The steering in the Durango I drove had a good feeling of heft to it, and held nicely to center on the freeway. At full lock in low-speed maneuvers, the hydraulics felt like they were strained slightly, something cars did commonly before the advent of electric power steering systems.
Looking at the Durango's specs, I wasn't surprised to see that it's built on a fully independent suspension, as it shares a platform with the. Another point of modernity in its construction, rather than live axles and a truck frame, as with SUVs of the past, the Durango has a unibody with individual suspension components at each wheel.
That suspension gave the Durango a planted feeling when cornering, making for good response to my steering input. But Dodge tuned this suspension with maybe too much rigidity. Over bumps, and even mere road reflectors, the jounce in the cabin was strong. At the same time, the damping was immediate, with no prolonged bouncing. And on smooth pavement the ride proved comfortable enough for long miles of effortless driving.
Continuing the modern SUV theme, in the center of the Durango's dashboard was Chrysler's standard 8.4-inch touch screen for its Uconnect navigation system. I like this system a lot for its features and ease of use. So many automakers overly complicate their cabin tech interfaces, yet Chrysler gets it right. Running along the bottom of the screen are icons for the various functions, while the majority of the space shows either phone, stereo, navigation, or apps, whichever the driver wants up.
The Uconnect interface not only shows excellent usability, but it responds quickly to input. This is how cabin tech interfaces should work.
In the Durango, at the right-hand corner of the menu strip, gripping the Apps icon, sat a little 3G notation, indicating a built-in data connection. That data connection vaults the Durango clear of dinosaur status right into the forefront of current automotive tech. Dodge uses the data connection to power apps integrated with the car, but also includes integration with a phone running its own Uconnect app.
Yelp was the main app using the built-in data connection, a good first choice from Dodge. Much better than the navigation system's built-in points-of-interest database, Yelp let me look up nearby restaurants and see descriptions and ratings. Being able to tap a button to make a restaurant my destination was a much better experience than looking up something on my phone, then retyping the address into the navigation system.
Dodge still uses the Durango's satellite radio to get traffic data for the navigation system, but it would be better delivered over the data connection. I would also like to see a Google or Bing local search feature integrated with the navigation system, accessible by voice command.
The Uconnect app, running on a smartphone, also integrates with the car, opening up access to apps such as Pandora, iHeartRadio, and Slacker. At least it will, once the company finishes developing this capability promised on the Uconnect site. The good news is that the connection is already built into the car, so owners will get added features when the smartphone app is updated.
The large LCD in the Durango worked nicely as a display for navigation, showing the bright, clear maps in good detail. These maps offered plan and perspective views, with useful turn-by-turn directions giving good detail and lane guidance for freeway junctions.
The other usual suspects for cabin tech features were here. The Bluetooth hands-free phone system showed the paired phone's contact list onscreen, and allowed dial by name through voice command. The stereo interface was easy to use, giving access to Bluetooth streaming from a paired phone, or music devices plugged into the Durango's USB port.
One nice feature was that, with a USB drive plugged in, the system scanned MP3 files and presented them in a nice music library format, just as if an iOS device were plugged in.
Voice command also let me request artists, albums, and songs by name.
The upgraded but unbranded stereo in the Durango I tested included a 506-watt amp and was very satisfying in its music reproduction. This system falls short of real audiophile quality, but the bass is strong and the highs come through clearly.
A full rearview camera with trajectory lines and a blind-spot monitor system rounded out the cabin tech. Not included in this car was the available adaptive cruise control, which would have been a useful addition for the long freeway miles.
Long live the SUV
The popularity of SUVs came not from any ability to claw up muddy mountain roads or tackle the canyons of Moab, but from their comfort and capacity. Families could pile in with their luggage and take a 100-mile trek to grandma's house for Thanksgiving. The 2014 Dodge Durango continues this utility in a stylishly designed, modern SUV.
Dodge's engine choices are solid, but don't go as far as competitors in seeking high fuel economy, leaving the eight-speed automatic transmission as the real star of the drivetrain show here. The V-6 base engine will make the best choice for most drivers, but the V-8 can come in handy for towing boats and trailers, or for bragging rights.
More impressive from a tech standpoint is the cabin. Dodge's Uconnect system is a standout for smart design and functionality. Navigation, digital audio, and hands-free phone all fit in nicely, but I'm more impressed with how Dodge was able to add connected features into this system. Previous versions of Uconnect I've tested lacked any app integration, but these new features slot into the interface perfectly, without looking shoehorned in. Smartphone app integration will add useful features, without requiring a complete car update.
|Model||2014 Dodge Durango|
|Power train||5.7-liter V-8 engine, 8-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||14 mpg city/23 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||18.7 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional flash memory-based system|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Digital audio sources||Bluetooth streaming, Internet-based radio, iOS integration, USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio|
|Audio system||506-watt 19-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitor, rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$43,570|