Large SUVs have rapidly replaced minivans here in Canada due to their practicality, added ruggedness and available all-wheel drive. There’s a slew of capable models to choose from as well, to the point where it can quickly get confusing for consumers.
Dodge, among others, sells one of these bad boys, and just like its main rivals –the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Nissan Pathfinder and Ford Explorer –, (just to name a few), it too can comfortably sit an entire family, its gear, and its dog while hauling a boat up to the cottage once and a while. Except the Durango offers something its main rivals don’t: muscle. This Detroit-born bruiser has a lot of it.
A Well-deserved refresh
It’s easy to dismiss the Dodge Durango for appearing more rudimentary than its Asian, American and German competition. There are no smaller displacement turbocharged drivetrains here, no signs of electrification and a considerable dated platform,
But there’s no denying how well the Durango has served North American consumers thus far. Since this current generation model has been launched in 2011, the Dodge’s big bruiser SUV has satisfied more than half a million owners.
Consumers appreciate the Durango mostly due to its roughneck attitude and attainable performance, but also because it delivers on essential attributes like cargo space and towing, Built in Michigan, the Durango is the workhorse of the North-American middle class.
Dodge clearly sees and understands this success, which is why it brings to the table a slew of new content for the 2021 model year. This is essentially a facelift that massages the front fascia, adds new paint colors (like this $245 F8 green) and wheels, reshuffles the trim hierarchy, and considerably updates the interior. But there’s enough substance here to make the Durango almost feel like a new product.
It still rides on the same old platform, and it still offers the same aging engines and transmissions. Yet for those seeking brute force rather than urban efficiency, all engines promise ample power. Base Durangos are still motivated by the tried and proven 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 that’s good for 293 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque.
Next up the ladder is the big guy you see here; the Durango R/T. It sports a 5.7-litre HEMI V8 – a unique feature in this segment – that develops a healthy 360 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque. And if that’s not enough, Dodge will sell you two more flavors of HEMI, ranging from 475 and 710 horsepower. All engines are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is standard here in Canada.
Friendly green giant
With an entry price of $55,754, the R/T sits among the more expensive three-row SUVs in its class, but it’s also the only one from a mainstream nameplate to offer this much displacement. Beware, however, of the Durango R/T’s options list. While many of them, notably the featured Tow N Go package, offer a lot of neat features, things like an adaptive sport suspension, retuned steering, a sweet-sounding performance exhaust and wider 295-section all-season tires, the $5,495 price tag could appear offensive to some.
Towing ratings for the Durango R/T do smash the competition, however. While most vehicles of this segment limit themselves to 5,000 pounds, Dodge’s mall finder stands tall at 6,200 pounds when not loaded with kids and gear.
And when it is filled with humans, this ‘Rango is still astonishingly competitive, with ample leg and head room in the second row and a fair amount of comfort in the third row for adults. Most vehicles of this category are better off reserving those rear seats for the kids, but Dodge’s midsizer offers a generous amount of room and comfort.
It’s the same story for total cargo space which remains among segment leaders. When all its rear seats are folded flat, the Durango will swallow up 2,409 liters of your gear. Only a Kia Telluride (2,463 liters) and a Volkswagen Atlas (2,741 liters) offer more.
On the road, there’s no denying the Durango’s rudimentary underpinnings from the way it flexes and wobbles on rough pavement, but the level of grip from the Quadra-Trac all-wheel drive system and thick meaty tires is rather impressive considering the vehicle’s size and weight. The R/T’s standard Brembo brake package also delivers on its stopping promises.
The HEMI engine is always a peach hear, especially with the added exhaust. Rumbles and roars are part of the everyday soundtrack while power deliver is smooth and peppy. This is the baby V8 in Dodge’s lineup, but it’s proven more than effective in a wide variety of applications, from Ram pickup trucks to the Challenger sports coupe. In the Durango, it’s more than enough to get this big teddy bear up and going in a jiffy.
Some modernity inside
The Durango’s updated cabin is a welcome touch, especially due to improved materials and ergonomics, although the fake marble surfaces of my tester did appear like afterthoughts. Seats are comfortable, well-bolstered and supportive, while the updated dashboard design feels fresh and up to date with industry standards.
Dodge also slightly changed the digital sections of the gauge cluster with a new design, but the overall presentation is a little confusing at times.
Perhaps where the Durango makes the biggest strides in its available standard technology. The facelift brings Stellantis’ latest Uconnect 5 infotainment interface and 10.1-inch flush mount screen. It not only cleans up the dashboard’s center stack, but significantly updates what was already a well-sorted out system. Icons are clearly marked; the software responds quickly and it’s always easy and intuitive to get things done. This is also one of the simplest ways to connect wirelessly to Android Auto I’ve sampled in my career, and the system’s phone projection is downright excellent.
Except for perhaps a quickly inflating price tag from some questionable optional packages and a mediocre fuel economy average of 12.8L/100 km from the HEMI V8, the 2021 Dodge Durango R/T easily remains a highly adorable brute. If you’re a parent looking for a sensible family hauler that can also do a bit of heavy lifting over the weekend, but you also can’t let go of your automotive enthusiast heart, then this Durango is a winning package on all fronts.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.