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2016 Dodge Durango Test Drive Review
An appearance-package shuffle, new standards for the sporty R/T trim, and a Sport driving mode aim to add some attitude to the manliest modern minivan on the market, while a standard stop/start feature extends the efficiency of the V6.
Crossovers dominate the market, but try to find one with rear-wheel drive (RWD) and some serious towing capacity, and your choices are limited at best. In this sphere, the Durango stands out as one of the better options, and this year some additions solidify its spot among the competition. For 2016, Dodge is really pushing its sport-oriented R/T trim with added standards such as new 20-inch wheels, ventilated and heated Nappa leather seats, a heated power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, an 8-way power passenger seat, auto wipers, HID headlights, and navigation with an 8.4-inch touchscreen. But the R/T isn’t the only trim getting attention. Every level gets some fresh wheels as well as 4 additional exterior color options, plus a Sport driving mode that quickens steering and throttle response and holds gears longer as well. Finally, there are Anodized Platinum and Brass Monkey appearance packages that’ll add a unique look to the Citadel and Limited trims.
Look and Feel7/ 10
Dodge wants to make sure the Durango offers the proper amount of attitude to make sure you won’t regret jumping into the 5-door family funster pool. To that end Dodge carved an aggressive exterior, leaned heavily on its muscle-and-sport brethren for some peripheral punch, and packed the interior of the Durango with fun features, even at the base SXT level. Here, impressive standards like 18-inch alloys, heated mirrors, auto headlights, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, keyless ignition and entry, and a load-leveling rear suspension keep the SXT from feeling too “base,” while cruise control, 3-row climate controls, fog lamps, and the Uconnect system with a 5-inch touchscreen add a bit of technological comfort to the mix. If that’s not enough, you can upgrade to the Uconnect 8.4 with the larger touchscreen, voice controls, satellite radio, and emergency telematics, and a sunroof is the other standalone option at this level. A Customer Preferred Order package will get you an 8-way power driver's seat with lumbar, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, satellite radio, and roof rails with crossbars. For more tech, a Popular Equipment Group gets you rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera, plus heated front seats and steering wheel.
The Limited trim takes all those features and packages and adds remote ignition, auto-dimming power-folding mirrors, leather plus 6-way power for the passenger seat, and heat for the second row. You’ll also get LED running lights, driver memory settings, and a secondary USB charge port. This is where you can start throwing navigation into the mix with the Nav and Power Liftgate Group, which adds its namesake features plus HD Radio. The Premium Group goes one step further with all three items from the N&PLG plus the Beats audio system (which has been a divisive choice), unique exterior trim, some 20-inch wheels, and the sunroof again, which remains an otherwise standalone option here. Thankfully, Dodge didn’t save the safety features for the top trims alone, but I wish the Safety/Security & Convenience Group was available for the SXT trim, as everyone should have access to options like the blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert, not to leave out the auto HID headlights and wipers, power-adjustable steering wheel, and cargo cover with net.
Dodge also brought some fun into the mix early on, and the SXT or the Limited can be outfitted with a Rallye Appearance package for 5 extra horsepower, black 20-inch wheels, and additional body-color trim with a roof-rail delete.
I believe the Limited offers the best compromise for flair and features, while the two remaining trims—Citadel and R/T—concentrate on upping the ante in both categories. For the features side of things, the Citadel gets you all the content from the N&PLG and Safety/Security & Convenience Groups but adds some chrome exterior trim and additional leather, upgraded brakes and new 20-inch wheels, the 5 extra hp from the Rallye Appearance Package, plus 8-way power for the front passenger seat, ventilation for the front seats, and a 9-speaker stereo. And the sunroof is finally included here. If the upgraded 9-speaker stereo isn’t enough for you, the Premium Entertainment Group will add the Beats stereo and a rear-seat entertainment system with dual 9-inch screens.
All of the above Durangos come with the standard, 3.6-liter V6 engine, but if you really want to impress the kids, the R/T’s 5.7-liter V8 should do the job nicely. A sport suspension gets you an aggressive stance with a 20mm drop, unique body-color trim, Nappa leather, performance steering tuning, and the Beats stereo. Frustratingly the roof rails and sunroof are gone again here, but at least the sunroof can be added back. And while you get the Beats system from the Premium Entertainment Group, the rear entertainment system will still need to be added separately.
Strangely, features you’d think would be included at least at the top-tier trim level are still left to the options list. The Citadel and R/T can add the Technology Group for adaptive cruise control, a forward-collision warning and avoidance system, plus a blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert. By contrast, every Durango can add a heavy-duty alternator and oil cooler, load-leveling rear shocks, and a full-size spare tire via a towing package.
The appearance packages continue to add some funky flavor to the lineup. Beyond the Rallye Package, all trims but the Citadel can add a Blacktop package for some gloss black 20-inch wheels and a gloss black grille, plus added body-color and blacked-out exterior trim. Citadel and Limited get fresh packages this year, too. Citadel can add an Anodized Platinum package for a satin-platinum finish on the 20-inch wheels and most of the exterior trim, while the Limited trim’s Brass Monkey package tosses on some burnished bronze aluminum 20-inch wheels, gloss black badging and grille, and a monochrome paint job.
My week with the Durango was spent in the R/T, and with a $44,495 base MSRP, the $995 Customer Preferred package for some second-row captain’s chairs and console, plus a $995 destination charge, the final drive-away price was $46,485.
Stay away from the R/T trim and you’ll be treated to Dodge’s 290-hp, 3.6-liter V6 good for 260 lb-ft of torque. If you pay attention solely to 0-60 times, you’re going to be disappointed. Go for the standard RWD, and the 8-speed automatic will get you there in a little under 8 seconds. Opt for all-wheel-drive (AWD) stability and it’ll be a little over 8, and neither time is impressive for the class. But 19 mpg city and 26 highway are more impressive, especially considering the Durango’s 5,300-pound curb weight, but it's helped this year by the newly standard stop/start feature that is usually annoying enough that I turn it off after a day or two. Even better? It’ll tow up to 6,200 pounds, and that makes the V6 Durango stand out among the competition.
You’re still going to feel the engine struggle a bit, even with the extra 5 hp from the Rallye package or Citadel trim, especially with a full load of cargo and kids to haul around on top of that prodigious curb weight. Jump up to the 5.7-liter V8 in the R/T and you’ll have no such issue. 360 hp and 390 lb-ft of very usable torque mean you’ll get to 60 mph in around 6 seconds, and the quarter mile will pass in just 15, but even more impressive is its 7,400-pound maximum towing capacity. That’s the highest you can get in a unibody crossover, and if you want any better, you’ll have to go with a traditional body-on-frame truck. The sad thing is, what you’re usually going to give up when you make that jump is fuel economy. Here, the Durango doesn’t do a hell of a lot better. With an EPA estimated 14 mpg city and 22 highway, the Durango’s 17 combined rating isn’t all that great. However, I can say that I managed to hit it easily, and that’s not something that happens often with my test vehicles. Even laying into it a bit and giving in to the temptations of that 5.7-liter V8, my average fuel economy still stayed above 17 mpg.
Form and Function7/ 10
Beyond its 7-person capacity (6 with the optional second-row captain’s chairs), 7,400-pound maximum towing capacity, and 15-second quarter mile, the Durango offers 47.7 cubic feet behind the second row and a total storage capacity of 84.5, which puts it near the top of its list of competitors. The second-row captain’s chairs made accessing the third row quite easy, with one-hand operation in or out, and my 6-foot, 4-inch frame even fit in that third row, although I’m not sure how long I’d enjoy it with the vehicle in motion.
My favorite part of the Durango is its ride. With independent suspension front and rear and a rubber-damped subframe, the ride was quite composed, feeling like it was hundreds of pounds lighter than specs would indicate. The sport suspension for the R/T made things a little jittery at times, but I’m not sure I’d trade the taller suspension for a softer tune. I’d definitely drive both and check, although I suspect it’ll be the engine and price jump that convinces or dissuades most people on the R/T.
The second-row captain’s chairs are nice, as is the rear-seat entertainment system with what seems like comparably massive dual 9-inch screens, but toss those two options in together and you’ve just added $3,000 to your bill, so be careful. That’d be a painful pill to choke down just to see your kids never look up from their phones/tablets anyway, and why give them expensive captain’s chairs and rob them of all the bench-seat territorial wars that define long road trips with siblings?
Regardless, the Durango’s interior is a nice place to spend time. I’ve been impressed with Dodge interiors of late, and this definitely follows suit. Hard plastic surfaces are tastefully applied and hidden, and a wealth of soft-touch surrounds some clean design.
Tech Level5/ 10
My one complaint here is that so much of the Durango's tech, especially of the safety variety, is kept to the options list. Even the top-tier Citadel and R/T trims need to add packages in order to get nearly standard features like blind-spot monitoring and adaptive cruise, which are wholly unavailable for the lower trims. It seems there should be better ways to save some dollars in production and distribution for what is marketed as a family vehicle. Safety should be a priority.
Speaking of families, the rear entertainment system just seems a step too far in most cases, especially for the price. I’m not convinced that the jump to 9-inch screens, while impressive considering they’re nearly double the size of some competitors', will be enough to lure kids away from tablets and even some phones that are close to the same size.
The 8.4-inch touchscreen with the updated Uconnect 8.4 system up front is a joy to use, however. I’m a big fan of the Uconnect system in general and find it to be an intuitive blend of a lot of functionality with little complication, although this particular example froze up on me more than once. I've used this system before many times, and this is the only time I've encountered this, so I have to assume it was a one-off problem.
What frustrates me here is that while the brand-new Uconnect 8.4 that you get in the Charger or the Challenger or the Chrysler 300 gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the Durango’s does not. It won't get them in 2017 either, and that’s confusing and disappointing. But it does get some extras this year, including a customizable drag-and-drop menu bar, Siri Eyes Free, and a Do Not Disturb feature that suppresses calls and messages when your phone is linked via Bluetooth.
The Durango’s 4-wheel antilock discs, stability, traction, and trailer sway control, plus a full suite of airbags including front side, driver knee, and full-length curtain airbags garnered it a 4-out-of-5-star safety rating in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tests, with side impacts getting 5 out of 5. Independent evaluations achieved top ratings in all tests, plus the lower sport suspension in the R/T should make rollovers less likely. Braking distance from 60 mph isn’t as impressive, but should happen in about 125 feet. This is average for the segment, but contextually impressive given the Durango’s low-rolling-resistance tires and substantial weight.
Stated frankly, you can’t get a 3-row crossover that can tow more than the Durango. You also can’t get another 3-row crossover with a Brass Monkey appearance package, so take that for what it’s worth, but if you need to tow and are looking for a V8 crossover, the Durango R/T should be at the top of your list of options to consider. That said, all the extras added to the 2016 R/T, like the premium Nappa leather and the navigation, mean the base price has increased by $1,700, although this is far less than if they’d been optioned in 2015.
Even with that price increase, the R/T seems a steal. But if you don’t need V8 power, I think there are better options out there in the V6, 3-row crossover category. The simple reason for this is the weight of the Durango. Competitors are literally hundreds and hundreds of pounds lighter, and that means better fuel economy, better handling, and less wear and tear on components, which will have you buying replacement tires, brakes, and suspension parts less often.
Currently there are thousands of dollars in customer cash allowances and loyalty discounts for both financing and leasing, most available through the end of the year, although special rates for financing extend only through Halloween, so the time is definitely nigh.
A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.
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