A bit of history: The Dodge Durango debuted as a 1998 model, a rough and ready truck-based mid-size SUV with body-on-frame construction and every one with four-wheel drive. Dodge backed off on the tough guy attitude—you could get rear-wheel drive, for example, in 1999—softening the Durango to broaden its market. The second generation Durango arrived for the 2004 model year. It was still truck-based, but upsized for more room inside if still a tweener in size, bigger than competitor’s mid-size models but more compact than the true full-sized SUV.
That generation of Durango ended in December, 2008, after the production lines had only begun cranking out 2009 models—including some very rare Durango hybrids (plus a few Durango-based Chrysler Aspen SUV’s, with an even rarer Aspen hybrid). The official reason was a decline in popularity of big SUVs.
Yet only two years later, Dodge introduced the 2011 Dodge Durango at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show. The cynic will now note that the third generation Durango had been well along in development when Chrysler shuttered the Delaware plant where the earlier Durangos had been built. The new Durango would be built in Detroit. Sorry, First Staters, nevermind.
So anyway, enough history. The 2011 Dodge Durango was genuinely all new, with only engine and drivetrain pieces carried over. While it approximated its predecessor’s dimensions, the new Durango sacrificed some of its truck-like elements for a more civilized personality, including among other things, replacing the body-on-frame construction with unit-body.
Now flash forward to 2013 and the 2014 Dodge Durango. Three years into the third and current generation means it’s time for a refresh and well, here we are. Dodge says they were going for a “more sinister” look—hey, their words—and we’ll say the raised from bumper and the squintier headlight clusters with standard projector beam lamps goes a long way towards getting there. The grille is shorter but still carries the signature crosshair grille, though it’s given a different look for each of its trim levels, SXT, Rallye, Limited and Citadel, and for the sportier sport/utility, the R/T.
Trim-level treatments include monochromatic and black-out grilles, but our top-of-the-line luxury Dodge Durango Citadel had full-sparkle chrome-on-chrome mesh. If the grille didn’t have all those holes, you could see your reflection well enough to shave. All but the base trim get LED accent lights across the bottom of the headlights.
The sides, of course, remain unchanged during a facelift, but with all trim levels, the rear gains the Dodge trademark “racetrack” tail lamp design, similar to that on the more expensive of the Dodge Charger and Dodge Dart. The Durango uses 192 LEDs blended into what Dodge calls “one seamless looking ribbon of light.” It’s bright enough to be visible in daylight, and we had two Charger drivers slow as they passed us to get another look. Dodge has a distinctive styling element. Expect to see more of it.
The 2014 Dodge Durango is nevertheless still a traditional SUV with two-box styling and all the benefits thereof. One of the good things about that is a roomy interior for the shadow it casts. As a large midsize/small full-size, its standard third-row seat nestles two between the wheel wells, and in standard trim, a three seatbelt middle bench seat.
Our test Durango Citadel was equipped with an optional pair of captain’s chairs for the second row, making it a six-seater. Dodge claims 50 different seating configurations, though that includes choosing between the second row seating that you only do when you’re choosing the vehicle.
One novel feature was a dual-mode cargo cover; the reel can be set behind the third row, covering cargo area behind the third row seatbacks, or moved forward to where the cover hides the cargo area behind the second row seats.
Expanding the cargo area from a relatively small 17 cubic feet—like most three-row SUVs, the cargo area is mostly vertical and less useful than a box shape—yields a flat floor by folding the third row seatback down, bringing cargo capacity to 47 cubic feet. Lowering the captain’s chairs’ seatbacks bumps the available volume to 84.5 cubic feet, but it’s by no means a flat floor, and there’s a big gap between the left and right captain chairs. That’s still a lot of room even if it doesn’t have the cargo handling friendliness of the Dodge Grand Caravan.