You might appreciate the smooth lines of its exterior and the cool crosshair grille of the 2012 Durango - and if you need seven seats and fantastic towing power it's probably the best vehicle on the market - but other than that, it doesn't stand out from the crowd.
That's unfortunate, because the current Durango is a definite improvement over the previous model, which was retired in 2009 when Chrysler closed its Newark assembly plant. Abandoning its truck-based roots, the third-generation SUV now shares its unibody platform with the Jeep Grand Cherokee, inheriting DNA from the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class SUV. As a result, the Durango is more in line with the tastes of today's consumers, the vast majority of whom are looking for a car-like SUV for on-road adventures.
With better styling, materials, and build quality - a common theme for the revitalized Dodge brand - the Durango addresses the biggest concerns of its predecessor. As such, there's no particular area where it comes up lacking. Instead, it's a handful of minor annoyances that hold the Durango back, from the firm seats and smallish interior to the sometimes sluggish V6 power-train. What this means is that the Durango is a good vehicle with a lot of solid features, but may have a difficult time competing with some of the higher volume competition from Ford and GM.
So what is it that makes you want to like the Durango? It's the potential - underneath it all there's the promise of something very rewarding. If you equip the Durango with the right options and you are able to get a great discount on it, the vehicle can go from being an average SUV to something special.
There's nothing spectacular about the Durango's exterior styling, and it's certainly not pushing the envelope, but the design work is solid and very pleasing to the eye. Like other new Dodges, the overdone bulges of the past have been replaced with smoother curves that show off the SUV's balanced proportions, making this a vehicle of which the designers can be rightfully proud.
Compared to the second-generation Durango, this one is far less massive and imposing - and that's a good thing. Instead of appearing like it wants to be a monster truck, the new Durango comes across as the family vehicle that it's meant to be.
Inside, there's both good and bad news. The cabin is hugely improved and much more contemporary, with a simple, no-nonsense style and a tall dashboard that suits the SUV. However, the ongoing parts-sharing with other Dodge vehicles remains obvious, preventing the Durango from developing its own personality. When it comes to build quality, the Durango puts its best foot forward. Though the base model remains a bit too plasticky, upper trims feature some of the better materials you'll find in this class of vehicle.
Most Durangos are powered by a 3.6L V6 with 290-hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, equipped with a five-speed automatic. The R/T model gains a 5.7L HEMI V8 with 360-hp and 390 lb-ft of torque, as well as a six-speed automatic.
Shared with the Grand Cherokee, the V6 is an excellent engine that generates 38 per cent more horsepower and 11 per cent more torque than the engine it replaced in the previous Jeep. However, while there's lots of power available, the heavy SUV feels sluggish off the line. The V8 is obviously more spirited, but isn't worth the trade-off in fuel efficiency.
On the road, the Durango is confident, stable and not too bulky (despite its size), with predictable handling and decent road feedback. Ride quality is generally good, but there's noticeable vibration at highway speeds. Rear-wheel drive is available in the U.S., but every Canadian Durango comes with standard all-wheel drive. That drops the towing power a bit, but the Durango still posts best-in-class numbers in this category: 2,812 kg with the V6 and 3,266 kg with the V8.
Seven seats come as standard equipment, and for 2012 the Durango adds the option of two captain's chairs in the second row, converting it to a six-seater. Unfortunately, the front seats are overly wide and firm, offering minimal lateral support, and the optional second-row seats likely won't fare any better.
Perhaps the biggest complaint about the Durango is the interior space, which feels smaller than it should in such a large vehicle. Cargo space is so-so, as the third-row seats take up a lot of space and - as is the case with many seven-passenger vehicles - go almost all the way to the back. Fold the seats away and the cargo space becomes somewhat acceptable. Upper models come with a standard power liftgate, but the mechanism is a tad slow.
Ranging in price from $37,995 to $50,295, the Durango comes in SXT, Crew Plus, R/T and Citadel trims.
The V8 engine is only available with the R/T.
Standard equipment on the base SXT includes ABS, traction control, cruise control, dual-zone automatic air conditioning, fog lights, compass, exterior temperature gauge, tilt/telescope steering, six-speaker CD stereo and front/ side/side-curtain airbags.
Additional features, available as options or on higher trims, include an auto-levelling suspension, remote starter, power liftgate, sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, distance-pacing cruise control, blind-spot sensors, parking sensors, power-adjustable front seats, heated seats, second-row captain's chairs, nine-speaker audio, and GPS navigation.
Fuel efficiency for the V6 is rated at 13.0L/100km in the city and 8.8L/100km on the highway.
Excellent exterior design; improved interior; predictable handling; fantastic towing capacity.
Lots of minor annoyances.
THE BOTTOM LINE
A decent SUV in need of a few tweaks and a standout feature.