2011 Dodge Durango Citadel
The 2011 Dodge Durango is based on the same Mercedes-Benz ML chassis as the Jeep Grand Cherokee, a result of the erstwhile DaimlerChrysler marriage, but they are remarkably different vehicles. As with, say, a Land Rover, a Jeep must have certain off-road capabilities so it can safely be sold to the brand’s faithful, but the Durango has no such prerequisites. The only thing the new Durango had to be was better than the old one.
And it is. By a wide margin.
The improvements begin largely with the chassis. With a four-wheel independent, air-adjustable suspension and near 50/50 weight distribution, the Durango is so far superior to its predecessor, its as though they aren’t related. And in reality, they aren’t. The new Jeep Grand Cherokee is a better comparison, but still, there are stark differences between those two.
First, the new Durango rides on a 119.8-inch wheelbase, a full 5 inches longer than the Grand Cherokee. Second, the Durango is 199.8 inches in length overall, another 10 inches longer than the Grand Cherokee. That added wheelbase and length let Dodge engineers provide some things you won’t find on a Grand Cherokee, such as a third-row seat, for example.
But we were interested to see how well it towed compared with the Grand Cherokee, which was highly competent despite its emphasis on off-road capability.
TOWING WITH IT
There was a time when an independent rear suspension was reserved strictly for sports cars and sedans, but not anymore. The Durango was fitted with an air adjustable suspension system that provided a firm platform for towing. It worked quietly and quickly, but more important than that, it worked well, and the headlamps even self-adjust when you hook up a trailer.
An independent suspension can be challenged when towing, braking and turning at the same time. In that dynamic, the trailer tongue tends to push the rear of the tow vehicle up and laterally more so than with a coil or leaf spring, live-axle setup. Obviously, safe towing practice means braking in a straight line, but sometimes panic stops are inevitable, such as when a freeway exit ramp has backed up unexpectedly.
In those conditions, the Durango remained stable with moderate simultaneous braking and steering. Turning and braking a bit more abruptly, the inside front antilock can come into play, but the Durango remained controllable, with any oversteer correctable with a little opposite lock.
The suspension also soaked up jarring bumps and undulations in the pavement, with a lovely damping rate that provided a nice blend of comfort and chassis control. It controlled the jounce with no harshness to cabin passengers.
In terms of fuel economy, we were able to get 13 mpg out of the Durango while towing a 4,500-pound trailer. That was decent mileage, but another mpg or two would have been nice given that we have seen better fuel economy from earlier-model pickups that weighed about the same and were pulling the same weight.
What we haven’t seen or used for towing is adaptive cruise control, which is a standard feature on the Durango Citadel. The system offers three settings for defining the distance between you and the car in front of you, and adjusts speed accordingly. In other words, if you set the speed for 65 mph and your lane is moving at 60, that is the speed it will go until the road ahead opens up.
The system even applies the brakes—without moving the brake pedal—if another motorist suddenly enters the space in the lane in front of you, and accelerates back to the the previous speed when the space opens up. We were skeptical at first, but the system is seamless and unintrusive. It works best if you stay in one lane. It is a bit slower to sense you moving into another lane to accelerate, and in a couple of instances we had to override it by stepping on the gas pedal to make a quicker pass.
On our test route, the Durango cruised at 60 mph in sixth gear at 1,750 rpm with a trailer in tow. While going up a 2-mile long 7 percent grade, the Durango shifted down to third gear and maintained 60 mph at 3,500 rpm, a nice manageable engine speed just below peak torque.
Going down that same grade with the cruise engaged and the tow/haul mode switched on, the Durango downshifted again to third and maintained 60 mph. We never needed to touch the brake, and as soon as the road leveled out, the Durango upshifted to top gear quickly and seamlessly.
LIVING WITH IT
The more a vehicle can tow, the more cumbersome it is to drive it everyday, right? Well, with the V6 the Durango pulls 6,200 pounds and with the Hemi, it pulls 7,400 pounds with a rear-wheel-drive powertrain, which is good enough for most recreational trailers, yet it presents no drawbacks in terms of its use as a daily driver.
It’s also as capable as larger SUVs. Sure, it’s competition is the likes of a Honda Pilot, the Toyota 4Runner, a Ford Explorer or a GMC Acadia, but because of its longer wheel base and larger cabin, the Durango also competive with, say, a Chevrolet Tahoe or a Ford Expedition. Here’s why.
On some midsize SUVs, the third row seat is large enough for two children. But on the Durango, every seat is large enough to accommodate an adult over 6 feet tall. We self-behind-self tested all of them, and each position offered enough knee and headroom for average size adults. What’s even better is that all the seats can be operated, adjusted, folded forward and back with one hand. It clearly demonstrates the amount of thought that went into the seating.
At the wheel, the driver looks over a handsome dash and instrument cluster, with ergonomics that are about as good as we’ve seen. Material choices were good, with nice padded vinyl on the dash and door panels. Nothing plasticky at all here. Even the trim in the Durango Crew—which we drove in addition to the Citadel model—has the same quality of materials inside. All controls were within easy reach and intuitively placed. The front seats and steering wheel were heated, as were the second-row seats, which we thought was a nice touch.
We liked how easy it was to park and maneuver. The Durango Citadel fit into every parking space we found. As was the case when towing, the ride presented a fine compromise between comfort and road-holding ability.
Among the nifty little touches, we especially liked the LED lighting that bathed the door handles in soft blue light. We also loved the paint color on our test model, blackberry pearl, which was a $295 option, and cool enough to be worth every penny. Rear seat HVAC controls were a nice plus as was the electric tailgate with a switch on the key fob, though we’d like to see it equipped with a rear window that opens.
The midsize SUV market is crowded with solid products, and among its competition, the Dodge Durango is good. What sets it apart from the competition is that it is as capable as full-size SUVs, which makes it outstanding.
- Genuine seven-adult capacity; lots of knee and legroom in all seats
- Air suspension makes it highly competent for towing
- Could use a lift window on the tailgate
Displacement — 345 c.i.d.
Bore x Stroke — 3.92" x 3.58"
Horsepower — 360 at 5,150 rpm
Transmission — Five-speed 545RFE automatic
Dodge provided all the necessary connectors for towing, whether it's a boat trailer or a camper with electric brakes. From the driver's seat, ergonomics are as close to ideal as you can get, with all switch gear within reach and intuitively placed.
The dash and instrumentation similar to the Jeep Grand Cherokee, with which it shares a platform. The similarity is a good thing, as is the nav system with color rearview display and the quality of the materials used throughout the interior.
Seating in the Durango is one of its strongest suites. With split folding benches in the second and third rows, the Durango is a bonafide seven-passenger vehicle—seven adults over 6 feet tall, no less. Lots of knee and head room in all seats.
The Hemi is just audible enough to be cool yet not intrusive. Like most Hemi-powered Chrysler products we've tested, it can be a bit thirsty. From the rear, the Durango is handsome, though we'd like to see a rear hatch window in addition to the full tailgate.
Durango tow test, towing with a Durango, 2011 Dodge Durango Citadel, M class chassis
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