What's New for 2002
Like its sibling, the Dakota, the Durango gets a new trim level dubbed SXT that serves as the entry-level Durango. Other improvements this year include side-curtain airbags, a five-speed automatic gearbox and an optional DVD video entertainment system.
Previously the only midsize SUV with a third-seat option, the Durango faces new competition this year from the recently revamped Explorer (now with optional third seat) and GM triplets (TrailBlazer, Envoy, Bravada). To counter, Dodge has added a couple of new features such as available side-curtain airbags and an optional DVD entertainment system for rear-seat passengers.
The new entry-level SXT model is no stripper, equipped as it is with 16-inch alloys, a CD player, bucket seats and an appearance group that includes a graphite-colored grille, fasciae (front and rear) and fender flares. Other trim levels, the SLT, SLT Plus and R/T, continue as before.
In spite of sporting comfortably plush seats, the large cabin still earns a few demerits, most notably some hard, shiny plastic trim; chunky A-pillars that hamper visibility; and small stereo controls, problems which plague many Chrysler products.
Durangos can be had in a choice of two- or four-wheel-drive configuration. Either way, the standard powerplant is the contemporary 4.7-liter V8 that pumps out 235 horsepower. Throttle response with this engine is excellent, with power accessible from a broad rev range. For 2002, Dodge has dropped the four-speed automatic in favor of a new five-speed.
If heavy-duty hauling is going to be a regular part of your Durango's workload, the optional (and thirsty) 245-horse 5.9-liter V8 is the best choice. So equipped, the Durango can pull up to 7,600 pounds.
In terms of handling dynamics, body roll is well controlled, and, with the help of the full-time all-wheel drive and responsive, tight steering, enable the Durango to run through twisty two-lane roads with confidence, sans the tippy feeling that some other utes are plagued with. And even when fully loaded with seven passengers, the suspension handles the payload with little effort.
Not trying to be all things to all people, the Durango is a truck-based sport-ute that makes no apologies for its somewhat stiffer ride. But even though the rugged Durango's design dates back to 1998, Dodge has judiciously updated it, allowing it to remain a solid choice for folks who need plenty of seating and hauling capacity in their midsize ute.