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2011 Dodge Durango Overview
For 2011, Dodge's venerable Durango goes under the knife for a complete, and long-awaited, makeover. While the outgoing Durango typified SUVs of yesteryear, the all-new 2011 model's updated running gear and unit-body chassis provide the type of top-drawer driving experience that today's more sophisticated buyers seek.
Dodge's first order of business in making the 2011 Durango a competitor in the cutthroat SUV market is to move it from the positively ancient Dakota pickup platform to an all-new steel unit chassis that it now shares with the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee. The commendably stiff new structure pays huge dividends in handling and overall refinement, with the 2011 Durango more than capable of competing on a level plane against Ford's equally fresh 2011 Explorer.
In addition to its modern chassis, the 2011 Durango receives Dodge's spanking-new 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine. Replacing the hoary PowerTech base V6 and V8 engines, the Pentastar is a world-class motor with four valves per cylinder and all-aluminum construction. With 290 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque on tap, the 3.6-liter mill moves the rather hefty Durango around with ample enthusiasm. Power junkies, or anyone planning to tow a trailer, will want to upgrade to the now-familiar 5.7-liter Hemi V8, whose 360 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque greatly enhance the Durango's performance off the line.
In the new Durango, both the V6 and the Hemi are mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission that's borrowed from former corporate parent Mercedes-Benz. Though it shifts smoothly, the automatic's poorly spaced ratios are the weak link in the 2011 Durango's drivetrain. Both rear-wheel- and four-wheel-drive Durangos are offered, the latter featuring a single-speed transfer case for seamless operation with no driver input. V6 Durangos can tow up to 6,200 pounds, while those equipped with the Hemi V8 can haul up to 7,400.
While the stiff new chassis provides a solid mounting point for the 2011 Durango's four-wheel independent suspension, buyers shouldn't expect frisky handling. Though the shock dampers in the Durango are tuned for more aggressive control than those in the Grand Cherokee, simple physics dictate that no 5,000-pound truck is going to corner like a sports car. The ride isn't quite as pillowy as the softer Grand Cherokee's, but it's light-years ahead of the old Durango, which would shake, rattle and roll at the slightest provocation. Four-wheel disc brakes bring the heavy Durango to a halt without drama.
While not especially adventurous, the new Durango's styling is clean and modern. A crosshair grille and bulging front fenders suggest an aggressive attitude and differentiate the Durango from its Grand Cherokee stablemate. Tinted windows, a high beltline and tasteful aluminum wheels round out the slick, if slightly undistinguished, design.
Stepping inside, the 2011 Durango features seating for up to seven passengers and room for 17.2 cubic feet of cargo behind the third row. Entry and egress are greatly improved, courtesy of the lower ride height and large doors. The dashboard design is quite pleasing, with a large instrument binnacle and logical placement of most controls. While the chrome door handles and vent surrounds are a nice touch, some of the secondary switchgear looks chintzy.
Dodge offers the 2011 Durango in three trims; the base Express, the mid-level Crew and the top-line Citadel. Even the entry-level Durango Express features high-end touches like dual-zone automatic climate control, a 6-speaker CD stereo with satellite radio and a power sunroof. The Durango Crew adds keyless push-button start, power seats and a seriously loud 506-watt stereo with subwoofer. Stepping up to the Durango Citadel trim nets buyers heated leather seats, GPS navigation, adaptive cruise control and xenon headlamps.
With growing families in mind, Dodge has equipped the 2011 Durango with more safety features than a nuclear launch silo. In addition to the usual complement of six airbags and antilock brakes, all Durangos get rain brake support, automatic headlamps, trailer sway damping and active head restraints. Citadel trims offer added peace of mind courtesy of a rear cross-path detection system and a forward collision warning feature.
by Jesse Berger
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