Full 2009 Dodge Durango Review
What's New for 2009
The big news for the 2009 Dodge Durango is the addition of a hybrid model that combines V8 power with V6-like fuel efficiency. For the regular Durango line, the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 makes more power for 2009 with no fuel-economy penalty, thanks to cylinder deactivation. Sirius Backseat TV is now included with the rear-seat entertainment system. The Adventurer trim level has been discontinued, while the SXT trim level is renamed SE.
Truck-based chassis. Fifteen mpg combined fuel economy. Less passenger space than a big crossover. With all of that going against it, the 2009 Dodge Durango is looking like a dinosaur in the final moments before that comet smacked into Yucatan. A new "two-mode" hybrid model is a last-minute attempt to adapt to a changing climate, but it seems unlikely to sway many people interested in purchasing an SUV.
The current-generation Durango debuted five years ago, and it follows the traditional SUV playbook with a body-on-frame design (rather than the increasingly more common carlike unit-body design of crossover SUVs) and rear-wheel or four-wheel drive. This rugged construction lends itself better to towing and off-roading. Among midsize and full-size SUVs, the Durango is a "Goldilocks" choice: bigger than choices like a Ford Explorer or Nissan Pathfinder, but smaller than something like a Chevrolet Tahoe. It's also one of the most powerful choices you'll find. Its optional Hemi 5.7-liter V8 engine cranks out an impressive 376 horsepower. As expected, fuel economy is pretty dismal, though this big V8 features cylinder deactivation technology, helping return fuel economy no worse than the Durango's smaller V6 and V8 power plants.
For the best fuel economy, there is the new-for-2009 Dodge Durango HEV hybrid. Utilizing so-called "two-mode" hybrid technology co-developed by General Motors, BMW and the company formerly known as Daimler-Chrysler, this powertrain features a detuned version of the Hemi, plus a pair of potent electric motors and a trick transmission with variable gear ratios, which maximizes the efficiency of both power sources. The result is combined fuel economy of about 20 mpg, a 5-mpg increase over a regular 5.7-liter V8-equipped Durango. Unfortunately, all that hybrid hardware jacks the Durango's price up by approximately $5,000 over the similarly equipped non-hybrid Limited trim level. Even after federal tax credits, it could take years to recoup the cost purely through fuel savings.
The Dodge Durango is really only a viable choice for those who need loads of family space and the ability to tow heavy objects. And if that's the case, the bigger Chevy Tahoe is a better pick anyway. Meanwhile, newer crossover vehicles like the Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Flex and Mazda CX-9 offer more passenger-friendly accommodations, the same or more cargo capacity and good fuel economy. The Durango Hybrid matches them in the last regard but is considerably more expensive. Overall, we think most SUV shoppers will find something better suited to their needs than a 2009 Durango.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Dodge Durango midsize SUV is available in SE, SLT and Limited trim levels. There is also the Limited HEV trim, which denotes the hybrid. Standard equipment on the SE includes 17-inch steel wheels, foglamps, air-conditioning, cruise control, full power accessories, a tilting steering wheel, a 40/20/40-split second row and a four-speaker stereo with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack. The Tech Group adds remote ignition and satellite radio. The Popular Equipment Group adds 18-inch alloy wheels, running boards, a two-person third-row bench seat and rear heating and air-conditioning. All trims can be equipped with a tow package.
The Durango SLT adds 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlamps, a power driver seat, reclining second-row seats, stain-repellent upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls and an eight-speaker stereo with a six-CD changer and satellite radio. Optional is the Tech Group II, which adds remote ignition, a power tailgate, rear parking sensors, a rear back-up camera, a three-person third-row bench seat, Bluetooth, a touchscreen stereo interface, an iPod interface and a 30GB hard drive for digital music storage. The Leather Interior Group adds leather upholstery, power-adjustable pedals, heated front-row seats and running boards.
The Durango Limited essentially comes standard with the equipment in the Tech II and Leather Interior Groups. It also has 20-inch wheels, auto-dimming interior and driver exterior mirrors, driver memory functions and upgraded speakers with a subwoofer. A navigation system, running boards, remote ignition and second-row heated seats are available on the Limited. Both the SLT and the Limited can be equipped with a sunroof and a rear-seat entertainment system with Sirius Backseat TV.
The Limited HEV hybrid is equipped similarly to the Limited but adds a hybrid powertrain, 18-inch chrome-clad alloy wheels, running boards and a standard navigation system with real-time traffic information and a hybrid system energy-flow monitor.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2009 Dodge Durango is offered in several drivetrain combinations. The standard engine on the two-wheel-drive Durango SE and SLT models is a 3.7-liter V6 that produces 210 hp and 235 pound-feet of torque. A four-speed automatic is standard. Optional on the SE 2WD and standard on the SE 4WD, SLT 4WD and all Limiteds is a 4.7-liter V8 making 303 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque, attached to a five-speed auto. Although called 4WD, the 4.7 actually has a full-time all-wheel-drive system with no manual transfer case. Fuel economy with the V6 engine and 2WD is 14 mpg city/20 mpg highway and 16 mpg combined, while the 4WD models with the 4.7-liter V8 rate 13 city/18 highway and 15 combined.
Optional on the SLT and Limited is a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 good for 376 hp and 401 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed auto is standard. Rear-wheel drive is standard, but a 4WD system with electronic transfer case is optional. Equipped with cylinder deactivation technology, the big Hemi with 4WD manages to return 13 city/19 highway and 15 combined. Two-wheel drive improves the highway number by 1 mpg.
The Durango Limited HEV hybrid (4WD only) is powered by a "two-mode" hybrid system consisting of a Hemi V8 (345 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque), two electric motors (87 hp and 235 lb-ft of torque) and a "two-mode" transmission with variable ratios, which maximizes the gasoline and electric power plants. Estimated fuel economy is 19 mpg city/20 mpg highway.
Antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, trailer sway control and side curtain airbags are standard on all 2009 Dodge Durangos. In government frontal crash testing, the Durango earned a perfect five-star rating for its protection of front occupants.
Interior Design and Special Features
Modern and functional, the Dodge Durango's cabin was designed with family-style versatility in mind -- but not high-quality materials. Chrysler's latest batch of digital entertainment options (a 30GB hard drive, satellite radio and TV) in particular should appeal to kids and tech-savvy parents. Depending on third-row seat style, it can carry up to seven or eight passengers. The front seats are roomy and comfortable, but storage areas are lacking and the second row is very short on legroom. The third row is surprisingly spacious, with decent legroom (more than a Chevy Tahoe), but it's probably best left to the kids. Large crossover SUVs like the Ford Flex and GMC Acadia are far more passenger-friendly. Most buyers will find cargo capacity more than adequate, with more than 68 cubic feet available when the third row is folded into the floor, and as much as 102 cubic feet total.
Although the current-generation Dodge Durango handled well for its class at its debut a few years ago, newer and more refined competitors have put the Durango in a less forgiving light. Numb steering and a rough, unsophisticated ride confirm the vehicle's truck-based heritage. Four-wheel-drive versions are quite capable off-road, offering plenty of wheel travel and responsive manners. The base V6 barely gets out of its own way, however, so we recommend one of the optional V8s for most buyers. When equipped with the powerful 5.7-liter V8, the 2009 Durango is one of the quickest SUVs available for the money.
Driving the new 2009 Durango HEV hybrid is a bit odd: It still feels trucky, but the Hemi roar has been replaced by a Prius-like whir at low speeds. Plentiful power is always on tap, with the electric motor providing endless torque. If you drive prudently, the Durango can remain in electric mode at low city speeds, thus maximizing fuel economy.