Shopping for a three-row SUV that packs some towing chops quickly sends buyers scurrying into the realm of mid- or even full-size machines.
The 2021 Dodge Durango, with its macho styling and rear-drive architecture, might not be the newest option in town but has traditionally done a good job of straddling the line between lighter car-based machines and burly truck-based rigs. For 2021, Dodge has tweaked the Durango’s exterior styling and refurbished the interior by adding a new instrument panel.
One cannot deny the brand’s 3.6L V6 engine is a good fit for many of the newly named Stellantis family of vehicles in which it is installed. In the Durango, however, it’s definitely bumping up against the upper limits of its usability. This is not a lightweight machine, with the all-wheel-drive GT trim weighing very nearly 2,268 kg (5,000 lb) before passengers and cargo are added. As expected, the luxed-up Citadel model weighs even more.
It’s not as if the V6 is constantly straining itself or out of puff but there’s no masking the fact that 295 hp, all of which don’t show up for duty until the engine’s 6,400 rpm redline, is the bare minimum needed in this application. Dodge has several tremendous V8 engines in its corporate cupboard and, fortunately, most of them are available in other Durango trims.
Driving Feel: 7/10
What the V6 may lack in terms of urgency the eight-speed automatic transmission makes up for in terms of being a willing dance partner. Variants of this gearbox are found in vehicles ranging from rental-grade Dodge Chargers to half-million-dollar Rolls-Royces – and it doesn’t take long to understand why. Shifts are smooth and predictable, with the transmission always seeming to be in the correct gear. There might not be an abundance of output, but this octo-cogger makes the most of what’s available.
All the Durango’s mass means physics will make sure the driver is always aware of what’s being moved, creating a machine heavy in the turns. It’s like your buddy from high school who was in the starting lineup 20 years ago but now hoists more beers than footballs; he still has the capability but moves with a bit more deliberation than he did as a teenager.
Fuel Economy: 6/10
It’s worth noting that our test coincided with a week of frigid East Coast winter, so there was plenty of idling both in the morning and during photo sessions. This surely contributed to abysmal real-world fuel economy, one in which the Durango guzzled 32 L of fuel over just 229 km of driving. That’s roughly 14.0 L/100 km, if you’re wondering.
This means V6 power but V8 fuel economy – an unwelcome combination. Your author owned a Dodge Charger equipped with this engine for the better part of a decade and could regularly crack off 8.5 L/100 km in mixed driving conditions, suggesting the Durango’s mass and shape don’t do it any favours. We can’t even point to extra rolling resistance from winter tires since this test unit was shod with factory all-season rubber.
What the Durango might lack in efficiency it more than makes up for in road presence. Dodge doesn’t deploy the most subtle of styling cues, and for that the world is a better place. In a parking lot or school pick-up line packed with milquetoast crossovers and bland hatchbacks, the Durango stands out like a biker at an accounting convention. (That vented hood is optional, by the way, reserved until now for models packing V8 power.)
Sure, someone’s bound to point out that particular effect is the vehicular equivalent of an exaggerated codpiece, but there’s no denying its visual appeal (the hood, that is; not the overstated men’s garment). A new grille curls down at the edges like a handlebar moustache or irritated scowl and is bookended by a good-looking set of headlights which are also new for 2021. Around back we find the brand’s signature “racetrack” tail lamps, a strip of LEDs that work great and look even better.
Chances are high that if you’re in the market for a large-and-in-charge SUV, hauling cargo and towing trailers land on your to-do list. And the Durango can do both equally well – even in V6 guise. The rearmost seats fold flat – manually, at this price – with the marked ease of a single handle, opening up 1,226 L of space behind the second row. It’s a little less space than front-wheel-xdrive-based competitors like the Hyundai Palisade, not to mention machines like the GMC Yukon, though the latter is substantially larger.
Trailering prowess with the V6 engine is a very respectable 2,812 kg (6,200 lb), putting it in good company with many pickup trucks and larger SUVs. If one seeks more capability, they’ll need to make a walk to V8 trims.
This is a three-row machine, so feel free to bring along five of your closest friends the next time you head to town. All of them – save for anyone of NBA-statue that’s been relegated to the Way Back – will find themselves quite content. Our tester was not fitted with a sunroof, permitting even your 6-foot-6 author to wear his favourite ten-gallon hat while running errands. Legroom is ample and the let-them-eat-cake front seats with suede inserts are all-day comfortable. Stretching out is easy in the Durango, which goes well with the 93-L fuel tank that permits a bladder-busting driving range.
Dodge likes to call the Durango’s interior a “driver-oriented cockpit” that takes several cues from the Charger and Challenger side of the family tree. The centre console has been given a rethink for 2021, while the dashboard features a new take on the company’s excellent infotainment system. The latter can be set up to work with a “Hey, Dodge” wake-up command, permitting voice control of items like audio and ventilation. It works well in practice, though your author’s East Coast accent befuddled the system on several occasions. (To be fair to Dodge, I have been called Newfoundland’s Boomhauer more than once.) Fun fact: if you ask the Durango to set cabin temperature to an outrageous figure – say, 60°C – it simply turns the system to its maximum setting.
User Friendliness: 8/10
The brand’s Uconnect infotainment system has always been at the head of its class and this new fifth-gen offering continues that tradition. Graphics on the new 10.1-inch display are crisp and processing times – always a Uconnect strength – are said to be five times faster than the old system, which was already appropriately responsive. If you like to flick through satellite radio stations, there won’t be a delay in reaction when you twirl the tuning dial.
Primary and secondary controls are all straightforward and dead simple to operate. In a world where some machines force a moment’s pause of befuddlement to figure out how to change the ventilation airflow direction, the Durango simply presents users with large dials and buttons with straightforward fonts. The flip-n-fold third row of seats is stowed with a simple lever, while its headrests can be remotely folded from the driver’s perch for either better rearward visibility or to mount unsuspecting head-bopping attacks on ungrateful children.
It’s borderline criminal that blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-path detection is a $500 option and is a perfect example of the bizarre nickel-and-diming that plagues so much of this industry. A much better value is the $950 Technology package, which brings stop-and-go adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and active forward braking.
There are those who will argue that an SUV whose sticker price opens at nearly $53,000 should be equipped with that kit as standard – and those people have a point. Still, Dodge has the basics covered in terms of equipment and the Durango earns a “Good” rating (the highest possible) in three out of the four crashworthiness tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
None of the large SUVs on sale today are cheap. The Durango isn’t either, though the base price of its cheapest V6 model is an attractive step into a machine of this size. Moving up the ladder to our GT tester – midrange in the V6 lineup – plunks this vehicle squarely into the mid-$50,000 bracket before one starts adding options. Our test vehicle rang the bell at $62,710, which is a chunk of change for an SUV without a V8 – or at least V8-like levels of thrust.
Powertrain aside, the Durango makes a better case for itself in terms of value, bringing ample space for both cargo and people plus a well-equipped cabin with a top-tier infotainment system. If the currently optional driving aids were included as standard equipment, our rating in this category would change.
Some may opine that the Dodge Durango, given its size and age, is about as appropriate as asking for a steak at a vegan restaurant or taking your kid on a seal hunt for his 10th birthday party (hold the angry emails – your author is a rural Newfoundlander and therefore permitted by law to make that joke).
Your author (whose garage, it must be noted, contains a manual transmission V8 Challenger) appreciates the Durango for what it is: big, brash, comfortable, and available in an array of bold colours bearing entertaining names like Octane Red and DB Black. Packing new infotainment and an updated interior, the 2021 Durango will appeal to buyers who want to haul their family in something a bit more interesting than all the other rigs at school. Just make sure to pop for the V8, OK?
|Peak Horsepower||295 hp @ 6,400 rpm|
|Peak Torque||260 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||12.7/9.6/11.3 L/100 km (cty/hwy/cmb)|
|Cargo Space||487 / 1,226 / 2,410 L behind 3rd/2nd/1st row|
|Model Tested||2021 Dodge Durango GT AWD|
|Price as Tested||$62,710|
$7,820 – Uconnect5 10.1-inch w/Navigation, $995; Performance Hood, $995; Alpine Speakers w/Subwoofer, $995; Premium Instrument Panel, $995; Trailer Tow Group IV, $950; Technology Group, $950; Second-Row Captain’s Chairs, $600; Blacktop Package, $595; Blind-Spot Monitoring, $500; Ultraviolet Metallic Paint, $245