The 2017 Dodge Durango is a five- or seven-seat SUV with a unibody frame, which by some definitions makes it a crossover, but it’s not. For one thing, it can tow up to 7400 pounds. But that whole crossover thing blurs. The Durango is much like its cousin the Jeep Grand Cherokee, and shares character with the Mercedes M- and GL-Class, none of which are what we’d call crossovers.
The refined but aging Durango’s direct competitors include full-size SUVs from Chevrolet, GMC, Ford and Lincoln, among others.
To say the Durango isn’t a crossover isn’t to suggest that it doesn’t have exceptionally nice road manners and contemporary styling, to complement its ruggedness. Too bad it doesn’t have good fuel mileage and crash-test ratings as well.
Base engine is Chrysler’s 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 making 290 or 295 horsepower with 260 pound-feet of torque, with an available 5.7-liter Hemi V8 making 360 hp and 390 lb-ft. Both engines use an 8-speed automatic transmission. The V6 can tow 6200 pounds; the V8 is loud.
All-wheel drive is available. The V8 gets a rugged two-speed transfer case, while the V6 uses a simpler single range electronic version.
For 2017, there are a few model changes. There’s a new Durango GT model that takes the place of the former Limited; the rearview camera adds the eminently helpful trailer view; the base SXT gets the option for third-row seating; and all models except the SXT get an 8.4-inch screen for the UConnect system with Bluetooth streaming audio that integrates audio, climate, phone, and vehicle functions.
The V6 Durango gets an EPA-estimated 19/26 miles per gallon City/Highway, or 21 mpg Combined with rear-wheel drive, or 18/25/21 mpg with all-wheel drive. The V8 is rated 14/22/17 mpg with all-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive. All come with the stop/start system that shuts off the engine at a stoplight.
The crash-test ratings are as middling as the fuel mileage, with four stars overall from NHTSA: three in rollover four all-wheel-drive models (four for rear-wheel-drive), four in frontal crash, and five in side crash. The IIHS gives it good scores in most of the tests, except for Marginal in the fearsome small-overlap.
The 2017 Dodge Durango comes in SXT ($29,995), GT ($37,495), R/T ($42,095), and Citadel ($41,395) models. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.) All-wheel drive is optional ($2600); rear wheel drive is standard.
Standard equipment in the SXT includes six airbags, full power, air conditioning, cruise control, 18-inch wheels, tilt/telescope steering wheel, an AM/FM stereo, USB port and aux jack. No rearview camera, although it’s standard on the other models. Also standard on other models is the UConnect infotainment system with 8.4-inch display screen.
New for 2017, the Citadel comes with Nappa leather.
Options include an Alpine audio system, blind-spot monitors, adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning that can bring the vehicle to a complete stop at slow speeds, heated front seats, third-row seat, satellite radio, 115-volt outlet, and 20-inch wheels. Second-row captain’s chairs are also available, along with a power sunroof, power tailgate, Beats by Dr. Dre audio system with 10 speakers and subwoofer, and HDMI and Blu-ray rear entertainment system.
The Durango is classy, despite its huge in-your-face grille and boxy profile with conservative flat sheetmetal. From the rear, you wouldn’t say it looks like a truck, although you won’t mistake it for anything else. Monochrome trim and a twin exhaust give it some sport.
If there’s any doubt about the Durango’s personality from the outside, it’s dispelled by the inside. The tightly sealed cabin is rich but subtle, quiet and refined, feeling like a luxury SUV, like its foreign ancestor the Mercedes ML. The flowing dash is covered in soft-touch materials and displays metallic-ringed gauges and a bright 8.4-inch infotainment touchscreen on most models (SXT uses a 5.0-inch touchscreen). The R/T shows off leather upholstery with woven red inserts and red stitching.
Front passengers have it good, with well-bolstered cloth seats and a driving position that works for all sizes. The leather seats are flatter than the cloth, so if you like sporty driving it’s something to consider.
Three adults fit comfortably in the second row, with available captain’s chairs for two individuals, with a low console with one cupholder between them. There’s an optional larger console with two cupholders, 12-volt outlet and USB port we recommend getting.
The third-row seat is standard except on the SXT, where it’s optional. It actually fits two adults, eminently usable compared to its competitors, although it’s a bit difficult to climb back there. It’s split 50/50 and folds, although not into the floor like the Chrysler’s Pacifica minivan, which might be a better option if it’s a people-carrier you need more than a tow vehicle. But when the Durango’s second row is folded there’s 84.5 cubic feet of space, room enough for a six-foot couch and a coffee table, or a stack of 10-foot-long two-by-fours.
The rear visibility is hindered by wide roof pillars, so with the SXT, the rearview camera option is a must.
We’ve said the Durango isn’t a crossover, but it drives like one, when it’s not towing like an SUV. The independent suspension provides a supple and well-damped ride, even without an air suspension, although there’s some head toss on patchy pavement. The steering is heavy but precise, and the brakes are big and secure for towing.
If you do tow a lot, even though the V6 can do 6200 pounds, the muscular Hemi V8 might be a better choice, for its additional torque; it can tow with the best of them, including some Ram 1500 pickup trucks. The 8-speed transmission works for towing even with its wide ratios and some models even have paddle-shifters to complement the standard rotary dial.
There is a lot of competition in the large SUV class, and the Durango is getting a bit long in the tooth. Its powertrain, ride and handling hold their own, while the cabin and especially third-row seat are pluses, although fuel mileage and crashworthiness aren’t.
Sam Moses contributed to this report, with staff reports from The Car Connection.