Dodge Durango — Perfect Route 66 companion

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

We first met the 2016 Dodge Durango Limited "Brass Monkey" edition on a warm June morning in downtown Chicago. It was to be our transportation from the inner city for nearly 2,500 miles to Santa Monica, Calif. — the modern-day station wagon — traveling the famous "Main Street of America" Route 66 like so many millions before us; many of whom made the trek westward to the Pacific in their mid-century station wagons.

It worked for us — a vehicle with some muscle-car swagger that proved reliable with the ability to comfortably haul four adults and their rather voluminous collection of luggage over 16 days on as much of the nation's first uninterrupted highway that still exists in Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

Dodge Durango at Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba, Mo., on Route 66. (Photo by Jim Meachen)

The weather was warm — downright hot in certain areas of the country and delightfully cool at higher elevations on our Route 66 pathway. Even thro
ugh some miserable downpours our Brass Monkey performed perfectly. The Brass Monkey Edition is one of three Durango appearance packages for 2016 — along with the Blacktop, and the Anodized Platinum. The $995 Brass Monkey package, available on the Limited trim, features 20-inch Burnished Bronze aluminum wheels, a glossy black grille, and a monochromatic exterior look.

The Durango is in the fifth year of its third generation, a rather unique rear-wheel drive three-row unibody SUV crossover that is about three inches shorter than the ubiquitous truck-based Chevrolet Tahoe, perhaps more in line with the front-driven Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander. The big difference between the Durango and the aforementioned competition is that the Dodge sports a muscular, aggressive exterior, sporty driving dynamics and performance unmatched among its three-row competitors. The thing here is that it delivers; it’s easy drive and it’s well behaved under all conditions.

For instance, there are two engine options, both excellent. It can be purchased with a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 making 360 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque with an all-wheel drive system that includes a low-range transfer case for improved off-road performance, or a 3.6-liter V-6 making 295 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque mated to an eight-speed automatic that we drove and found up to the task with our large vacation load onboard. Our Limited trim line included all-wheel drive.

A major magazine tested a similar model from 0-to-60 in 7.6 seconds, about average for the segment. We found merging and passing situations to be no problem. Our SUV also came with the $995 towing package that would have given us 6,500 pounds of towing capability if we had needed it.

It's perhaps more to do with its 4,987-pound curb weight, one of the heaviest in its segment, that gas mileage ratings are on the short side of the new normal for this size vehicle EPA-rated at 18 city, 25 highway and 21 mpg overall with AWD. While we hit 24 mpg on portions of the open road, we ended with the combined number of 22 mpg for the nearly 3,000 miles. And we did it all using inexpensive regular gas.

At highway speeds, our test truck proved quiet and the ride pleasing. Rear-seat space was ample with both passengers proclaiming good leg room, and comfortable long-haul captain's-chair-style seats. Individual air vents overhead and additional vents at the back of the center console made individual comfort a non-issue.

Behind the second-row seats, the available 47.7 cubic feet of storage held all of our luggage as well as the accumulated trinkets and treasures without a problem, and once we learned a packing technique loading up every morning was reduced to a minor chore.

We were pleased with the Durango's large Uconnect 8.4 screen with large virtual buttons, logical menus and easy-to-use secondary controls. On several occasions we used navigation to find a recommended restaurant or historic site; never a problem. And the FCA system has the best satellite radio readouts in the industry with large letters and ample room to feature complete titles of songs and artists. Sounds like a trivial thing, but very few manufacturers have attempted to offer adequate readouts even though we are well into the second decade of on-screen radio information.

The Durango comes in four trim levels — SXT, Limited, Citadel and R/T — starting at $31,490 for the SXT rear-wheel drive. Our loaded AWD Limited with the Brass Monkey appearance package and such features as captain's chairs for the second row, second-row console, DVD entertainment center, safety package, and trailer towing package came to $49,560 including destination charge.

It proved to be the perfect "modern station wagon" to get our kicks on Route 66!

Base Price: $31,490; as driven, $49,560
Engine: 3.6-liter V-6
Horsepower: 295 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 290 foot-pounds @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/2/2
Wheelbase: 119.8 inches
Length: 201.2 inches
Curb weight: 4,987 pounds
Turning circle: 37.1 feet
Luggage capacity: 17.2 cubic feet
Luggage capacity rear seat folded: 47.3 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 85.1 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 6,500 pounds
Fuel capacity: 24.6 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 18 city, 25 highway, 21 overall
0-60: 7.6 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Chevrolet Tahoe

The Good
• Infotainment system first class
• Aggressive styling
• Big V-8 available
• Comfortable long-haul companion

The Bad
• Heavy weight affects performance

The Ugly
• Fuel economy below average