneath the centre stack there’s a ‘media hub’ with slots for USB, SD cards and AUX jacks.

What the Grand Cherokee doesn’t get is the rotary gear selector on the dash, mimicking big-brother RAM. Where the GC’s Audi-style selector is slightly finicky, the Dodge’s Jag-style design is better and turns with a meaty click. May take you a while to get used to though, after a lifetime of grabbing gearsticks. For the tykes, the rear seat entertainment is now Blu-Ray capable; BDs have been around for ages but this is the first time I’m seeing it on a production vehicle, so wedded are manufacturers to aging DVD systems.

2014 Dodge Durango

On the road
We had the opportunity to drive the Durango on a brief expedition from Dubai to Fujeirah’s Marine Club, via some rocky wadis. On the road, there are no surprises: the Durango drives nearly identically to its GC cousin, tidy and predictable and more car-like than clumpy crossover. New for this year are a host of safety systems to detect blind spots and wandering across lanes: they can all be disabled but I left them on since they’re far less intrusive than on German marques.

2014 Dodge Durango

My chosen ride was a HEMI-equipped, full fat Citadel model. With nearly every box option checked, you really start to wonder what more you’d want. Aided by a remarkably effective radar cruise control, this is a great car for the highway with tons of torque on tap, the new eight-speed ZF gearbox smoothly shuffling ratios. If you feel like getting more involved you can yank on the paddles to change gears (standard on all new Durangos) but like most future owners, I didn’t bother with it much beyond the first few times.

The ZF is easily the most important upgrade with this new car: at highway speeds of 120kph and beyond, the big Hemi is barely turning at 2000rpm and drinking far less fuel than you’d think, especially with standard cylinder deactivation. Didn’t get a chance to drive the V6, but as always, the smaller engine is the one I’d recommend for this pair: the HEMI is wonderful but the Pentastar is honestly enough for 95% of owners out there.

2014 Dodge Durango

Off the Hatta road and into the wadis: well, the Durango was never intended for serious rough stuff but if asked, it’ll handle it just fine. All of our trucks had low-hanging aerodynamic splitters which were not removed for the off road section, banging over wadis and gullies in the wilderness.

And impressively, the Durango didn’t bottom out anywhere or drag its bum on errant rocks. With that super long body I would hesitate before taking it to Fossil Rock (unless Fraser Martin was doing the driving) but for beaches, wadis and average obstacles, the Durango was perfectly fine. How fine? We were told to engage Low Range, and I er, chose not to listen. Did the big 20-inch wheels slip anywhere at all? Nope.

2014 Dodge Durango

This is one of the toughest and most important segments in the region. In other parts of the world, manufacturers are focusing on smaller crossovers and leaving big ones to rot on the vine but with cheap petrol and wide-open spaces, that strategy is a dead-end to no marketshare in the GCC.

So it’s good to see that Dodge hasn’t been resting on its laurels, and that this cycle of updates has made a good truck even better: better fuel economy, better looks and better options…the kinds of things that matter to the people who buy these vehicles to really use them.

Sorry, 1990 Toyota 4Runner. You were great in my memory, but reality is so much better.


8 responses to “2014 Dodge Durango First Drive”

  1. Utk says:

    Great review. Been an admirer of the Durango since its complete makeover some years ago. But this picture (http://www.motoringme.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/2014-Dodge-Durango-01.jpg) suddenly reminded me of the Sequoia! Looks like a Seq with a Dodge grille to be honest, but that’s just from this single shot! Otherwise, Durango is one of the best in its segment, even beating the new (read once-famous-but-now-old “new”) Explorer, eh?

    • admin says:

      [Imthishan] The Durango looks like the Sequoia for the same reason it looks like the 4Runner…they’re all based on pickups that have had the cabin extended into the ‘bed’ portion, hence the long, narrow silhouettes. As for the Explorer, I’d agree the Durango bests it in most categories but it still has a couple of aces up its sleeve: Land Cruiser-beating levels of space, and a mighty engine in the range-topping EcoBoost V6.

      • Utk says:

        Wait a sec, “Land Cruiser-beating levels of space”? You’ve gotta be kidding me.
        Firstly, “beating levels of space” for passengers or luggage?
        Secondly, according to the specs, the Durango is longer than both the LC and Explorer, and has longer wheelbase too (The wheelbase of LC and Explorer are the same actually).
        If you’re talking about the cargo space behind the third row, then Ford does beat both the Durango and LC by a few inches, but I have no idea how it beats Durango. Perhaps Durango’s engine takes up more space. It does beat LC due to the side folding third row seats in the LC, which obviously reduce the capacity drastically.
        Also, how does the Explorer’s 3.5L V6 beat the 5.7L V8 of the Durango?

        • admin says:

          [Imthishan] Passenger, driver and luggage: the new Explorer has a cavernous interior that is miles bigger than the Land Cruiser or the Durango, and as you note, has folding rear seats that take up less space than the LC’s old fashioned side-hangers.

          Specs don’t tell the whole story. Go try the Ecoboost; it may have less power and torque than the HEMI but it delivers the latter practically off idle. In the real world, it feels considerably quicker and more responsive, while delivering near-Pentastar levels of fuel economy. A magnificent engine, shackled to a (unnecessarily) massive beast.

          • Utk says:

            Right. Fully agreed. Guess the HEMI is meant for pure offroading(?) fun and the EcoBoost is for a more daily pleasure on the roads, but no less in offroading.
            Oh, and according to you, how do the Traverse and Flex fair against these two heavyweight rivals?
            (PS: I know they’re by no means off-roaders… But otherwise?)

  2. Praveen says:

    I am planning to go for Durango, but getting confused whether to go for the hemi or the 3.6. Please suggest.
    Also i heard that there are some servicing issues. parts takes ages to come etc. is it true.

    • admin says:

      [Imthishan] If you crave massive speed Praveen then only the HEMI will do! But it’s a lot thirstier (obviously) than the Pentastar so for most people the latter is completely sufficient.

      Servicing wise, I’d have no problems with my own Jeep thus far; parts is also no longer a problem as the regional parts depot is now based in Jebel Ali. Most parts are only 24 hours away.

  3. Joseph says:

    Seriously considering to buy. But heared the durango would be discontinued in 2016. Is it wise to go for it? Advice please.

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