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Review: 2014 Dodge Durango

Smooth ZF tranny calms this big mean ute

LOS ANGELES?Full-size SUVs are not such a big deal in Canada, but south of the border, where gas is cheaper and size matters, these brutes are a staple.

Still, Dodge is closing in on 2,000 Canadian sales of its full-size Durango for 2013, although that figure is down about 20 per cent from last year. Conversely, Dodge will move more than 50,000 Durangos in the U.S. this year and sales are up by 50 per cent.

The all-wheel-drive, seven-seat SUV lives in the middle ground between the Ford Explorer/Honda Pilot set and the larger body-on-frame types like Chevrolet Tahoe and Ford Expedition.

Dodge?s ace-in-the-hole is the available Hemi V8 engine, which gives it serious towing capability and a rather impressive exhaust note.

Having been with us since 2011, this generation Durango gets a refresh for 2014.

Hardly a shrinking violet before, the new model gets a meaner face, thanks to a lower-profile grill, squintier headlights and LED running lights. The tail end gets Dodge?s racetrack light feature ? a continuous loop of 192 LEDs that was first seen on the Charger.

Pricing starts at $39,995 for the SXT, with cloth seats and 18-inch wheels.

A new Limited model, at $43,995, gets the V8 Hemi, heated leather seats, heated steering wheel, park assist, back-up camera and satellite radio, among other luxury touches.

The $48,995 R/T takes the bad-ass prize for its 20-inch, black alloys, monochrome body treatment, sports steering and suspension, and Hemi power.

The top-shelf Citadel model layers on an extra helping of goodies for $51,995.

Both engines carry forward from 2013: the 3.6 L Pentastar V6, with 290 hp and 260 lb.-ft. of torque, and the 5.7 L Hemi V8, with 360 hp and 390 lb.-ft.

But they are now hooked to an eight-speed ZF-sourced automatic transmission (up from a five-speed for the V6, six-speed for the Hemi)) and all models feature paddle shifters. A Jaguar-esque rotary shift knob lives on the centre console.

This tranny especially benefits the V6 models ? keeping the engine in the meat of its power band, while shifting smoothly and avoiding unnecessary hunting.

And, bonus, you can impress (or bore) your friends by declaring, ?Hey, my Dodge has the same ZF transmission as a Maserati, Jaguar, BMW, Audi or Bentley.?

Dodge claims a 9-per-cent improvement in fuel economy for both engines, and that factors in a new default Eco mode that reduces throttle sensitivity and has the transmission upshifting earlier.

The entertainment/connectivity quotient has also been upgraded, with a new available 8.4-inch Uconnect media centre (one of the more user-friendly of such systems), a reconfigurable 7-inch centre cluster display, and a rear-seat dual-screen DVD/Blu-ray system.

Also on the menu is adaptive cruise control with full stop and forward crash warning/mitigation, which will apply the brakes if you don?t.

The leather seats are well-contoured, the new three-spoke steering wheel feels expensive to the touch, and generally, the refreshed-a-few-years-ago interior is holding up well.

Much of our time driving the Durango was on the tight twists and turns of the famed Mulholland Drive. Perhaps not the best vehicle for these roads, but it did highlight the big ute?s direct steering and surprisingly good composure. It has a controlled and nicely damped ride.

The Dodge folks reminded us that this Durango shares its basic underpinnings with the Mercedes-Benz GL full-size SUV ? a leftover from when Mr. Daimler and Ms Chrysler had that tumultuous fling years ago.

The drive also reinforced the fact that, for most customers, the 3.6 L is all the engine they?ll need. With the new eight-speed, it never feels flat-footed and it is tow-rated at 2,812 kg (6,200 lb.).

Needs and wants, of course, are two different things. If you need to tow up to 3,265 kg (7,200 lb.) or want the burble and thrust of a classic Detroit bent-eight, then the Hemi elevates the Durango from pleasantly competent to something with a whole lot more attitude.

Transportation for freelance writer Peter Bleakney was provided by the manufacturer. Email:

2014 Dodge Durango

Price: $39,995 to $51,995

Engine: 3.6 L V6, 5.7 L V8

Power/Torque: 290 hp/260 lb.-ft., 360/390

Fuel consumption L/100 km: 12.4 city, 8.3 hwy.; 15.6, 9.1

Competition: Ford Explorer, Ford Expedition, Chevy Traverse, Chevy Tahoe, GMC Acadia, GMC Denali, Mazda CX-9, Toyota 4Runner

What?s Best: refinement, value, available Hemi.

What?s Worst: The Hemi is thirsty.

What?s Interesting: U.S. Durango sales jumped by 59 per cent, thanks in part to Ron Burgundy?s (Will Ferrell?s Anchorman) ad campaign