First Drive: the 2011 Dodge Durango the cure for the common jiggly, tippy and unlovable SUV


Let me break this down for you:

The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee is great. Dodge used the new platform from the Grand Cherokee and stretched it about ten inches overall. With me so far? Then, (this part is logical speculation) Dodge took measurements of the Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, Chevy Traverse and other three-row crossovers. After working their collective tails off, they opted to measure up to – OR – beat ALL of them.

I wasn’t expecting much when I got to the 2011 Dodge Durango unveiling which took place on the top of a hill that overlooked Infineon Raceway in Napa, California. It was a carefully planned press event for eight 2011 Chrysler/Dodge vehicles. Sure, I liked the looks of the new Durango. Hell, it’s one of the best looking SUVs I’ve seen this year. But, it was just a fat, slow crossover – right?



Most crossovers handle like Rosie O’Donnell on a 10-speed; tippy around corners, capacious jiggle, tippy road motions and unlovable around town. Usually the problem is that most crossovers have so much weight up front based on their front-wheel-drive-biased architecture. Even with AWD, there is a wallow that large crossovers fight to hide.

This is where the 2011 Dodge Durango surprises – handling. You can feel the rear end plant itself and push the Durango through a corner rather than having the font wheels pull you through a corner. Steering feel is damn good for a vehicle in this class and brakes are pretty strong.

Unlike the 2011 Ford Explorer which gave up some of its truck-ness for crossover, FWD driving ease – the 2011 Dodge Durango is a front engine/rear drive setup – like a truck – or a proper sports sedan. This setup is somewhat reminiscent of a BMW X5.

No kidding…


Here’s a few facts about the 2011 Dodge Durango:

• The trim levels are as follows: Express (base), Crew (family orientated – like, “I’m taking my ‘Crew’ to Big Kahuna Burger”) and Citadel (which sort of replaces the luxury loaded Chrysler Aspen).

• The 2011 Dodge Durango Express starts at $29,195 and the Dodge Durango Express with AWD starts at $31,195. Even the base models come well equipped with an excellent, “soft touch” interior.

• The Pentastar V6 produces 290 horsepower good for 260 lbs-feet of torque can tow up to 6,200 lbs. The V6 has an AWD option which is fulltime and fully automatic.

• A beefy 360 horsepower, 5.7 liter Hemi makes 390 lb-ft of torque can tow 7400 lbs when properly equipped. A two speed transfer case can lock into a low gear for mild off road excursions. Truth seems to be: if you want SERIOUS off road ability, stick with the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee.


• The roof is low and long. From the side, it looks longer than a Chevy Suburban (it’s not) and that low roof impedes some outward vision. The front end is crazy-cool looking with a definite connection to Dodge cars and trucks of yore.

• All three rows are comfortable and legroom is quite good. All Durangos have standard three row seating. The rear seats do not recline. Even the third row has nice feeling armrests. I mean – who cars about people stuck in the third row? Not many automakers do. Hummmm. I guess Dodge does.

• Chrysler Group LLC has copied Subaru’s new roof racks. Normally, they stay closed, minimizing wind resistance, then slide over and connect to the other rail making a proper roof rack. It’s not an exact copy of the Subaru version – but the idea is basically the same.


Yup – family types who have a legitimate reason for a vehicle like the 2011 Dodge Durango won’t be disappointed. It’s a completely new vehicle and shares nothing with the awkward last generation (thankfully) other than its name.

I am chomping at the bit to get one of these Durangos and make it dance the light fantastic in the Rocky Mountains (ahem – – and do some manly fishin’).

Nathan Automotive media, racing, vehicle evaluation, wrecking yards, and car sales are just a part of Nathan Adlen’s vehicular past. He writes out of high octane passion! To read more reviews by Nathan Adlen or just to enjoy more of excellent writing please visit him on at his page HERE.

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