Dodge Durango R/T a very attractive SUV package

By Peter Hubbard


(June 7, 2017) Remember when all SUVs were big brawny beasts — truly providing both SPORT and UTILITY?  

If not, just jump into the old “Way-Back Time Machine” with me and venture back to the 80’s, and you’ll quickly encounter a whole slew of big old rear-drive SUVs (most even with 4x4 talent) like the Chevy K-5 Blazer, full-size Ford Bronco, the Dodge Ramcharger and Jeep Grand Wagonner.

And you might even spot an International Travelall from the 70’s or an even older IH Caryall.

True, they may not have had much sound insulation, or suspensions designed to take the twisties on California’s Hwy. 1, but by golly, they pretty much DEFINED what the term SUV meant for a generation. They were great for pulling your boat and hauling as much camping gear and outdoor equipment as you could pile into ‘em. 

Lord knows I’m not opposed to the current crop of smaller, softer, gentler SUVs and crossovers.  They certainly have their place, and the market has embraced them like a litter of newborn beagle puppies.

But what’s happened to vehicles like the Ford Explorer, Toyota 4Runner and Nissan Pathfinder — well, I’m not saying they’ve gotten so soft they’ve been ruined, mind you.  But the simple fact is … they just aren’t the same SUVs they once were, OK? And to be quite honest, there’s a certain segment of the population that kind of misses those days — and those vehicles. 

Thankfully, there’s still one genuine mid-size SUV remaining true to its initial heritage and calling — the 2017 Dodge Durango — especially the R/T version that served as our test vehicle. For those uninitiated in SUV lore, here’s the low-down. This is the longer-wheelbase sibling of the FCA family rival, the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Named after a delightful little former mining town of about 20,000 souls, situated west of the Sangre de Cristo mountains of Southern Colorado and not far from the headwaters of the Rio Grande River.

The Durangos first arrived on the scene in 1998, based on the mid-sized Dodge Dakota pickup. The first generation was replaced in 2004 with a completely redesigned model, with three-seat, seven-passenger seating and best-in-class power and towing capability of 8,950 pounds.

However, with growing competition in it was revamped in 2009 with mixed results.  

The current generation made its debut in 2011, along with the Grand Cherokee, both products of the ill-fated DaimlerChrysler marriage.  Not only did it include some German engineering, it dumped the rear-drive body-on-frame truck chassis for a new lighter uni-body design, following the path chosen by nearly all other SUV makers.  However, it’s not light by any means, tipping the scales at nearly 5,400 pounds.

While a 3.6-liter V-6 is available on low-line models, the performance-oriented R/T version get the Chrysler 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, which comes standard, delivering a generous 360-hp at 5,150 rpm and 390 lb.ft. of torque at 4,250 rpm.  The pushrod valve-train blessed with variable valve timing, port fuel injection, and cylinder deactivation during light-load cruising to maximize EPA-rated mileage ratings.

There’s even more power available back in the shop, with the 475-hp 6.4-liter V-8 that powers the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT, but so for it remains a Jeep-only product. But hey … no complaints!

It easily outshines competitors like the Toyota Highlander and Chevrolet Traverse despite being a rear-wheel drive SUV.  Artful suspension tuning help the Durango feel sportier than you’d expect.  Interior noise levels are nice and low, and all three seating rows are admirably comfortable. 

It also comes equipped with a list of safety, comfort and convenience features as long as your arm. Highlights include a full complement of airbags, rain-sensing wipers, ABS, back-up camera, parking assist system, remote start and alarm. The Durango also comes with heated front- and second-row seats, plus heated mirrors, and a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel. The two front seats are also ventilated to keep your backside cool.

But perhaps the best seating feature is the 4-way lumbar adjustment for both front seats. It almost rivals a Laz-E-Boy! 

As previously-noted there’s 3-row seating for six or seven, three-zone climate control, premium audio system, a large 8.4-inch touch-screen display that includes AM/FM/SiriusXM radio, travel and traffic information and navigation.

There are also convenient wheel-spoke controls (for radio volume control, etc.), plus shift paddles which really allow you to carve up a back road or two.   It’s also equipped with a sport suspension with the ride height dropped by nearly an inch, 20-inch aluminum wheels fitted with 265/50R-20 low-rolling-resistance all-season radials, and dual chrome exhaust tips.  Other “extra features” include low-beam HID headlights, automatic headlamp leveling system and a power-lift tailgate.

Taking a quick look at the window sticker our tester came with five option packages, plus a transit charge that pushed the sticker up past the $50K mark — $50,265 to be exact. 

Highlights of the $2,295 Preferred Package includes a gaggle of high-tech goodies that are becoming more and more common these days. The list includes Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop, Advanced Brake Assist, Blind Spot and Cross Path Detection, Full Speed Collision Warning and Lane Departure Warning. 

What this all amounts to is a cluster of electronic sensors and devices that act as “accident avoidance” tools, designed to apply your brakes or signal you to prevent you from ramming into the guy in front of you when you’re not paying attention, or any other bone-head drivers that might be in your blind spot … or anywhere else within striking distance.  

Other options on our Durango R/T included a twin-screen rear Blue-Ray compatible DVD video system for the kiddos or grand-kiddos for $1,995, plus a second-row fold-and-tumble captain’s chairs for $995.  Finally, it came with the $595 “Brass Monkey Package,” which features 20-inch Brass Monkey (Burnished Bronze) wheels, Gloss Black crosshair grille and badging. 


The Durango R/T’s cabin is very nicely appointed. The leather-wrapped seats adjust well for short and tall people alike, and are embarrassingly comfortable.  What makes them so special is a magic little 4-way lumbar controller on the side of the seat cushion, that’s almost as adaptable as a private masseuse. The tumble-forward seats add another level of convenience when you’re trying to cart home that special piece of furniture you picked up at the antique mall. 

FCA’s U-Connect video controller is one of the better units. It provides voice command of climate, audio, texting, and Bluetooth connections.  A Yelp search function can locate destinations and determine routes for display on 3D maps. Various media apps are also available, but at this point neither Apple CarPlay nor Android Auto connects up.

Overall the system is very well thought out, and yet provides old-timers the three knobs they covet most — those for the radio volume and tuning, plus the fan for the A/C … particularly here in the South.  


Styling on the Durango is simple and direct — no unnecessary embellishments.  It’s size, power and comfort combine to give you a transportation package that — as advertised — gives you a great of both sport and utility. 


Hey, let’s face it, The Durango's adaptable suspension, roomy interior and excellent audio system beg for a road trip.  And that’s precisely what we gave it.  Our week with the Durango R/T was not only pleasant, it was memorable.  It included an enjoyable jaunt through the Texas countryside, checking out a couple of collector car shows.

It handled all of the “iffy” patches of backroad pavement very well, without so much as disturbing out conversations.  The front and rear suspensions are both independent designs with rubber-isolated sub-frames to filter road noise and engine buzz from the cabin. 

 It has a genuinely throaty exhaust note and responds to the throttle like a racehorse ready for the starting gate.  Acceleration is easy and passing power is just a toe-tap away.  On top of that, with the beefy V-8, you can attach your boat or camper and tow up to 7,400 pounds.


There’s no denying it — the Durango R/T is a very attractive package.  And for those with the means to afford a 3-row SUV with all the bells and whistles, it should probably be at the top, or near the top of your shopping list. 

Given it was originally conceived with bits and pieces from Mercedes parts bins, quality and high performance were a given from day one. 

While you can certainly drive lower-level Durangos and competing SUVs for less than 50 Large, nothing says “I’ve arrived” like an SUV with this much swagger and confidence.