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Developing the 1998-2003 Dodge Durango interior

"It was a good news, bad news thing when we got the go-ahead to work on an SUV-based Dakota," said Bob Holdreith, Executive Engineer for Advanced Truck Engineering. "The good news was we had the template for a terrific SUV in true Dodge 'larger than the competition' fashion. The bad news was we had to find a comfortable home for eight people. We knew we had to be unique or else we'd disappoint our customers."

Original designs for an eight-passenger Durango had the rear seat facing rearward, a design used in older station wagons.

"That was a compromise and we weren't happy," Holdreith said."We felt that was like making an eight-passenger SUV just for the sake of it rather than maximizing the usefulness of the vehicle. Rear-facing third rows limit conversation between passengers, restrict entry to these at through the side doors and are generally uncomfortable. Besides that, anyone who has carried children in a rear-facing third seat knows that the 'car-sickness' factor goes up exponentially - not something you want to be known for."

With the bogey set firmly on a front-facing seat, Durango engineers looked for ways to make Durango larger on the inside without making it much larger on the outside.

The instrument panel and front seats are shared with Dakota. However, the front doors on Durango are shorter than its compact pickup brother. This was done to create a larger second door opening for easier passenger ingress and egress.

"Moving front to back, this was the first major change from Dakota," Holdreith said. "With Dakota, you need the bigger door to provide access to the rear seat on the Club Cab, but it wasn't necessary for Durango. Now we had more room for the third seat as well as more legroom."

One of the bigger space-creating solutions was to raise the roof approximately two inches from the second seat back, allowing for increased headroom. This also provided the opportunity to raise the second and third seats "theater" style for increased visibility and better legroom. By mounting the rear air-conditioning unit at the front of the raised area, no headroom was taken away and a direct flow of air was created for the second- and third-row passengers.

In order to reduce the visual impression of a raised roof, the roof rack was placed directly over the area to create a natural flow from the front of the roof to the rear.

"You don't know it's raised on the outside, but you sure know it is on the inside," Holdreith said.

Now, with a larger rear area, Durango engineers had more room to create eight-passenger capability. At the same time, it gave them the space to build a true cargo-carrying SUV.

"Durango needed to be functional in two configurations: as a people-mover and a load carrier," Holdreith explained. "But these aren't mutually exclusive capabilities in the eyes of our customers. They want a vehicle that can haul gear to the cottage, but still carry family and friends when they get there. This meant creating a package that is adaptable in a moment's notice, rather than one that had to rely on removing the seats and reconfiguring the rear area."

Durango's 40-20-40 second row bench seat provides room for three adults or serves as comfortable two-passenger seating with a fold-down center console. Each of the two "40" sections of the second row seat fold and tumble forward to provide a wide entry to the third seat. The second seat also folds forward to create a flat load floor when the third row is also folded. The back is hinged as on a reclining seat and the cushion is hinged at the front edge. Separate latches are located on the outside of each seat to operate the fold-and-tumble action. Raising the lever halfway releases the back first causes the seat back to fold forward. Raising the lever fully releases the seat cushion latch, allowing the entire seat to tumble forward into the foot well. This provides the widest entry way for third row passengers of any sport-utility vehicle. This adjustment can also be operated by passengers in the third seat to allow for an easy exit.

Additionally, the back of the center "20" section also folds forward. Folding this, in concert with the outward sections, forms a load surface level with the cargo floor.

The optional third seat, a full bench, provides comfortable seating for two adults or, when the seat back is folded forward, provides a level load floor. Folded in conjunction with the folding second row, a segment-best88 cubic feet of cargo space is created. By positioning the third row seat directly over the rear axle, a natural foot well is created, rather than the "knee-kissing" configurations seen in some three-row SUVs.

Storage behind the rear seat was increased by building a hidden storage compartment into the floor depression behind the axle. For customers who don't order the third row of seats, an additional, larger, covered storage compartment fills in the foot well area otherwise used by third seat passengers.

Packaging - Accommodations

Durango's front seat is designed around the central 95 percent of the American adult driving population as defined by the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers), in common with other Chrysler vehicles and most competitive vehicles. Seat track travel of 8.7 inches (220 mm) provides comfortable accommodation and driver access to operating controls for this range of occupant sizes.

The second and third seats were designed around the same criteria as the front seats although third-seat leg room is limited. Among competitive vehicles, most that have a third seat cannot accommodate adults there. Thereof is raised over the second and third seats, providing ample headroom in both locations. The added height also allows the second seat to be raised, giving occupants a view over the front seats.

Overview

Above the front seats, the roof is at the same level as Dakota. For head clearance, the optional rear air conditioning unit is roof mounted at the front of the raised area. To provide foot room for second-seat occupants and assure a stiff structure, the top surface of the rear frame rails has-been lowered approximately 0.5 inch (13 mm) compared to Dakota. Also for passenger accommodation, cross- members are on the same level as the rails, and both rear shock absorbers are mounted behind the axle.

Compared to Dakota, the center pillar is moved forward and the front door shortened to allow easy entry and exit for second-seat passengers. Over 7.9 inches (200 mm) of foot clearance is provided between seat and pillar. The second seatback is forward of pillar, which also affords excellent hip clearance for entering passengers. Front seats, though derived from Dakota, have a higher rear rail to enhance second-seat foot room.

A second seat divided in 40-20-40 sections provides the best third-seat access available on any sport-utility vehicle. The seat's outboard sections fold and tumble forward, opening a broad path for entry and exit. Benchmarking of competitive vehicle third-seat access led Durango's designers to this configuration. Assist grips to aid third-seat access are molded into the base of each tumbled seat and the quarter trim panels. Seat belt mounting also contributes to easy access by leaving the floor clear: Buckles and the center passenger belts attach to the floor pan with the same bolts as the fixed center section of the seat. Shoulder belt retractors attach to the rear door lock pillars, leaving the floor clear. Lower anchors attach at floor behind quarter trim panel at base of C-pillar. Door sills are below floor level to maximize entry and exit convenience. Contributing to access for all passengers, the suspension has been lowered 1 inch (25 mm) compared to Dakota.

The 40-20-40 second-seat configuration provides comfortable seating for outboard passengers and adds utility. Three back sections fold independently to accommodate various combinations of cargo and passengers.

The cargo/third-seat area is designed for maximum room and cargo-loading convenience. Unlike some other three-seat vehicles, Durango's third seat folds to form a flat load floor while only slightly compromising interior height. In addition, inner body panels are designed to maximize interior volume and trim panels are "shrink-wrapped" to fit them so that none of the space is wasted.

A unique floor pan depression forward of the lift gate opening provides storage for the jack and tire changing tools with best-in-class access and room for additional miscellaneous items. A hinged cover over the tray provides a level load floor.

 Exterior Design

Durango's exterior design is identical to that of Dakota forward of the center pillars (B-pillars). From there aft, it is unique but retains the same design theme as Dakota. Durango's appearance is consistent with the familial design of Dodge truck - distinctive and bold - making it standout from the crowd. Starting from a Dakota-based design study, designers and engineers made changes only to provide a third seat that accommodates full-size adults - providing a wheelbase of 116 inches (2,946 mm), increasing the rear overhang about 1-1.5 inches (25-38 mm) and raising the roof a similar amount over the second and third seats. The added height is largely camouflaged by the integral roof rack. The roof rack serves both a design and a functional purpose. While carrying a substantial load, it conceals the body side aperture to roof panel seam which others cover with a molding or filler. Integration with the roof occurs as it nestles into this seam. Like Ram and Dakota, sport-utility buyers will recognize Durango immediately.

Interior Design

Interior design follows the Dakota theme - achieving synergy with the exterior through simultaneous design. Because Durango doors are shorter than those on Dakota, the Dakota door trim panel design was "morphed"from a scanned photo image. As in computerized photo retouching, the image was cut and pasted together.

The image was digitized and three-dimensional models of the trim panels were designed and built. Because a sport-utility derivative was in the minds of Dakota's designers, the derivation was relatively quick and the finished design is appropriate for a refined sport-utility vehicle and has the integrity of an original.

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