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.