An extra seven inches in length helps the 2004
Dodge Durango find a new niche in which to shine, making the interior more spacious than
the mid-size SUV competition.
When the Dodge Durango was introduced in 1998, it was perfect for
Goldilocks not too big, not too small. With a spacious cabin, rugged performance
and valuable third-row seat, the Durango quickly gained a following for its just-right
proportions that neatly filled the void between mid-size and full-size SUVs. It was a
perfect fit for a while.
After the new Ford Explorer and Chevy Tahoe both inched closer to
the Durangos size, making it look lackluster in comparison, Dodge knew it had to
find another niche. So the gurus in Michigan cranked out an all-new Durango for 2004
thats bigger, more powerful, and more polished than the vehicle it replaces in an
increasingly crowded SUV market.
From the inside, the most obvious change to the Durango is its size.
Its a full seven inches longer, three inches wider, and three inches taller than the
well-worn 2003 model, and thats a welcome addition. Dodge is quick to brag that its
new SUV has more cargo room than the Tahoe, Ford Expedition, and Toyota Sequoia.
While that space is great for the interior, it posed problems for
Dodge designers who wanted to maintain the original Durangos basic shape. The new
styling is a hit-and-miss effort.
Keeping and exaggerating the Durangos big-rig front end was a
great move, but the rest of the truck is a different and tragic story. It almost looks
like somebody jammed a straw into the Durango and blew hard really hard to
give it the look of an angry puffer fish, or maybe a bloated housecat.
The odd styling conceals impressive flexibility in the cabin, where
Dodges "fold and tumble" third-row seat makes converting the space a
simple affair when switching between carrying passengers and hauling cargo. It also offers
side curtain air bags for all three rows of seats.
Not surprisingly, the new Durango boasts significantly more
refinement than the old one. Two of the engineers chief goals for the new SUV were
to improve its ride and make it quieter, and they seem to have succeeded on both counts.
The ride is soft and supple, though still a tad too bouncy, as it
tries to imitate the smooth and precise feel of a sedan with the tough capability of a
truck, and the combination of guts and refinement is impressive. Similarly, sounds from
outside the cabin are pleasingly muffled in most driving conditions at least for
full-size SUVs, which arent famous for their silence on the highway.
The most exciting news for current Durango fans is the availability
of Dodges 5.7-liter Hemi engine that makes a thunderous 335 horsepower and 370
pound-feet of torque. A 4.7-liter V-8 and 3.7-liter V-6 also are available.
None of the engines, however, offer more than a disappointing 16
miles per gallon in town and 21 mpg on the highway and thats with the little
V-6. The Hemi gets a pathetic 13 mpg in town on four-wheel drive models, but Dodge still
touts its fuel efficiency as a selling point compared with the pavement-crunching mammoth
Overall, the Durango is a nice compromise between average-size SUVs
and those road-hogging American behemoths. Like its predecessor, it offers a combination
of size, power and refinement that simply cant be found anywhere else.