If this were Jeopardy and the answer on the board was, “Smooth, solid and sounds,” the correct question would be, “What is the 2011 Dodge Durango.” Because while the new Durango is still an honest-to-dirt SUV, it’s just as much defined by those three words, particularly in the 2011 Dodge Durango R/T version we recently sampled.
No matter how much a cliché, the 2011 Dodge Durango really is all new from the ground up. Or it is at least from the chassis up and that’s what is important. The new Durango has unit body chassis construction, replacing the separate frame/body construction of the previous generation and combining the traditional toughness with the lighter weight and equal or improved sturdiness of new design. It doesn’t hurt, either, that some 52 percent of its structure is high strength steel. Add to that more than 5,500 welds and more than 4,100 mm of arc welding. Dodge claims the new unitbody construction is 25 percent stiffer than its predecessor.
Which is to say, it’s not a car-based platform. The 2011 Dodge Durango is built off the same platform as the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, thought the two vehicles are hardly the same. The Grand Cherokee has a five-inch shorter wheelbase and is ten inches shorter overall, making do with only two rows of seating instead of the Durango’s three. Durango shock and spring rates are up to ten percent stiffer than the Jeep’s and the Dodge also has larger anti-roll bars.
Along with the new chassis, the 2011 Durango’s suspension is new as well, fully independent front and rear, with short-long arm suspension in front and multi-link at the rear. Traditionally an SUV would need the solidity of a live rear axle for heavy-duty trailer towing, but the 2011 Dodge Durango nixes that altogether with a tow rating of 7,400 lbs.
The power train, or at least half of it, is new as well. The 2011 Dodge Durango can be powered by either the flex-fuel 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, or in the R/T that we drove, the 5.7-liter V-8. The Pentastar V-6 is new for 2011 and is receiving wide application across Dodge, Chrysler and Ram models. The 5.7-liter V-8, of course, is the highly touted Hemi.
In the Durango, the 5.7-liter Hemi is tuned to 360 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque, and it has the four-cylinder/eight-cylinder “multi-displacement” system. At light loads, the V-8 operates only on four cylinders to improve fuel economy while of course keeping the other four cylinders as its high performance ace in the hole. Don’t expect too much in fuel stinginess, however, as curb weights around 5,000 lbs aren’t moved for free. EPA fuel economy estimates for the 2011 Dodge Durango with the 5.7-liter V-8, the standard five-speed automatic transmission and optional all-wheel drive is 13 city and 20 mpg highway.
That said, Dodge designers must be credited for making the 2011 Durango an aerodynamically slippery shape–at least for a SUV–with a coefficient of drag of only 0.35. The body has a hint of a Dodge-identifying Coke-bottle shape, or at least the suggestion of a hint, with subtle arcs in the sheetmetal over the front and rear wheels. A more obvious Dodge trademark is the crosshair grille, which is full black-out in the Durango R/T we drove.