By 1997, there were so many different SUVs to choose from, it wasn’t enough for a company simply to build one and expect it to just sell. The marketplace had matured to the point that marketers had to have specific strategies for their SUVs if they wanted them to resonate in the marketplace — and so it was with the Dodge Durango.
Happily, Durango’s product planners had observed the existence of a gap in the marketplace. Full-size SUVs had a tendency to be huge, while mid-size SUVs often lacked sufficient interior space. To carve out a niche for the Durango, they hit upon a sizing formula halfway between full-size and mid-size. This gave Dodge’s new suv considerably more interior volume, while keeping the Durango to a relatively tidy size.
Then, for good measure, to ensure their SUV was not perceived as being too “girly”, the Dodge design team adapted the lines of a Peterbilt 300 series big rig to their SUV (as they’d previously done with the RAM pickup) and in so doing, found themselves with an instant styling sensation. At their peak in 1999, sales of the Durango topped 189,000 units in the U.S.
There have been three generations of the Durango offered to date.
1998 – 2004
Coming onto the market with its unique sizing strategy gave the Durango a number of advantages over its chief rival, the Ford Explorer. Durango was more powerful than Explorer, it seated three more passengers, its tow rating was higher, and it was more capable offroad — thanks to its superior ride height. Plus, on top of all of that, it was less expensive too. Introduced initially with four-wheel drive, that first Durango was powered by a 3.9-liter V6 producing 175 horsepower and 225 ft-lbs of torque. Both a 230-horsepower/300 ft-lb 5.2-liter V8 and a 245-horsepower/335 ft-lb 5.9-liter V8 were available as well. All three engines fed the drive wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission.
Standard features on the SLT model Durango included 15-inch alloy wheels, rear-wheel ABS, A/C, intermittent wipers, power mirrors, a roof rack, and an AM/FM/Cassette-based audio system. Skid plates, a CD-based audio system, four-wheel ABS, a third-row seat, and fog lights were options.
Broadening your range by spending more change got you the more comprehensively equipped SLT Plus Durango. Standard features of that trim level included cruise control, a tilt steering wheel, power door locks, and keyless entry. Options included leather upholstery, a power driver’s seat, an overhead storage console, and an upgraded Infinity audio system.
A rear-drive only Durango was offered for the first time and the 5.2-liter V8 became the standard engine offering (though the 3.9-liter V6 was still available as an option). Leather became standard equipment for SLT Plus.
For 2000, a 4.7-liter V8 supplanted the 3.9-liter V6. Producing 235 horsepower and 295 ft-lbs of torque, the 4.7 enabled Dodge to claim all of the Durango's boasted V8 power. Rack and pinion steering was offered for the first time and two new trim levels were added, Sport and R/T.
Primarily about show rather than adding more go, the Sport trim level featured two-tone paint, optional factory-installed running boards, five-spoke aluminum wheels, and two unique exterior colors.
The Durango R/T on the other hand added some alacrity to the Durango’s portfolio of attributes. It employed the 5.9-liter V8, a quicker rear axle ratio was specified for it to make it quicker off the line, 17" wheels and a stiffer suspension system improved its handling, while a sport-tuned exhaust system let it breathe a bit more freely as well as announce its comings and goings considerably more vociferously.
Dodge’s product planners turned their attention to the Durango’s interior for the 2001 model year. The SUVs interior trim panels, dash mounted controls, instrument panel, overhead console, and steering wheel were all redesigned for ‘01. A dual-zone climate control system was introduced as standard equipment to give rear passengers some say over their comfort. Power lumbar supports, a power passenger seat, and heated leather seats with two-level temperature control were nice additions as well. Sound systems were improved with the addition of SX speakers. One-touch power windows were offered for the first time in 2001. On the mechanical side of the equation, the 5.2-liter V8 was let go in favor of the 4.7-liter V8 as the standard offering.
The model designation SXT replaced SLT, side curtain airbags were introduced, the four-speed transmission was shelved in favor of a five-speed, and DVD video entertainment systems found their way into the Durango. Though it was a lower level Durango, the SXT offered a nice set of 16-inch wheels, a CD player and bucket seats.
By its last year, the first generation Durango was offered in five versions. The entry-level iteration was the Sport, SXT was the next level up, the more luxurious SLT was the next stop, and an even more lux-oriented setup was available in the SLT Plus. For the performance-oriented SUV-er, the all-powerful R/T lit plenty of fires and shredded many tires. Regardless of your choice, all Durango models were pretty well equipped though. Even the base Sport offered a CD player and a roof rack, along with air conditioning, alloy wheels; power windows, door locks and mirrors. Dodge made four-wheel disc brakes standard across the board for model year 2003 Durangos.
2004 – 2009
For model year 2004, Dodge made an effort to address what many perceived to be the first generation Durango’s biggest flaws, while still keeping the robust character of the SUV intact. The most significant change in this regard was the switch to an all-new rear suspension system featuring coil springs (rather than leaf springs) to dampen the solid rear axle. A revised linkage system minimized the axle’s intrusion into the cargo floor, enabling more usuable space inside the Durango. This change also made the Durango more stable on rough roads.
The 2004 Durango was offered in three trim levels; ST, SLT and Limited. Three engines were specified; a 210-horsepower V6 with 235 ft-lbs of torque, a 230-horsepower, 4.7-liter V8 with 290 ft-lbs, or a 335-horsepower/370 ft-lb, 5.7-liter V8. All were offered with either rear- or four-wheel drive. The V6 got a four-speed automatic transmission; the two V8s used a five-speed automatic.
Stability control and traction control were optional across the board. Available for SLT and Limited models were Bluetooth, DVD-based video systems and satellite radio.
Dodge brought the SXT designation back and added a more outdoors-ish version of the Durango, tagged SLT Adventurer, for the 2005 model year. Roof rails, running boards and a unique body side moulding distinguished the SXT. The Adventurer earned its pay with a Thule roof rack, side steps, slush mats, a cargo compartment liner to deal with the mud and dirt its anticipated adventures would invite, and a unique set of wheels to distinguish it from the “street” Durango models. Seat heat became a feature for all Durangos, and navigation was offered for the first time — as an option for the Limited trim level only.
Satellite radio trickled down to the SXT base model for 2006 as an option. The DVD entertainment system became standard on Durango Limited, as did satellite radio, traction control and stability control. Chrysler’s multi displacement system was added to the 5.7-liter V8, enabling it to shut down four of its cylinders during steady state cruising. This resulted in a fuel economy gain of up to 20 percent. A power liftgate and remote start were added to the options list for upper-level Durango models.
The look of the second generation Durango was deemed due for a makeover by 2007, so Dodge’s styling team fitted it with new body-side mouldings, a new grille, front fenders, a revised hood and reshaped headlamps. The three trim strategy still held sway though; with the SXT featuring details like full power accessories, air-conditioning, an AM/FM/CD stereo, and cruise control as standard fare.
The SLT model had all those features — plus a power actuated driver’s seat, wood grain cabin accents, rear A/C, a two-passenger third-row bench, and a 115-volt rear power outlet.
If to all of that you added leather seating, dual-zone automatic climate control, a three-passenger third-row seat, a power rear hatch, a six-disc, in-dash CD changer with steering-wheel-mounted controls, auto-dimming mirrors, a universal remote for garage doors and security gates; in addition to a memory system which covered the driver seat, mirror, stereo and climate settings, power adjustable pedals (which were available as an SLT option too); you had a 2007 Dodge Durango Limited.
If you still wanted more, you could choose from among a navigation system, a sunroof, Bluetooth connectivity, and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system.
For 2008, the 4.7-liter V8 was reworked to produce 303 horsepower and 330 ft-lbs of torque. To further set the Limited model apart, it picked up a more distinctive exterior trim package. Chrysler’s hard-drive based MyGig infotainment system was introduced to the Durango, as was a rear backup camera.
Everybody else had one by then, so it was no real surprise when a hybrid Durango broke cover in 2009. Mounting its hybrid model’s electric motors in the transmission enabled Chrysler to fit its SUVs with hybrid power without significantly redesigning them.
Durango Adventurer was bounced out of the spot for 2009, as anybody wanting an SUV for dirt duty from Chrysler went straight to Jeep.
Broadcast television found its way into the Durango, thanks to the short-lived Sirius Backseat TV option, which was offered along with the DVD video option.
An SE model was added to the 2009 Dodge Durango lineup, and was fitted with 17-inch steel wheels, foglamps, air-conditioning, cruise control, full power accessories, a tilting steering wheel, and a 40/20/40-split second row, in addition to a four-speaker stereo with a CD player as well as an auxiliary audio input jack.
The Durango Hybrid (designated Limited HEV) ran 18-inch chrome-finished alloy wheels, running boards, and navigation with real-time traffic information. No hybrid model is complete without a hybrid system energy-flow monitor and you can rest assured because the Durango didn’t disappoint in that regard either.
Current Model (2011)
For all intents and purposes there was no 2010 Durango, as the third generation model debuted as a 2011 model.
Boasting a complete redesign, the 2011 Dodge Durango is no longer a body on frame vehicle like the Dodge Dakota pickup on which it was always based. Designed in concert with the new Jeep Cherokee, as well as the Mercedes-Benz M and R Class vehicles, today’s Durango boasts unibody construction. As a result, its ride and handling are tremendously improved.
The interior is considerably more upscale than before, flaunting a much more luxurious demeanor. For 2011, four trim levels are offered: Express, Crew, Citadel, and R/T. The base engine is a 3.6-liter V6 with 290 horsepower and 260 ft-lbs of torque. Offered as standard equipment on the R/T and optional on the Crew and Citadel models is the 360-horsepower, 5.7-liter V8, good for 390 ft-lbs of torque. Both engines employ a five-speed automatic transmission to feed a choice of rear-wheel drive, all-wheel drive (V6 only) and four-wheel drive with added low-range gearing (V8 only) powertrains.
Like so many SUVs, the Durango was something of a renegade when it was introduced, but as time went on, critics began to pan it mercilessly. Dodge is certainly to be commended for spotting the hole in the market like it did and plugging it with the uniquely sized Durango. However, they should also be rightly dinged for the indifferent build quality and harsh road manners escorting the Durango to market.
And while all of that has been addressed with the current model, we’re concerned with the used models here.
The good news is that the marketplace has seen to it pre-owned Durangos are priced commensurate to their virtues (or lack thereof). That said, you can find some pretty good deals on used Durangos. Their engines and drivetrain have never really been a source of concern, so while we don’t enthusiastically recommend buying a used Durango, we wouldn’t really dissuade you from doing so on the grounds of reliability either (as long as you recognize going in you won’t be getting an exceptionally smooth ride and tight build quality).
As always, we also encourage you to run a vehicle history report to find out all you can about any vehicle you’re seriously considering parting with some of your hard-fought coin for. Additionally, you’ll want to check the 'Net for recall notices as well. And finally, a pre-purchase inspection by a trusted professional mechanic should be a standard feature of every used vehicle transaction.
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