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Posted: June 09, 2014

Executive wheels: The dreamy Durango

A beast worth the bucks

Jeff Rundles

2014 DODGE DURANGO R/T AWD

The last time I drove a Dodge Durango – the relatively large SUV from the Chrysler division – must have been in 2009 or before because it was very truck-like and I remember not liking it very much. Turns out that the Durango, introduced in 1998, was built on the Dodge Dakota pickup truck frame and chassis. It was kind of clunky compared with the then-popular competitor models on the market, like the Jeep Cherokee and Grand Cherokee.

The Durango did, however, give the Dodge dealers a SUV to sell, and it took off almost immediately. Its annual sales peaked at 189,000-plus units but nosedived to just 3,521 units in 2009. The Durango’s demise was so stunning there simply was no 2010 model at all.

Then Chrysler got a clue and debuted a 2011 Dodge Durango based on the ever-popular model in the Chrysler line, the Jeep Grand Cherokee. A revised and refreshed 2013 model sold nearly 61,000 units.

I got to drive the 2014 R/T AWD version, one of eight trims available on the new Durango, and it was easy to see right from the start why the sales are rebounding so well. It’s a great vehicle, very Jeep-like. To be honest, I think I prefer the Durango because the pricing is so much lower for essentially the same vehicle.

It‘s hard to compare apples and apples. The base price on the R/T AWD Dodge Durango I drove – with the 5.7-liter VVT V8 Hemi engine putting out some 360 hp, is $41,395. The same vehicle with the Pentastar V6 (AWD Limited) with 290 hp, bases at $38,595 – which is exactly the same base price of the Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4X4 with the same engine. However, Jeep has a different Hemi – a 5.7-liter V8 with a whopping 470 hp, and while it’s hard to do a direct comparison, this Jeep gas a MSRP of $64,380. Okay, that’s a lot of extra horsepower, but not enough to justify a more than $20,000 difference.

The Durango Hemi and its 360 hp is a screamer – very powerful – and it will do nicely, thank you very much. And it has an eight-speed automatic transmission that is so smooth you never even notice when it shifts gears, and you never really wonder if the package won’t deliver. It delivered for me at slow speeds around town, on the highway passing anything, and up the hills without once ever feeling like it was topping out. The transmission, by the way, was made in Germany, by Mercedes which once owned Chrysler.

Now, Chrysler claims that their newer engines coupled with the German transmissions get an estimated 9 percent increase in fuel efficiency, but to be honest – admit it -- you don’t get the Hemi to save gas. For the record, this model is rated at 14 mpg city/22 mpg highway, with a combined average of 16 mpg.  The V6 in AWFD goes 17/24 so, heck, get the Hemi.

As I mentioned, I didn’t like the Durango as a truck – but as a Jeep Grand Cherokee, it is wonderful. It handles well for a vehicle of this size, is extremely quiet, operates great at low speed, is a beast on the highway, corners like a dream and is highly comfortable. It just feels well made.

Plus, the model they sent me had great stuff. The base price, as I mentioned is $41,395, but they added on a bunch of extras. Luxury everywhere, of course – leather, a wonderful R/T trim that is very sporty (especially the steering wheel, a very nice 8.4” touch screen to operate climate, sound system nav, etc., Sirius satellite radio, all the technology hookups, rear-view camera, an easy-to-operate rear and automatic liftgate, auxiliary power outlets everywhere, the trailer/tow package, blind spot and cross-path detection (which I love), and on and on.

Also, this one had the rear-seat entertainment system with DVD video. With a destination charge of $995, and all the packages the bottom line here is $51,060. That’s a jam-packed Jeep Grand Cherokee for $20,000. I like that.

Of course, $50,000-plus is a ton of money, I know. But here it’s a bargain compared with the Jeep and other competitors.

I like to imagine if I would drive – would buy – the vehicle I am driving, and the answer here is a loud, booming, “Yes!”

RATING:  4 WHEELS (PLUS THE SPARE) OUT OF FOUR

Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at jrundles@cobizmag.com.

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