Dodge has not had a competitive SUV in years. Even with the runaway success of the Ford Explorer and Chevrolet Blazer, Dodge has stayed by the sidelines. The introduction of the new Dakota has finally given Dodge a modern platform on which to base a mid-size SUV. Dodge wanted to keep the thousands of customers who were defecting to rivals Chevrolet and Ford. The Dodge Durango is the long awaited entry to this large and profitable market segment.
Dodge spent $1.2 billion on the Durango, which is a relatively small amount for a new vehicle. Because the Durango shares 79 percent of its components with the Dakota, Dodge was able to complete the program in 24 months. The Durango differs significantly from the Dakota aft of the A-pillar. Changes include an extensively modified and fully boxed frame (2 times stiffer than the Explorer, according to Chrysler), different suspension tuning and shorter front doors. This allows extra long rear doors, which improve access to the optional third row of seats, a feature not shared by the Explorer and Blazer.
The Durango is offered in two trim levels: SLT and SLT+. Initially, only 4X4 V-8 models will be offered. By mid-1998, a 4X2 V-6 model will join the lineup. Dodge expects the 5.2L SLT 4X4 model to be the most popular. Pricing is critical in this segment, and Dodge has neatly placed the Durango SLT (est. $28,025) right above the comparably equipped Blazer LS (est. $27,800) and below the Explorer XLT (est. $28,200). Of course, neither Ford nor Chevy matches the Durango's interior volume and V-8 power. A well-equipped 5.2L SLT with the optional third seat is expected to cost $29,175. The 5.9L V-8 is expected to be a $300 upgrade from the smaller V-8. Leather equipped Durangos should top $31,000.
Dodge offers a large choice of powertrain options. The available Magnum engines include the 175 bhp 3.9L V-6, 230 bhp 5.2L V-8, and a 245 bhp 5.9L V-8. All engines come standard with a 4-speed automatic. The V-6 and 5.2L V-8 models have shorter transmission ratios for the first two gears to improve acceleration
Rear-wheel ABS is standard on all models and 4-wheel ABS is optional. Brakes are power-assisted front disc/rear drum. The 4X4 models offer a 2-speed part-time and full-time transfer case, with shift-on-the-fly capability. A limited slip rear differential is optional. Two tire options are available: P235/75R15XL and 31"X10.5"R15 all-terrain tires.
Body and Suspension Details
The Durango is based on a steel fully boxed ladder frame chassis. The independent front suspension consists of upper and lower control arms, torsion bars, gas-charged shock absorbers and a stabilizer bar. The rear suspension is comprised of leaf springs to suspend the solid axle, gas-charged shock absorbers, and a stabilizer bar. The full-size spare tire is mounted under the body.
All models are equipped with dual airbags. To minimize development cost the dashboard is identical to that found in the Dakota. An optional overhead console with trip computer and automatic dimming day/night mirror is available. Power windows, door locks, remote keyless entry, tilt steering, and electronic speed controls are all part of various convenience groups. As mentioned earlier, Durango offers a third row seating option, which Chrysler claims offers better accommodation than the significantly larger Ford Expedition. The second row seats fold away to allow access to the rear seats. The roof aft of the front seats is raised 2 inches to improve headroom for rear passengers. The second and third rows of seats fold down to form an almost flat surface for cargo. Folding the seats takes less than 20 seconds to complete, and allows cargo up to 7 feet long.
The Durango is almost identical to the Dakota in the front. Paint quality is excellent. Exterior body panels show good fit and finish. A large hood that opens easily provides good engine access.
The interior has a generally high quality look. Interior trim fits well, with mostly low gloss plastics. The ignition key cylinder feels relatively crude, which is in contrast to rest of the interior. The overall interior styling is quite attractive and could easily be mistaken for a mid-size sedan. All controls are easily visible and most can be accessed without looking away from the road. The switchgear has a generally high quality feel.
The seats are comfortable, and the cloth upholstery is attractive. Outward visibility is excellent due to the high seating position and large outside mirrors. The pedals and tilt steering wheel are well located and ensure that drivers will have no trouble getting acclimated. Although better than those found in competitive vehicles, use of the third row of seats is not advised for anything other than occasional use.
The 4X4 SLT Durango tested was equipped with the 245 bhp 5.9L V-8 and 4-speed automatic. This combination offers excellent performance. It is easy to inadvertently squeal the rear tires in 2WD mode. At highway speeds, the V-8 has ample passing power. The 5.2L V-8 should be adequate unless the extra torque of the 5.9L is needed for towing.
The Durango rides and handles surprisingly well for a SUV and compares to some mid-size sedans. The suspension is well damped and smothers bumps and other road irregularities. The springs are tuned to avoid excessive body roll when cornering. The body is free of squeaks and rattles and feels quite solid. Steering feel is excellent, much better than its sibling Dakota. The power-assist is not overly boosted and makes the Durango controllable at highway speeds. This translates into a nimble feel that makes the Durango feel more like a tall midsize sedan. There is very little wind noise at highway speeds despite the large outside mirrors. Engine noise is subdued, even under hard acceleration. The all-terrain tires are very quiet, with none of the rumble and whine normally associated with tires of this type.
The Durango has adequate braking feel from its disc/drum layout. Unfortunately, 4-wheel disc brakes are not available. This should not be a problem except when heavily laden or towing a trailer. A 4-wheel ABS option available, useful for owners who live in the Snowbelt.
Chrysler set up a rocky trail to demonstrate the Durango's off-road capability. There was no difficulty negotiating the course in 2WD, even the rather steep and rocky hill that was part of the trail. If the trail had been wet, then the 4WD would have been essential to clamber past the slippery rocks. The Durango bounced along over all the obstacles with no trouble. Off-road fanatics should have no worries taking this Dodge beyond gravel roads and onto the really rough stuff. The chassis engineers have done an excellent job of maintaining off-road prowess, while maintaining great handling on the road.
1998 Dodge Durango SLT 4X4
Front engine/Four-wheel drive (part and full-time)
Price Range: $27,000-33,000 (est.)
Price as tested: $30,000 (est.)
Measurements & Capacities
Payload: 1,752 lb.
Curb Weight: 4,736 lb.
Max. Trailer Towing Weight: 7,200 lb.
Width: 71.5 in.
Height: 72.9 in.
Overall Length: 193.3 in.
Wheelbase: 115.9 in.
Ground Clearance F/R: 9.2/7.9 in.
Fuel Capacity: 25 gal.
90 deg. V-8, liquid cooled, cast-iron block and heads
Valvetrain: OHV, 16-valve, roller followers, hydraulic lifters
Fuel Delivery: Sequential multipoint fuel injection
Displacement: 5.895 L
Bore X Stroke: 4.00 X 3.58
Compression Ratio: 8.9:1
Power (SAE net): 245bhp @ 4000 rpm (est.)
Torque: 335 lb.-ft. @ 3,200 rpm (est.)
Max. Engine Speed: 5,250 rpm
Fuel: Unleaded Regular, 87 octane (R+M)/2
Oil Capacity: 5.0 qt.
Coolant Capacity: 14.3 qt.
Emission Controls: 3-way catalyst, heated oxygen sensors (2), engine modifications
4-speed automatic w/lockup torque converter
Low Range: 2.72:1
Center Differential Type: Planetary w/lock in 4WD Low & High
Torque Split F/R: 48/52
Final Drive: 3.55 std., 3.92 opt.
Front: Independent, upper/lower A-arms, torsion bars, gas-charged shock absorbers, stabilizer bar
Rear: Solid axle, 4-leaf longitudinal springs, gas-charged shock absorbers, stabilizer bar
Power recirculating ball
Steering ratio: 15.43:1
Steering Turns (lock-to-lock): 3.15
Turning Circle: 38.9 ft.
Front: 11.3" X 0.9" vented disc, vacuum-assist
Rear: 11.0" X 2.25" drum, rear-wheel antilock, vacuum-assist
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: 15"X8" cast aluminum
Tires: 31.0" X 10.5"R15 A/T OWL
Highway: 16 mpg (est.)
City: 12 mpg (est.)
Head Room (Front/Middle/Rear): 39.8/40.6/37.9 in.
Leg Room (Front/Middle/Rear): 41.9/35.4/30.7 in.
Hip Room (Front/Middle/Rear): 56.7/56.0/45.2 in.
Shoulder Room (Front/Middle/Rear): 57.3/57.5/57.5 in.
Interior Volume All Seats Up: 18.8 cu. ft.
Third Seat Folded: 51.3 cu. ft.
All Seats Folded: 88.0 cu. ft.
The Dodge Durango is an unusual SUV that neatly slots between the compact and full-size segments. It is well suited to customers who find the cargo and passenger capacity of compact SUV's inadequate, but do not want the bulk or expense of a larger SUV. The excellent handling on and off-road will keep both occasional and serious off-roaders happy. The optional extra row of seats allows more passenger capacity than its competitors. The new Durango allows Dodge to offer a unique entry to the hotly competitive SUV market.