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The Dodge Dakota is cleverly positioned between the Ranger and F-series, where it has little competition. The Dodge people figured that an SUV based on the Dakota would have a similar advantage - it would be downright heavy-duty compared with the Blazer and Explorer, but small and economical compared with the Suburban and Expedition. GM soon countered with the TrailBlazer, though, and Durango sales fell rather steeply when faced with GM's powerful V8 and minivan-like interior. Chrysler has not been silent - the Durango dropped its base 3.9 V6 for a standard V8, and the 5.2 has quietly been eliminated after about three decades.
Our Durango did have a number of advantages over competitors. Towing capacity is very high for its class, and we were able to fit eight passengers in without much problem. We definitely liked the way the rear seat folded down to the floor, and the way the middle seats folded and tumbled out of the way with a good hefty tug on a convenient lever. We also appreciated the large rear air vents, on top and on bottom for heat and air, with separate controls for rear passengers (which can be overridden from up front).
Gas mileage is an issue - our relatively economical 4.7 V8, coupled with a responsive five-speed automatic, managed 13 mpg city, 18 highway, with 235 horses. The 5.9 drops that figure a bit more, and we figure you'll have to wait at least two years to get the Durango with the new Hemi. To be fair, the 4.7 is quiet (aside from a carefully tuned, muscle-car-like exhaust note that makes acceleration fun) and pretty quick. We don't really recommend the 5.9 unless you need its extra power for towing.
Changes to the suspension mean that the Durango has substantially lower-grade handling and ride than the Dakota Quad Cab. It can feel unstable on the highway, especially with overinflated tires. Otherwise handling seems good.
We generally liked the controls, which are well suited to automatic-transmission trucks - the foot brake, the hand release for that brake, the column shift, the overdrive button at the end of the column shift. We also liked the dial for four wheel drive control and the separate button to activate a/c - not to mention the dial for the rear wiper-washer, sensibly located with the climate controls, and the sliders and knobs for audio control. Our main "ding" is reserved for the lack of power memory, or the ability to keep the power windows and radio going after the engine is shut off. That's a strange deficiency in a vehicle costing over $30,000 - since many economy cars now feature it.
We also liked the center console, with its many padded storage areas for the bits and pieces that tend to accumulate these days. The cup holders had arms that moved to hold smaller cups, not as good as the ratcheting minivan holders but better than the usual truck holders. The center console is large enough that a drop-in container allows you to keep some objects on top, with room for more underneath. A build in coin holder is easy to use and unlikely to break.
The interior space is very good, with room for seven on long trips or eight on short ones - or seven people plus a car seat in the middle center row. It's easy to get into the back, thanks to the flip-and-tumble center seats. As we mentioned earlier, the interior is very cargo-friendly thanks to the ease of moving seats to get a nearly flat loading floor - we several sets of furniture back and forth in the Durango, so have some first hand experience. We hope these seats make it into the Caravan soon - folding seats are slated to be in the Pacifica.
The third row two-position seat is standard on the SLT and SLT Plus trims but not available on the Sport and SXT trims. Therefore the standard seating on the SLT and SLT Plus trims is 7, but the standard seating on the Sport and SXT trims is 5.
A front row split bench seat is optional on the Sport, SXT and SLT trims and replaces the standard bucket seats. The seating increases to 6 on the Sport and SXT trims when you purchase the split bench seat; the seating on the SLT increases to 8 when you purchase the split bench seat.
Though we liked the Durango overall, we preferred the Dakota Quad Cab, which has a generously sized interior for four or five people and a short bed. The Dakota's suspension seemed to have a nicer ride and better handling. We also prefer Dodge's own Caravan and Grand Caravan, which provide equal space with a better ride, better handling, and much better gas mileage for much less money - but can't go off-road or tow. (The Grand Caravan now has an all wheel drive version, too, so if you were going to get a Durango for snow, we'd suggest looking at the Grand Caravan instead.)
In terms of reliability, that big consumer magazine doesn't give it a high rating, but you know what we think of them. They did rate it above the Blazer, Mercedes M Class, BMW X5, Ford Excursion and Ford Explorer, and Chevy Suburban - but below the rather nice if underpowered Mitsubishi Montero Sport.
The Durango is superior to most competitors, though the TrailBlazer, thanks to its powerful in-line six, gives it a run for its money. If you don't need the size of the Durango, though, get something smaller. It does give a viable alternative to monsters like the Expedition and Suburban, and is much easier to drive and park than those behemoths (and gets better mileage), while costing much less, when similarly optioned. We'll add that it feels more responsive than the Expedition and Suburban, thanks to the readily-downshifting five-speed automatic.
In short, if you need to hold more than five people, and you need to go off-road or tow, the Durango is ideal. Otherwise, your local Dodge dealer would be happy to show you something cheaper and better suited to your needs and to your wallet.
This page describes what we know so far.
Bob Sheaves wrote: No the Durango came after I left the corp. I am familiar with the handling you describe however. [The 4x4 with the 31 inch tall tires] - usually, when it feels a bit "tippy" or unstable, the tires are low on pressure-that vehicle needs to be at 28 to 30 psi as a minimum.
The 4x2 is , IMHO tail happy, especially in the v8 configuration. They missed the boat not offering the NV242 transfer case out of the ZJ/WJ in the DN. It can be retrofitted without too much trouble if you are so inclined.
Shocks on the car (either model) are critical also-they leak down (the gas-charged ones) and become sloppy at around 30K miles.
Made in Newark, Delaware. Weighs between 4408 and 4737 lb depending on equipment (5.9 liter engine adds about 100 lb, four wheel drive adds about 240 lb).
2WD towing capacity: 4,750 lb with 4.7 V8, 3.55 rear axle; 7,650 lb with 5.9 V8, 3.55 rear axle
4WD towing capacity: 300 pounds less than two wheel drive
Engines: 4.7 | 5.9 (360)
Gas mileage with 4.7: (MPG City/Hwy) 2WD: 15/20; 4WD: 13/18
Gas mileage with 5.9: (MPG City/Hwy.) 12/17 - 2WD, 12/16 - 4WD
Longitudinal front engine, Hotchkiss drive, ladder-type frame, steel body mounted on 12 rubber isolators
Front: Upper and lower A arms, coil springs, gas-charged shock absorbers, stabilizer bar
Rear: Live axle, 4-leaf longitudinal springs, gas-charged shock absorbers, stabilizer bar
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