Throwback Review: It's Big Alright…

A Victory & Reseda "Throwback Review" of the 2009 Dodge Durango

In truth, size does matter.

Since I established this fact, you have every right to call me a size queen. Yeah, I like 'em big, but there is a limit to where size becomes unmanageable. Vehicles, for example, have a certain point where size certainly matters in situations, such as parking, tight maneuvers and filling up the gas tank.

It is a profound revelation made when piloting a so-called medium-large SUV that you understand why there are so many people against them. I already knew the consequences of favoring such a vehicle, but my curiosity always get the best of me.

My curiosity led to the 2009 Dodge Durango SLT seen above. This was supposed to be Chrysler's bridge between the Chevrolet TrailBlazer and Tahoe in terms of customer profiling. In fact, it’s supposed to be based on the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which supposedly had some DNA taken from the last Mercedes-Benz M-Class. It is unrelated to either. The Durango’s DNA comes from the Dodge truck lineup: A fully-boxed frame that is shaped from the mid-size Dodge Dakota pickup with elements from the previous iteration of the Dodge Ram.

There is good news in all of this: This is the last of its type to be built from Chrysler. As the Newark, Delaware facility shuts down, the fully-boxed SUV will be cast off into oblivion in time for Fiat and the United Auto Workers to sweep into Auburn Hills after the bankruptcy proceedings are complete.

In the meantime, I present what is truly a surprisingly nice machine. For one not entirely comfortable with a vehicle of this size, there will always be concerns about how it will ride, handle, stop and perform. A person used to vehicles of a lower center of gravity will find this thing unruly in the way it moves about the planet. However, I enjoyed my turn in this massive thing, despite these reservations about its real world use. Believe me, I was expecting disappointing results only to leave the vehicle with a smile on my face.

For starters, it is quite huge inside. My example gave me three rows of seats that claim to have an 8-passenger capacity. Realistically, we're talking 6: Two up front, two in the middle and, in a push, two in the rear. Up front, I'm treated to a reasonably comfortable seat and a decently laid out instrument panel. I do object to a few details, such as the instrumentation and the switchgear. In all, it’'s livable as a cockpit to haul this big thing around in both city and highway traffic. Of course, the bets part was being entertained with my selection of Sirius satellite channels through eight Alpine speakers.

Under the hood is a 4.7-liter V8, which is not entirely a strong motor overall since it was inconsistent on how it performed on certain tasks. Considering that there were no loads being hauled in this vehicle, acceleration can either be sluggish or strong, depending on the mood of the drivetrain. The culprit would be the 4-speed automatic this V8 was connected to. It would be nice to get a better transmission with more gears to augment that Tow button on the gear lever. Then again, I'd rather have four-wheel drive as well. You read correctly: I only had rear-wheel drive in this Durango, but it is equipped with Mercedes-Benz's Electric Stability Program. Daimler still is beholden to their 19.9% ownership as a supplier of parts and technology, despite efforts to divorce itself from this soon-to-be-Italian entity.

The drivetrain aside, the Durango rode quite smoothly for a fully-boxed frame vehicle. It certainly soaked up road imperfections like a kid kicking pebbles as he walks. However, don’t expect this SUV to handle like a Dodge Charger. It is tall with a higher center of gravity, which means that even the most careless driver will feel like being on the verge of tipping over on its side.

The brakes simply work extremely well in stopping this large thing. Even better, the steering is one of the tightest I've ever experienced in a mid-to-large size SUV. As I’m not a master in parallel parking, the Durango's size doesn’t help in this matter due to its height and heft in this maneuver. It feels light on its feet, but judging and angling is another story when parking this thing. If you can master parallel parking in a Durango, more power to you!

Here’s some food for thought: The Durango is actually much more manageable and superiorly dynamic to drive than the Ford Explorer.

Perhaps the most important concern about driving a V8-powered SUV is the fuel economy. Not surprisingly, it turned a 14.6MPG loop. It is certainly fodder for those that want to kill the SUV for some payback about killing GM’s EV-1. It also confirms that this is the type of vehicle the scrappage plans are made for – except this is the type of vehicle you trade in for a new, more fuel-efficient model. You may get more money for it by not scrapping a Durango.

If I were devoid of guilt and rationality, I would justify the Durango as a frivolous purchase. It is certainly too big for my life, but I’m sure if a family larger than your nuclear size can do nicely in this SUV. Still, one has to experience something like this to understand one thing: Size matters in certain cases, but not all the time.

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle was rented by Randy Stern

All photos by Randy Stern

PRE-OWNED VEHICLE INFORMATION: Per a search on several car shopping sites, V&R found there were several 2009 Dodge Durangos available between $8,800 and $15,000. Mileage and condition varies, but most were found with over 100,000 miles on the odometer, the highest being over 132,000 miles. Always have any vehicle inspected before purchase.

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