Review of: 2016 Dodge Durango AWD 4dr SXT
2016 Dodge Durango: Nice, but at a price
By Jil McIntosh
Aug. 26, 2016
When Dodge first introduced the Durango for 1998, it was a pretty simple concept: put a closed body on the company’s midsize Dakota pickup. Today’s version is a unibody that could best be described as tough but tender.
It’s the same basic vehicle as Jeep’s Grand Cherokee, but it’s larger and with three rows of seats to the Jeep’s five-passenger seating. Four trim levels and two engines are available, and while American buyers can choose rear-wheel-drive versions, all Canadian Durango models come standard with all-wheel drive.
My tester was the base SXT with 3.6-litre V6, which starts at $43,395. Mine had a few option boxes checked off, though, including a Blacktop Package with unique black trim and seats for $1,595; a package of rearview camera, parking sensors, and heated seats and steering wheel for $1,250; and a coat of extra-charge “Billet Metallic” (read: grey) paint for $195, bringing my vehicle to $46,435 before freight and taxes.
Pros & Cons
- + Well-matched engine/transmission
- + 3rd row seat access
- + Fit and finish
- - Touchy safety systems
- - Heated seats, backup camera optional
- - Price
Beauty, beholder, you know the story. Personally I’d leave off the Blacktop Package, which spreads gloss black across the grille, mirrors and wheels. With something this big, especially painted grey, it needs some chrome to break it up.
Despite the Durango’s size and its tall beltline, visibility is acceptable, at least through the windows. The mirrors are another matter, though. They’re not physically too small, but for some reason—their shape, perhaps, or the seating position?—they don’t provide enough field of vision.
My tester had an optional rearview camera, but with only a five-inch multimedia screen—the 8.4-inch version is available on the Limited and up—the view was restricted, and its usefulness was mostly for locating other vehicles’ bumpers when backing into a parking space.
Speaking of backing up, my tester’s “Popular Equipment Group” package added not just the camera but also a rear park assist system that will stop the vehicle if it detects you’re about to back into something. Trust me, it works, as I discovered when I was backing up against some tall grass that the system figured was a hazard. It slams on the brakes and, if you’re not ready for it, it’ll scare the contents out of you. But that’s better than denting that shiny rear fascia, or worse, a pedestrian behind you.
Dodge has nailed this one, with comfortable seats, a well-designed dash, and good fit-and-finish. Cloth is the default in this trim level, but my leather seats arrived courtesy of the Blacktop Package. There is a lot of small-item storage, and most of the controls are large and easy to use, save for climate control mode which must be accessed through the multimedia screen. The gearshift selector is a dial, which takes up less space than the conventional shifter that the Durango used to carry.
The only issue I had from the driver’s seat was with the instrument cluster, which reflects light if you’re driving towards the sun and becomes almost impossible to see.
The second-row chairs are equally nice on the butt, and they tumble forward for relatively easy access to the back row. Few third-row SUVs are the model of comfort for adults back there, but the Durango’s aren’t bad. There’s some legroom along with space under the second row for slipping one’s feet, and the chairs are high enough that you’re not sitting with your chin on your knees.
Both rows fold flat for extra cargo space, and there’s a hidden cubby under the rear floor, along with a cut-out on the driver’s side to accommodate wider items. Just above that you’ll find a removable flashlight as well.
Being the base trim line, the SXT’s technology list is relatively basic: the five-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, USB port, and satellite radio. The 8.4-inch screen that’s available or standard in the upper trim lines, with or without navigation, can’t be added here. The only option to the SXT’s centre stack is a CD player, and a rear entertainment system is a possibility only on the next-level Limited and up.
Chrysler’s Uconnect infotainment system remains at the top of my list for ease of use, though, even with this smaller screen. The hard buttons and touchscreen icons are all large and it’s easy to find what you need at a quick glance. The instrument cluster screen can also be adjusted according to the information required, and it’s easy to switch between the programs.
Although a 5.7-litre V8 is standard or available in all other trim lines, the SXT comes strictly with a 3.6-litre V6. Torque is rated at 260 lb-ft, but while the ads say the engine churns out 295 horsepower, that’s actually “up to” and is the top rating for the Citadel and Blacktop Package lines. The SXT’s version makes 290 horses, a negligible difference that will go virtually unnoticed by real-world owners, especially since it peaks at 6,400 rpm.
New for 2016 on the V6 is engine start/stop, which shuts off the engine at idle and then automatically starts it again once you take your foot off the brake. Should your preference be otherwise, there’s a button to shut off the system. Also new is sport mode, which tightens up the steering and throttle in addition to holding the transmission’s gears longer. Since there’s no shift lever, manual shift mode is handled by wheel-mounted paddles.
I’ve long been impressed by this “Pentastar” V6 engine, and while it doesn’t haul this big boat around with as much snap as the Hemi V8 does, it handles the task smoothly and confidently, funneled to the wheels through an eight-speed automatic. Against published figures of 12.8 L/100 km in the city and 9.5 on the highway, I averaged a respectable 11.7 L/100 km in a week of combined driving.
All-wheel drive is standard, and it’s a single speed on the V6. To get an AWD low range, you need to move up to the V8.
On the road, the Durango doesn’t feel as big as it is, mostly thanks to steering that’s responsive and light, but with enough weight for confidence. Dodge may be positioning itself as Chrysler’s performance division, but this is a luxo-cruiser that’s equally up to daily commutes or long-distance drives.
The Durango starts at $43,395 for my SXT tester, and at the upper range, you’ll drop $56,395 for the top-line Citadel before adding any options to it. It’s a well-finished and very comfortable vehicle, but it is pricey when stacked against the competition. Three-row rivals, when equipped with all-wheel drive, include the Ford Explorer for a starting price of $36,999; the Chevrolet Traverse at $37,530; a Hyundai Santa Fe XL at $37,409; and Toyota’s Highlander begins at $36,055.
It’s come a long way from its roots, and the Durango has grown into a winning combination of driveability and a seriously nice interior. That said, the rule seems to be to take it for a test-drive and see what you think, but look at other showrooms as well. It’s nice, but it has its price.