LOS ANGELES, CA – The Dodge Durango is the best-selling large or full-sized SUV in Canada. On the surface that is a big deal, but Canadians don't really buy many large SUVs, preferring instead the mid-sizers, by a wide margin.
But our American neighbors buy lots of large SUVs and the Durango is the runner-up in that category south of the border. So Chrysler has given the Durango a mild makeover for the 2014 model year to ensure it stays in play.
Chrysler Canada says sales here do not warrant the expense or effort, but will gladly cash in on the upgrades made to satisfy American expectations – more equipment and refinement combined with lower fuel consumption and pricing.
The 2014 Durango gets new front and rear ends, a new interior, transmission, trim level and technologies.
It continues to be built off the same platform developed by Mercedes-Benz for its GL Class when the German firm owned Chrysler. The benefits are numerous and immediately evident when driving the Durango.
While only three model years old, the 2014 Durango benefits from what the company calls MCA (Mid Cycle Action). Jeff Gale, senior manager of Dodge and Ram exterior design, said here during the unveiling that the development team focussed on technology and what he referred to "Dodge brand appearance – "the long distance view, what you see from a distance."
Gale said the changes accentuate the width of the vehicle and include a lower front end and different grille textures for each trim level. At the other end, the standard trailer hitch is now covered when not in use, to clean up the view.
LED lighting plays a major role – Daytime Running Lights in front and 192 of them for the signature "racetrack" wall-to-wall taillights. "You are unable to see individual units," he said, adding that even the license plate lights are LED.
Big changes inside
While the exterior changes result in a fresh and more contemporary look, it really has not changed that much. However, the interior is a different story.
When it appeared three years ago, the interior of the Durango was a massive upgrade from previous efforts. At the time, Chrysler was emerging from bankruptcy, a period during which development dollars were stretched pretty thin.
Back then, Klaus Busse, now head of interior design for the Chrysler group, told me, his group stayed hard at work on a new generation of interiors for various products under the Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brands. They often volunteered extra time in the effort to ensure that when things returned to normal they could make a significant contribution to a fresh image.
The results were clearly evident and Chrysler has since gone on to profitability and record sales.
Busse said they have entered a new phase at Chrysler, a foundation built on quality so that when a refresh is called for they don’t have to redo the entire thing.
The lanky German said when they redid the interior three years ago there was so much room for improvement it was like a blank slate. "That is not the case this time. We had a great base to work from and were able to focus on technology, which I believe to be the next frontier in interior design" he said.
Screens to the fore
There are numerous new materials and design tweaks, including a new steering wheel with paddle shifters and console with various media inputs and an intuitive and space-saving rotary shift control.
The media inputs are individual screens built into the front seat backs when you order the rear seat entertainment system so the kids can watch different things. The inputs are mounted directly on the screens.
But the big news is the big configurable screen that dominates the driver’s point of view. It contains provision for two large conventional gauges on the sides.
Hidden icons available via a menu and rotary control allow you to set up the screen with both major and minor displays. You can even switch from digital or analog speedometer and between km/h and mph. Busse said the potential is somewhere between 300 and 400 screen combinations!
Other updates include the next generation of Chrysler’s award-winning Uconnect system with a 13-cm touch screen.
Choice plus room
The 2014 Durango comes in SXT ($39,995), Rallye($40,995), new-for-2014 Limited ($43,995), R/T ($48,995) and Citadel ($51,95) trim levels. The Limited is priced $3,500 less than the outgoing Crew Plus model yet contains $2,500 in additional equipment.
The standard seating format is 2/3/2 unless equipped with second-row captain’s chairs.
There are 487 litres of cargo space behind the third row, 1350 behind the second and 2393 with both the second and third rows down. The front seat back also folds flat for hauling lengthy cargo and the head restraints on the third-row seat scan be lowered remotely.
The refreshed Durango gets a new eight-speed automatic transmission, which plays a major role in improving fuel consumption with either the 3.6-litre V-6 or 5.7-ltire V-8 engines, which are carried over.
Chrysler says the numbers have improved by 15% for the rear-wheel-drive Durango equipped with the V-6 – a version we don't get in Canada. All Durangos coming our way have one of two full-time four-wheel-drive/all-wheel-drive systems. Fuel economy has improved by 10% for the AWD V-6 version.
The new eight-speed ZF transmission is another example of technology bringing broad-basedimprovement. It is programmed to monitor driving behavior, automatically downshifting when it senses braking and holding gears longer when accelerating.
There are two different AWD units – a full-time, single-speed unit with the V-6 and a two-speed with AWD low-lock, neutral and full-time active AWD with variable torque split for the V-8.
The 2014 Durango carries a 2,812-kg tow rating with the V-6 and 3,356-kg rating with the V-8 – key specifications for this type of vehicle.
On the road
On the road, the big truck proved comfortable on the straights and did not disgrace itself in the turns despite its height and weight. I didn't get an opportunity to try the V-6 but the big V-8 loafs along effortlessly and the new transmission is excellent with an uncanny ability to pre-select gears appropriate for the occasion.
I did notice more wind noise than I would have expected, but these were early production units.
In summary, the 2014 Dodge Durango retains its tough-guy appearance but introduces a much more friendly interior laced with technology.