Test Drive:2020 Dodge Durango Review

Ron Sessions | Nov 05, 2019

Introduction

2020 Dodge Durango Rear MugshotPhoto: Ron Sessions

From an image standpoint, Dodge has transformed itself into a performance brand. That said, its yeoman minivan, the Grand Caravan, and 12-year old Journey compact SUV still dominate Dodge sales charts. But Dodge’s other SUV, the larger-than-a-midsize but smaller-than-a-full-size Durango has a lot to offer with available 3-row seating and towing up to 8,700 lbs. The current-generation Durango dates back to 2011. It shares many of its underpinnings with the shorter-wheelbase Jeep Grand Cherokee, both based on an early 2000s Mercedes-Benz M-Class platform.

For this review, the test vehicle was a loaded, range-topping 475-hp 2020 Dodge Durango SRT model decked out in F8 Green paint. Including the optional high-performance Brembo brakes, 19-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system, power sunroof, 20-inch forged-aluminum wheels, blind-spot  and rear cross-traffic detection, rear-seat DVD system, second-row console, Premium Interior package, Tech package of advanced safety systems and the not-insignificant $1,495 destination charge, the well-optioned SRT stickered at $77,195. That’s more than double the base V6 rear-drive SXT model’s $31,940 out-the-door tally.  

What Owners Say

2020 Dodge Durango Front MugshotPhoto: Ron Sessions

Prior to delving into our evaluation of the Dodge Durango, let’s take a minute to review who the buyer is for this midsize SUV, and which of its features and characteristics this buyer likes most and least.

The Dodge Durango has one of the highest percentage of male buyers (61%) among midsize SUVs compared to 56% for the segment as a whole. Durango buyers are also some of the youngest in the segment with a median age of 48 years old vs 56 for midsize SUV buyers in general. Additionally, the largest group of Durango buyers is from Generation Y, born between 1977 and 1994 compared to midsize SUV buyers as a whole, the greatest number of which is Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964.

Despite their younger years, Durango buyers listed median annual household income of $116,026, on par with the $116,933 for the midsize SUV segment overall.

Styling and performance are two strong factors attracting buyers to Dodge in general and the Durango in particular. Among Durango owners, 62% agree mostly that they prefer a vehicle that offers responsive handling and powerful acceleration compared to 44% in the segment as a whole. Conversely, 60 % of Durango owners disagree that they would pay more for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly vs 48% of all owners in the midsize SUV segment.

As for design, 48% of Durango owners agree mostly that they want a vehicle that stands out in the crowd compared to just 25% of midsize SUV owners in general.

Durango owners say their favorite aspect of the vehicle is its performance, followed by its front-end styling, driving dynamics, third-row seat room and infotainment system. Conversely, Durango owners report their least favorite things about the vehicle are its fuel economy, door closing sound, outward visibility, second-row seat room and amount of cargo space.

What Our Expert Says . . .

2020 Dodge Front Side AnglePhoto: Ron Sessions

In the sections that follow, our expert provides his observations about how the Dodge Durango measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2019 APEAL Study.

Exterior

2020 Dodge Durango Exterior PhotoPhoto: Ron Sessions

The muscular look of the Durango fits right in with the brand’s pumped-up passenger-car icons, the Charger sedan and Challenger coupe. Durango owners ranked the SUV’s exterior appearance as one of its top attributes in the 2019 J.D. Power APEAL study. In SRT trim, available since the 2018 model year, the Durango looks like a jacked-up Charger wagon on steroids. At 119.8 inches, the Durango has one of the longest wheelbases among midsize SUVs, longer even than some full-size SUVs such as the Chevrolet Tahoe. But a highly sculpted shape with bulging musculature, large wheel flares and short overhangs helps the street-tough Durango appear smaller than it really is. 

Interior

2020 Dodge Durango Interior PhotoPhoto: Ron Sessions

Despite the current-generation Durango’s advancing years, its cabin has an understated elegance about it that’s held up over time. Among midsize SUV owners, the Durango’s interior scores above average in the 2019 APEAL study.

Dressing up upper trims including the top-of-the-line SRT model shown here is standard leather-wrapped door and console armrests and an available leather-wrapped and stitched instrument panel with carbon fiber accents, plus a faux-suede headliner.

Seats

2020 Dodge Durango SeatsPhoto: Ron Sessions

Cloth-covered seats are standard in the base SXT and GT models, with leather for the R/T, softer Capri leather in the Citadel and leather and suede seat coverings for the SRT. Five-passenger seating is standard in the base SXT, six for the SRT and there’s seating for seven in GT, R/T and Citadel. Access to the third row is enabled by second-row seats that fold and tumble forward. Though the base SXT’s front seats are manually operated, a power driver’s seat is included with GT models and a power front passenger seat is standard with R/T, Citadel and SRT trims. Available on higher trims are driver seat memory, front-row lumbar adjustment, heating and cooling as well as rear seat heating.

Durango owners rated the third-row seats highly for roominess and comfort (the Durango has more than half a foot more third-row legroom than the Tahoe), but listed the Durango’s second row seat room as a weakness. The more generously bolstered performance front buckets in the SRT test vehicle provided ample comfort and support. One interesting feature with the base cloth front passenger’s seat is its ability to fold forward to a completely flat position, aiding the ability to carry long items inside the cargo hold.

Climate Control System

2020 Dodge Durango Climate Control SystemPhoto: Ron Sessions

It really doesn’t get much simpler than the climate control switchgear in the Durango. Directly below the infotainment screen are large buttons and a knob for most heating and cooling functions, all within easy reach and requiring very little eyes-off-the-road time to operate. Finer climate control adjustments and settings for seat heating and cooling are available in the Uconnect touchscreen menus.

All Durango models come with a standard three-zone, set-and-forget automatic climate control system with rear-seat controls, as well as headliner and floor-level vents. On a 90+ degree day with 90 percent humidity, the system had no trouble keeping the cabin cool and comfortable.

Infotainment System

2020 Dodge Durango Infotainment SystemPhoto: Ron Sessions

FCA’s Uconnect infotainment system is one of the easiest to use. While a 7-inch screen is standard on base models, most of the higher trims have the Uconnect 8.4 system, with its large touchscreen tiles and handy analog volume and tuning/scrolling knobs. In the Durango, navigation is included with the 8.4 system, not tacked on in some option package. Also included with the 8.4 system is SiriusXM satellite radio, with SiriusXM Travel Link and Traffic Plus features.

There are three audio systems, ranging from the base 6-speaker AM/FM stereo to a 9-speaker Alpine system and a concert-hall-like 19-speaker Harman Kardon 825-watt premium system. Available for second-row riders is a Blu-ray/DVD entertainment system with flip-down screens in the rear of the front seatbacks, with individual ports for video gaming. There’s also a remote CD player available as well.

Storage and Space

2020 Dodge Durango Storage & SpacePhoto: Ron Sessions

People buy SUVs for the ability to easily stash a lot of cargo under lock and key. The Durango has that with the equivalent of a full-size sedan’s trunk, 17.2 cu. ft. behind the third row seat. Fold down the third row seat and that expands to 43.3 cu. ft. behind the second row and with all second and third-row seats down, it’s an almost full-size SUV-like 85.1 cu. ft. Additionally, the front passenger seat on cloth-seat models folds down, adding space for long items like surfboards and ladders.

Durango owners rated the SUV’s lack of concealed storage space for small items as a weakness. An optional second-row console available with the second-row captain’s chairs adds a place to store small items in the cabin, but it also blocks third-row passengers from using the space between the captain’s chairs as an easy way to get in and out of the vehicle.

Visibility and Safety

2020 Dodge Durango Visibility & SafetyPhoto: Ron Sessions

The Durango is a long SUV with thick roof pillars, a tall hood and big headrests. Standard on all models is an electric switch enabling the driver to lower the third-row headrests when not in use, but outward visibility is noted by Durango owners as a weakness. A conventional backup camera is standard, but a 360-degree or overhead-view feature is not available. Luckily, a rear park assist system with sensors in the rear bumper that beep faster the closer the driver gets to an obstacle is standard in all but the base SXT model. There is also a front park assist system, standard in R/T, Citadel and SRT models, that works the same way for the front bumper.

Owners list poor visibility when changing lanes as another Durango weakness. For this reason, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic detection, optional on all Durango models, is a good suggestion.

Unlike many other SUVs introduced recently, the Durango doesn’t offer a comprehensive suite of standard safety and driver-assistive systems. What is available is packaged in an optional Technology Group that includes adaptive cruise control, auto emergency braking, lane departure warning and lane-keeping systems.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has not yet rated the 2020 Durango, but the nearly identical 2019 model received Good scores for moderate-offset front impacts, side impacts, roof strength, head restraint and seat performance and Marginal scores for small-offset frontal impacts and headlight performance. In testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the 2020 Durango was rated four out of five stars overall, with four stars for frontal crashes and five for side impacts. NHTSA rollover resistance ratings were just three stars for 4WD Durangos and four stars for 2WD models.

Engine/Transmission

2020 Dodge Durango Engine/TransmissionPhoto: Ron Sessions

Keeping in mind that Dodge is a performance brand, the Durango’s engine choices start where many other brand’s powertrain options leave off. An excellent choice with the less-heavily optioned 2WD Durango models is the base 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 with 293 hp (295 when equipped with dual exhaust) and 260 lb-ft of torque. This regular-fuel engine is reasonably peppy around town and on the highway, plus it can tow up to 6,200 lbs.

And yes, the Durango has an available Hemi engine. There are two of them to choose from. Standard in the R/T model and optional for the Citadel is a 5.7-liter Hemi V8, pumping 360 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque. It can tow up to 7,400 lbs in 2WD trim, 7,200 with all-wheel drive. It can drink regular unleaded fuel but Dodge recommends midgrade for best performance.

Then, there’s the SRT model’s 6.4-liter Hemi V8 with 475 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque. It’s for hotrod fans who would like a bad boy Charger or Challenger but need the space and available all-wheel drive traction of an SUV. Dodge says this version of the Hemi will propel the 5,500-lb Durango from rest to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds. It can also tow up to 8,700 lbs. All-wheel drive is standard with the SRT.

All Durango engines are paired with a quick-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters on the steering wheel for manual shift control.

Fuel Economy

2020 Dodge Durango Fuel EconomyPhoto: Ron Sessions

If you’re concerned about fuel economy, go for the 3.6-liter V6. If you tow semi-regularly, you may want to upgrade to the Hemi 5.7 V8. Don’t even ask about the 6.4-liter V8 other than you can go out looking for unsuspecting Camaros and Mustangs to hole shot at the next traffic light. But just for the record, EPA estimates are 21 mpg combined for the 3.6-liter V6, 17 mpg combined for the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 and 15 mpg combined for the SRT-exclusive 6.4-liter Hemi V8.

Driving Dynamics

2020 Dodge Durango Driving DynamicsPhoto: Ron Sessions

For a fairly large midsize SUV that’s close in size to the full-size Chevrolet Tahoe, the Durango has a lot of stick. Its unitized body construction gives it a more solid feel than full-size body-on-frame SUVs and the Durango’s 4-wheel independent suspension afford it better ride control than its larger cousins with live rear axles. Sharing chassis componentry with the shorter, two-row Jeep Grand Cherokee helps as well. For an SUV entering its second decade with no major changes, the Durango doesn’t feel out of touch. In fact, for an important core element of its buyers, its retro appeal is quite powerful. That said, the Durango benefits from precise, well-weighted steering, powerfully responsive brakes and generously sized rubber at all four corners.

The SRT model tested amplifies those attributes with real-time adjustable Bilstein adaptive dampers, larger, more powerful Brembo brakes and available Pirelli 3-season P-Zero run-flat tires. With “only 475 hp, it’s no Hellcat-powered supercharged Grand Cherokee TrackHawk but it will deliver hours of entertaining acceleration for performance-minded buyers. 

Final Impressions

2020 Dodge Durango Final ImpressionsPhoto: Ron Sessions

The enduring popularity of the Dodge Durango is proof positive that there’s a solid market for a performance-oriented midsize SUV with three-row seating and impressive towing abilities. As more electrified alternatives appear in the next few years, the classic big-inch gas engine retro appeal of vehicles like the Durango will be tested. New competition in the segment comes from the all-new 2020 Ford Explorer, also with a longitudinally mounted engine, unitized body construction, and a choice of rear- or all-wheel drive and but adding turbocharging, the ST dedicated performance version and a hybrid model as well. 

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