Though the Dodge Durango has long been classified as a midsize sport-utility vehicle, its designers actually made it a half-size larger to fill the niche between the midsize and full-size SUV classes. As such, the Durango is often just the right size for those folks who need more interior room and towing capability than a typical midsize SUV can deliver, without the bulk and parking struggles of a full-sizer.
The first two generations of the Durango were truck-based SUVs in the traditional style. A used model from this period is a solid choice, though newer crossover SUV competitors outclassed the Durango by the late 2000s. The third-generation Durango, however, has joined the crossover club. It still offers V8 power and stout towing capabilities, but it is a much nicer and well-rounded vehicle overall.
Current Dodge Durango
The Dodge Durango is a three-row crossover SUV that seats six or seven passengers, depending on second-row configuration. It comes in four trim levels: well-equipped SXT, midlevel GT, sporty R/T and plush Citadel.
A 3.6-liter V6 is the standard engine across the lineup with the exception of the R/T. The V6 delivers respectable muscle with 293 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque (boosted to 295 hp in the GT, R/T and Citadel).
Standard on the R/T and optional on the Citadel is a 5.7-liter V8 good for 360 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque. All models come with an eight-speed automatic transmission. You may also choose among rear-wheel drive, all-wheel drive (V6 only) and four-wheel drive with added low-range gearing (V8 only). Towing capacity is a Durango strength compared to other conventional crossovers. An optional tow package with more robust alternator, oil-cooler and load-leveling shocks enables the Durango to pull up to 7,400 pounds.
In reviews, we've found that the Durango blends offers tight handling while delivering a composed and comfortable ride over bumps and ruts. The V6 is fine for daily driving, but the V8 provides strong acceleration and added grunt, useful for those planning to tow.
The Durango's interior is attractive and upscale, with quality and features on par with its competitors. Features include an 8.4-inch touchscreen display (standard on all but SXT) and an available rear-seat Blu-ray player. Second and third rows offer enough room for most families (the rearmost row can even comfortably sit 6-foot adults), though its seven-passenger max falls short of the eight-passenger capacity of its GM and Toyota rivals. Even so, we highly recommend the Durango as a midsize or large crossover SUV.
Used Dodge Durango Models
Revived for 2011 after a one-year hiatus, the current-generation Dodge Durango is a marked improvement on the first- and second-generation models.
Built atop a carlike unibody chassis, as opposed to a truck-based frame, the current Durango offers improved interior space and ride/handling characteristics compared to its predecessors. Exterior styling also traded a truck-ish look for a sleeker, rounded profile, and the cabin followed suit with big improvements in fit and finish.
Both the V6 and V8 came with a five-speed automatic. The 2012 model year brought a six-speed automatic transmission for V8 models, available second-row captain's chairs and revised trim levels.
Potential buyers should note that these Durangos lack the current model's eight-speed automatic transmission (introduced in 2014), refreshed styling and updated cabin that offers an 8.4-inch touchscreen display and a rear-seat Blu-ray player. A handful of special appearance packages have been available, including the Blacktop, Brass Monkey and Platinum. The Limited trim level was replaced by the GT trim for 2017.
The second-generation Durango was made from 2004 to '09. It was first offered in ST, midgrade SLT and Limited trim levels and came with one of three engines: a 210-hp V6, a 230-hp 4.7-liter V8 or a 330-hp 5.7-liter V8. These were offered with either rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive with low-range gearing. Alternatively, a single-speed transfer case could be specified on select 4WD models, which essentially meant that you could get a Durango with all-wheel drive. All Durangos came with automatic transmissions as standard — four speeds for the V6, five for the V8s.
For 2008, the V8 engines were given a welcome nudge in power. The 4.7-liter now produced 303 hp and was more fuel-efficient as well, while the 5.7-liter V8 generated 376 horses. In an interesting side story, the Durango Limited HEV hybrid was produced briefly for 2009. It was a so-called two-mode hybrid featuring a Hemi V8 (345 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque), two electric motors (87 hp and 235 lb-ft of torque) and a dual-mode transmission with variable ratios.
There were other changes during this Durango's life. Side airbags and refreshed styling arrived for 2006 and the ST trim level was renamed SXT. Two years later, new options such as a back-up camera, a CD/MP3 player, DVD-compatible audio and a MyGig multimedia infotainment system with a hard drive to store digital music files made the Durango more competitive in an increasingly high-tech market. An Adventurer trim level also debuted, slotting between the SXT and Limited.
In our tests, we found the second-generation Durango handled adequately for a traditional body-on-frame SUV, though car-based crossover SUVs of the time were noticeably superior at providing carlike driving dynamics. Interior quality was a couple notches below what we've come to expect from family-friendly utility vehicles, and its interior space was inferior to bigger truck-based SUVs and large crossovers.
Given the Durango's mass, the V8s are preferable for towing and acceleration, but fuel economy was poor no matter what engine you picked. As such, we'd suggest looking at a 2008 or later Durango and even then only if you need a big SUV that can tow and haul a lot of heavy stuff.
Launched in 1998, the first-generation Dodge Durango brought big-rig looks to a segment full of what essentially were tall station wagons. Then, as now, the Durango was larger than the typical midsize SUV, but it looked and felt more like a shrunken full-size SUV. It was a sport-ute for the truck person: a vehicle that sat eight, but in pretty much every other way was the antithesis of a minivan.
The Durango was offered with several engine choices, including a wimpy V6, a couple of V8s and even a rare performance-oriented Shelby model with a high-powered V8, a lowered suspension, big wheels and racing stripes. None of the Durango's engines were particularly sophisticated or very fuel-efficient.
Generally, we suggest looking for a used Durango equipped with a 4.7-liter V8 (offered 2000-'03) or the 5.9-liter V8. The 4.7-liter delivered the best mileage out of the lot, while the 5.9-liter offered the most torque. Despite its rugged underpinnings, the first-gen Dodge Durango had better road manners than most truck-based SUVs of this era thanks to its long wheelbase, wide track and carefully tuned suspension.
If image projection and midsize-plus packaging were the first-generation Durango's strengths, its chief weakness was quality, both real and perceived. Gaps between body panels were sizable and inconsistent, and interior fit and finish was subpar compared to the competition. Ergonomics also revealed the utilitarian pickup underneath, and the third-row seat was uncomfortable for all but children. Still, among families who needed a real workhorse, the original Dodge Durango made many friends.