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(07:30 April 26, 2004)
2004 Dodge Durango
For the XXL Crowd: If you like it supersized...


By AUTOWEEK


THE DODGE DURANGO is large. It is certainly bigger than its old self, and though not quite as immense as the Expedition, it dwarfs the Explorer. When we first wrote about this second-gen Durango last fall, we called it a “tweener,” but if lots o’ size is what you want, like the owners who wrote to us, this Durango fits the bill.

We tested the Durango with the Hemi, because, well, we could. It shares the legendarily named motor with its brother, the Ram, and thanks to all its heft, the Durango puts the extra oomph turned out by the optional Hemi to good use. With 335 hp and 370 lb-ft of torque, the Hemi tows the Durango’s 5079 pounds with authority, even when fully loaded and at freeway speeds.

LIKES
<LI type=square>Power <LI type=square>Rear-seat entertainment <LI type=square>Easy-to-fold rear seats
DISLIKES
<LI type=square>Rear seats won't lie flat <LI type=square>Gas mileage <LI type=square>Hard to climb into
OTHERS CONSIDERED
<LI type=square>Ford Expedition <LI type=square>Toyota Sequoia <LI type=square>Volkswagen Touareg


In testing, the weighty Durango ran from 0 to 60 mph in 7.99 seconds, just two-hundredths of a second slower than the sprightly Mazda 3 did (April 5). If that’s not a perfect reference point, check this: The Durango also ran quicker than the 4x2 Ford Expedition Eddie Bauer Edition (at 9.29 seconds) we tested last May.

We were able to reach 39.4 mph through our tight, 490-foot slalom course, about the same as the slightly larger Expedition (at 39.5 mph). The Durango’s speed puts it smack in the middle of family-hauling vehicles we’ve tested, such as the Toyota Sienna minivan (Jan. 26)—there are few vehicles that tall and heavy that handle well.

And despite brakes that we found rather mushy, the Durango stopped from 60 mph in 142 feet. That bests other like-sized vehicles we’ve tested, including said Expedition (145 feet) as well as the heavier Hummer H2 (Aug. 18, 2003), which required significantly more space at 156 feet. Most impressive, perhaps, is that the Durango experienced only moderate dive in hard braking for such a large vehicle.

We got appropriately poor gas mileage, as estimated by the EPA, with the Durango Hemi. With mostly highway commuting during its stay at the Detroit office, we averaged just 14.35 mpg in real-world driving.

Owners who wrote to us had previously owned Jeep Grand Cherokees, BMW X5s, a Mercedes-Benz M-Class and an Infiniti FX45. The Grand Cherokee owner was looking for more seating and greater towing capacity, which he knew he could get from either the Durango or the Expedition.

“The Durango stood out for its more unique styling and was significantly lower in price when comparably equipped, even at $38,000,” he said.

Another owner, with experience with multiple SUVs, including the X5, said his Durango is “the tightest ship out there. The Hemi is absolutely fabulous. There is no flexing, squeaks or rattles whatsoever.”


Although it is rather difficult to climb up into, once in, there are amenities aplenty. Owners’ kids tend to love the DVD system, which, with wireless headphones, has one of the coolest features in in-car entertainment: a light-up remote control that recharges when it is returned to its holder inside the DVD housing in the roof.

We enjoyed the Sirius system that was optioned on the Durango, and we also were impressed with Chrysler’s steering-wheel audio controls. They allow for fingertip tun-ing through all the channels, and not just preset stations.

Owners also liked the easily foldable rear seats, just about the easiest to operate in this class. The only complaint: They don’t fold completely flat.

So big has its good points. Lots of seating, cargo space and towing capability. We did prefer the Durango, and its size, the first time around, but owners seem enamored with this version. Will the auto-makers follow McDonald’s lead and stop focusing on the super-sized models? Probably not.


OWNERS SAY...
Having owned a Mercedes ML, two BMW X5s, an Infiniti FX45 and a Lexus GX 470, the 2004 Dodge Durango holds its own against these luxury SUVs and is the tightest ship out there. The Hemi is absolutely fabulous. There is no flexing, squeaks or rattles whatsoever. The interior is nicely done and the ride is great. Unlike BMW factory options, the Mopar add-ons are fantastic and the dealership experience has been very good. I have more than 4000 miles on the Durango and it’s only a month old. -Ivan Kucera, Schaumburg, Ill.

We were looking for a replacement for our Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo and wanted something larger with more seating and a greater towing capacity. The only two vehicles we seriously considered were the Dodge Durango and Ford Expedition. The Durango stood out for its more unique styling and was significantly lower in price when comparably equipped, even at $38,000. While the wheelbase is the same, the Durango seems a little smaller than the Expedition, but it still provides the seven-passenger seating we wanted. It would be nicer if the seats folded completely flat, but this shortcoming is mitigated by the ease with which they operate. We are very impressed with this vehicle in every way: power, comfort and handling. My wife is particularly fond of the heated seats and our 12-year-old daughter just loves the entertainment system. Overall, this may be the best and most versatile vehicle we have owned. -Rod Gilmore, Descanso, Calif.

We test drove an SLT with the Hemi engine and were very surprised. It has plenty of power, the ride is very smooth and it has ample room for the family and cargo. Our initial impression of the fit-and-finish is good, but only after a couple of years will we really know how it all holds together. The things we love most are how quiet and isolated the cabin is, and the power. Off-the-line acceleration isn’t bad for a 5000-pound ride and highway passing is effortless. -James Brillantes, Houston


VEHICLE SPECS AND ROAD-TEST DATA
MANUFACTURER INFO
DaimlerChrysler Corp.
1000 Chrysler Drive
Auburn Hills MI 48326-2776
Customer assistance: (800) 423-6343
Internet address: dodge.com
Country of origin: United States
Number of dealers: 3000 (est.)

STICKER
Base (includes $690 delivery): $34,900
As tested: $39,890
Owners paid; average: $30,853 to $38,000; $35,618

OPTIONS AS TESTED
Rear-seat entertainment ($1,150); 5.7-liter
Hemi V8 ($895); sunroof ($800); trailer tow
group, which includes heavy-duty alternator,
oil coolers, trailer harness and hitch ($455);
running boards ($445); Sirius satellite radio
($325); traction control ($300); heated
front seats ($250); two-speed transfer case
($195); 265/65R-17 Goodyear on/off-road
tires ($135); 3.92 axle ratio ($40)

OTHER MAJOR OPTIONS
Side-impact airbags ($495); skid plates ($170)

CHASSIS
Body-on-frame, four-door sport/utility vehicle

DIMENSIONS
Wheelbase (in): 119.2
Track (in): 64.4 front, 64.5 rear
Length/width/height (in): 200.8/76.0/74.3
Curb weight/GVWR (lbs): 5079/6600

CAPACITIES
Fuel (gal): 27.0
Cargo (cu ft): 20.1
Towing (lbs): 8700

ENGINE
Front-longitudinal 5.7-liter/345-cid ohv V8
Horsepower: 335 @ 5400 rpm
Torque (lb-ft): 370 @ 4200 rpm
Compression ratio: 9.6:1
Fuel requirement: 87 octane

DRIVETRAIN
Four-wheel drive
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Final drive ratio: 2.59:1

SUSPENSION
Front: Upper and lower A-arms with torsion
bars, gas-charged shock absorbers, antiroll bar
Rear: Live axle with link coil with Watt’s link-
age, gas-charged shock absorbers, antiroll bar

BRAKES/WHEELS/TIRES
Discs front and rear, ABS, aluminum
265/65R-17 Goodyear Wrangler SR-A

STANDING-START ACCELERATION
0-60 mph: 7.99 sec
0-100 km/h (62.1 mph): 8.43 sec
0-quarter-mile: 16.01 sec @ 85.4 mph

ROLLING ACCELERATION
20-40 mph (first gear): 2.6 sec
40-60 mph (second gear): 4.4 sec
60-80 mph (second gear): 5.6 sec

BRAKING
60 mph-0: 142 ft

HANDLING
490-foot slalom: 39.4 mph
Lateral acceleration
(200-foot skidpad): 0.68 g

INTERIOR NOISE (dBA)
Idle: 42
Full throttle: 77
Steady 60 mph: 63

FUEL MILEAGE
EPA combined: 14.93 mpg
AW overall: 14.35 mpg


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