A Durango By Any Other Name

2017 Dodge Durango GT AWD
2017 Dodge Durango GT AWD – All Photos by Randy Stern

I remember my first Durango.

That was back in 2012. It was red. Actually, they call it “Redline.” It had a HEMI underneath its hood. At a price of just over $39,000 (in 2012), it was one of the baddest machines Mopar ever thrusted upon us.

Did I mention it was a SUV? It was a mid-sized one with three rows and all-wheel drive.

There had been two total – both with AWD and HEMI power. Both wore the infamous R/T badge – one that told the world of its Dodge Brothers roots.

Based on those two experiences, I found the Durango “brawny” and big. It commanded everything in its wake. You can’t mess with a HEMI-powered three-row SUV. Nothing can.

I always thought of the Dodge Durango as the kind of SUV you roll up with a 1970 Challenger on a trailer, a family with an attitude coming out of the interior and a party ready to kick off somewhere. How many “family friendly” SUVs do you know can play the badass role? A Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk might even come close. Beyond that….forget it.

However, the reality of the three-row SUV marketplace is that families do not want to keep filling up their HEMI-powered SUVs more frequently than their mundane brethren. After a second trip to the gas station, a procession of Ford Explorers, Toyota Highlanders, Nissan Pathfinders, Chevrolet Traverses and Hyundai Santa Fes just flew by on the Interstate.

2017 Dodge Durango GT AWD

Perhaps we should remember that the Dodge Durango comes with the Pentastar V6. You can’t that with the R/T, but on other models, such as the value-oriented SXT and the luxurious Citadel trims. What if you wanted the efficiency of the Pentastar V6 with the badass look of the R/T? Inquiring Moparians on tight fuel budgets wanted to know.

For 2017, a trim level reshuffling took place with the Dodge Durango. And, lo and behold, we now have the GT model. This new model is exactly what we wanted – Pentastar V6 efficiency with R/T looks.

It sounds like a great proposition. The more efficient engine cloaked underneath a vehicle with a huge personality. The reality of the marketplace is that the V6 is the most preferred powerplant offering of customers looking for a three-row SUV because of the perception of better savings at the fuel pump and better range. The flip side of the argument is to concentrate on value, standard equipment, maximum infotainment and some shiny bits to attract families to their goods. Personality, swagger, badassery…what are those?

There is another twist to this story. Every Durango I have driven had a V8 underneath its hood. This new GT will be the first V6-powered Durango I have worked with for the purpose of publication. This should be interesting.

If you read the other two reviews of the Durango, then you might know how this will end. Well…not exactly.

First, what exactly is a Durango GT? Think of it as a lighter version of the R/T. The crosshairs itself are paint matched, with 20-inch dark gray wheels finishing the look. If you know your Durangos, then you might wonder why the GT looked as aggressive as the HEMI-powered R/T. The differences are subtle, but one can look hard to know what makes an R/T over a GT – without popping the hood.

2017 Dodge Durango GT AWD

Step inside, and see how the sporty seats transform a family conveyance into a place where things might get serious. They are firm and supportive, which is what you would expect from a sporty trim on a big SUV. On the GT, the second row captain’s chairs were split with a center plastic floor covering separating it. Embedded cupholders included. Though this tester came with a video entertainment system including fold-up screens, HDMI and RCA ports for video consoles and other external players. The third row offers a bit of room for children, though cargo space behind the third row is quite small – that is, if you consider 17.2 cubic feet “small.”

Do not expect anything screaming “GT.” There are no embroidered logos and such on these black leather seats. Or, any Easter eggs that make it stand out a bit more.

What makes a GT a GT is the 3.6 liter Pentastar V6. With 295 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque, it is the most common engine found on the Durango. It sort of makes sense that the second model in the 2017 Durango lineup would only be available with the Pentastar V6 rather than the 360 horsepower 5.7 liter HEMI V8 engine. To get that one, it comes standard on the R/T and is available on the luxury Citadel trim.

Remember when I stated that this was the first V6-powered Durango I have driven? Well, it is a lively engine. The latest Pentastar V6 is known for its liveliness. Though the approximately 5,000 pound may be a bit much for some passing and hill maneuvers, it does get going at highway speeds with ease. It also turned 20.9 MPG in my care. Maybe the latter number is why one would get the GT over the R/T.

The Pentastar V6 only comes with the ZF-designed eight-speed automatic transmission. While you can switch to D or R via the rotary knob on the console, steering-wheel mounted paddles can fine tune those ratios. Our model came with all-wheel drive.

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As with every Durango I drove, there is a lot to like about this big three-row SUV. It offers a solid connectivity suite, called UConnect, with its 8.4-inch touch screen, clean navigation tools and available media options. It has better third row room than its mid-sized rivals. Access is easy for children to get in that third row.

Let’s talk about the third row. The one argument I get into about the Durango is to where it fits among SUVs. It is believed that it should be classified as a mid-sized SUV, competing against the Explorer, Pathfinder and so forth. However. Some have argued that the Dodge should be pitted against the likes of the Toyota Sequoia, Chevrolet Tahoe and Ford Expedition. Perhaps if dimensions dictated such grouping, but by only a few inches within their respective wheelbases and overall lengths.

Perhaps this is why some folks see the extended rear end beyond the rear wheels as an indicator of larger aspirations. If you must compare with larger SUVs, then you would hope to do so with the HEMI V8 instead of the Pentastar V6.

However, a look at pricing will dictate otherwise. The base price for the Durango SXT with rear drive is $29,995 – lower than most of mid-sized, three-row SUVs. However, its range is quite wide in terms of pricing and content. This AWD GT tester came with a sticker price of $48,765 – perhaps almost on the high side in the mid-sized segment, but a bit on lower end of the large SUV segment.

One could call the Durango a “tweener.” Maybe that will help customers understand what they are getting in this largest of Dodge SUVs.

What would you call the Dodge Durango? There is an undercurrent of enthusiasts who are about to call it “hot” with the arrival soon of the SRT model. That would be a Durango with the 6.4 liter “392” HEMI V8 engine. This should be an interesting combination – a Durango with maximum swag.

2017 Dodge Durango GT AWD

Still, no matter what you call it, it is a family vehicle with an attitude. This is why the focus was on creating the GT with the more efficient Pentastar V6 to lure in families exhibiting Mopar cool…or, something close to it. There may be families that might want something more authentic. For them, there is the Durango R/T or the upcoming SRT. Either way, the Durango can take take of your family of five-to-seven in comfort and enjoyment.

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

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