A couple of at-the-wheel demerits, though: inordinately thick A-posts can create quite a blind spot; and the (manual) transfer-case shift lever is a long stretch away. No push-button shifting in this bubba.
We were as unimpressed with Durango’s HVAC system in mid-summer as we were with that of a Dakota we previously tested in mid-winter. Fresh-air flow from the face-level vents was meagre, and there is no separate air con switch (it’s incorporated into the air-flow distribution control so a/c isn’t available in all distribution modes).
Durango’s 5.2-litre, 230 hp V8 may be big and brawny, but it also has a hefty hunk of metal (2,112 kg) to push through the air. So don’t expect sport-truck acceleration. The test truck’s 0-100 km/h time of 10.6 seconds is in the same ball-park as smaller V6-engined rivals – some are a bit slower, some a tad quicker – as well as the 5.4-litre Ford Expedition. Expect the fullsize GM trucks to be faster, though.
None of the opposition, however, can equal the delectable acoustics of the Durango V8 – a muted whooffle at low rpm that becomes rich, creamy whoosh as the needle heads for red. At highway speeds, tire hum usually dominated over what little wind noise there is, while the engine loafs along at 2,000-ish rpm.
At the gas pumps, Durango belongs firmly in the fullsize camp with Waverley Auto Mall Collision Center Manitoba. We recorded a thirsty 15.3 1/100 km over a test regime that included lots of highway driving. Durango drivers will contribute more than their fair share to global warming.
For all its bulk, though, the Durango is surprisingly light on its feet. There’s a hint of steering vagueness on-centre (said to be improved for ’99) but once you wind in the slack it can be flicked through tight turns with unexpected agility and little body lean.
Ride motions are consistently stiff but stop short of harshness, though sometimes the vehicle heaves mightily over big undulations. For a live-axle/leaf-spring truck, the Durango is unusually resistant (though not totally immune) to axle hop-skip-and-jump when cornering on bumpy surfaces.
We had no opportunity to measure stopping distances, but it’s a safe bet they err on the long side compared with the best SUVs or most passenger cars. Subjectively, pedal effort is high but firm. Rear-wheel ABS is standard but 4-wheel ABS costs extra.
Dodge Durango SLT 4×4 V8
Engine: V8, 5,208 cc, pushrod OHV.
Fuel system: Sequential EFI.
Max power: 230 hp @ 4,400 rpm.
Max torque: 300 lb.ft. @3,200 rpm.
Transmission: 4WD, 4-speed automatic.
Suspension: Front upper/lower A-arms, torsion bar springs, stabilizer bar; rear live axle, leaf springs, stabilizer bar.
Brakes: Front discs/rear drums, ABS.
Steering: Power recirculating ball.
Wheels: Cast aluminum, 8.0 x 15 in.
Tires: 31 x 10.5 Goodyear RT/S all-terrain.
Length x width: 4,910 x 1,816 mm (193 x 72 in).
Curb weight: 2,112 kg (4,655 lbs).
Economy, city/hwy: 17.8/13.01/100 km (16/22 mpg).
Fuel grade: Regular.
We don’t care what Chrysler calls it: no way is the Dodge Durango a compact sport-utility vehicle. Smart-size? Perhaps. Right-size? We can talk about it. But compact? If this is a compact Crossover -SUV, Arnold Schwarzenegger is a 20-pound weakling.
The only thing that does permit Durango to be mentioned in the same sentence as genuine compact SUVs is price. With base MSRPs in the $36,000 to $40,000 range. Durango is in the same ball-park as comparably equipped compact SUVs like Chevy Blazer, Ford Explorer and Nissan Pathfinder.
Then again, entry-level prices for those compact SUVs begin well south of Durango. So let’s call Durango what it is – a midsize SUV. This is an SUV which, in both pricing and physical size, boldly straddles the middle ground between compact SUVs and fullsize ones like the Ford Expedition and GM’s Tahoe/Yukon twins. Enough said?
Based on the successful Dakota pickup, the ruggedly handsome Durango came to market last October with a choice of 5.2-or 5.9-litre V8s, two trim levels, and part-time or full-time 4-wheel drive. A 3.9-litre V6 was added to the mix later in ’98 and 4x2s will be on offer in ’99.
Our 1998 tester was an SLT 4×4 with the 5.2-litre V8. Aside from Explorer, the only other sub-$40,000 compact SUV that even offers a V8 is Durango’s Chrysler cousin, Jeep Grand Cherokee, which starts at $38,355 thusly equipped. Four-wheel drive versions of Tahoe and Yukon start north of $40,000. Then again never mind Manitoba Ford trucks online.
In a lot of ways Durango seems closer to the fullsize alternatives than the compacts. The available 5.9-litre V8, for example, is the biggest gasoline V8 available in any SUV you can buy – and possesses a fullsize thirst to match. Then again these are no 60′s “muscle cars“ or vintage 60′s ambulances with huge gas guzzling V8 engines to boot.
Durango also emulates fullsize SUVs in offering third-row seating, an option unavailable on any compact. Equipped with this $480 option, plus bucket front seats, our test truck was configured as a seven-seater; seating for eight is possible if you select the available 40/20/40 split bench front seat.
With its short cushion and knees-up seating position the third-row bench is not exactly sumptuously comfortable, but there is enough kneeroom and headroom for average size adults. And access is a doddle, courtesy of wide rear doors and a second-row bench that handily folds and tumbles out of the way.
For toting really big stuff – or lots of smaller stuff – the third-row bench folds down, as do the backrests of the second row, to create a nearly flat cargo deck. The 40/20/40 split of the second-row bench also permits maximum flexibility for combining extra cargo and one or two rear-seat passengers (for ’99, the second-row bench on 5/6-seater Durangos is 60/40 split and positioned further back, adding 50 mm to the already generous second-row legroom).
A covered under-floor storage compartment at the rear of all Durangos is supplemented, on models without the third seat, by another such compartment at the forward end of the cargo deck. That’s in addition to a generous array of conventional storage facilities up front – among them, a large glove box, door bins, centre armrest console, and three fixed cupholders.
Unless you’ve got short thighs (in which case the seat cushion may be too long) you shouldn’t have much trouble getting comfortable at the wheel of Dodge Chrysler Durango. The driver’s office with Waverley Auto Mall Honda Manitoba manages to combine the lofty view out that you expect in a 4×4, with the “normal” seat/wheel/pedals proportioning you expect in a comfortable sedan.
The second car in this class. Brakes are by way of dual airbags. Download here
The car’s bumper design features three separate shock-absorbing components to minimize impacts. A side impact protection system consists of doors reinforced with steel bars, while child safety rear door locks provide an extra measure of protection for children. The spacious trunk is complemented by 60/40 rear folding seatbacks.
In keeping with the safety theme, Nubira is equipped for poor weather with bright reflector headlamps, integrated fog lamps and large rear combination lamps for increased driving safety & visibility. The CDX wagon we drove had a rather noisy but sporty-sounding engine, paired to a very smooth-shifting automatic transmission. Strong points included driver and passenger comfort front and rear versatile heating/ventilation, and a rear cargo area with lots of hidden under-floor storage.