Test Drive: 2015 Dodge Durango R/T

Galina “Red” Reznikov is a matriarchal character on the hit Netflix television series, Orange is the New Black. Although a wife and mother in her life outside of Litchfield Prison, Red’s powerful Russian Mafia connections make her a powerful and fearsome character amongst her inmate peers.

This 2015 Dodge Durango R/T is the Red Reznikov in the world of crossover SUVs, and not just because of the shade of its paint matches the colour of the fiery inmate’s hair.

Where most crossovers are smoothed and distilled and refined to be the gentle and practical family-friendly machinery they have become, the Durango R/T has a mean streak in it. If you roll up its sleeves, it’ll show you some scary tattoos that speak to a rugged background that reaches beyond the Whole Foods parking lot in a snowstorm.

For the Durango, that background has strong ties to the rugged off-road rambling gang of Jeep Grand Cherokees from which it has stolen its underpinnings before having them stretched to accommodate a third row of passenger seating. Impressive as that is, it’s the muscular heart and lungs of this Durango R/T model with its 5.7L V8 that really gives this butch ute its swagger. That’s right, this thing does have a Hemi and that makes it pretty unique – a badass amid its peers.

Pumping out a lusty 360 horsepower is pretty butch, but it’s the nearly 400 lb-ft of torque that really gives the Durango R/T its clout. And while competitors like Ford’s twin-turbo V6 Explorer might compete in terms of power, the Durango’s swagger comes from the deep, bass-rich V8 burble emitted from the twin tailpipes. Nothing else in the class sounds like this, and frankly, that’ll be all that some people will need to make up their mind and buy a Durango over the countless other seven-passenger alternatives. Plus, the Durango R/T is rated to tow 3,266 kg, far more than its direct crossover competitors, without being as bulky as full-sizers like the Tahoe or Nissan Armada.

For all its rugged machismo, the Durango’s V8 is more refined and smarter than its gruff voice might make you believe. This is evident in its efficiency, which, while not diesel- or hybrid-stellar, is still fairly impressive for a vehicle of this size and mass. With mostly highway driving during its weeklong stay, we saw an indicated average of 11.4 L/100 km, better than the government’s suggested 11.5 L/100 km highway average (and much better than the suggested 17.3 L city rating). Bear in mind that we were in no way hypermiling this thing. 

This relative frugality owes a lot to Dodge’s clever cylinder deactivation, effectively turning the V8 into a V4 when not under load. The rest of the efficiency story relates to the eight-speed automatic that’s programmed to climb to the tallest gear as quickly as possible in the interest of efficiency. In reaching that goal, it’s largely successful, but this transmission is not the smoothest or smartest we’ve encountered, as was evident in its reluctance to drop a cog or two when asked. Additionally, there were a few instances when after a brief stop (like, say for a stop sign before continuing into a right turn) the gearbox would momentarily forget to shift down to first before rolling onward.

Despite its R/T badging, big wheels and monotone “Redline Pearl” paint, this Durango isn’t particularly sporting in its handling. The steering feel is vague and slow, and the handling isn’t at all what you’d call sporty, but obviously nobody will be using a Durango – regardless of trim – to fulfill sports car dreams. And on the upside, the relaxed steering is useful for mitigating any busy feel at highway speeds.

Unfortunately the sloppy handling doesn’t equate to a supple ride. In fact, the Durango R/T’s ride is surprisingly stiff thanks to the trim-specific Sport Suspension that lowers the R/T’s ride height (and any hope of off-road usage). The rigidity of the suspension is even more noticeable thanks to very hard cushioning in the seats.

Aside from having their innards jostled over bumps, Durango R/T passengers are treated pretty well. Folks in the second row seats – individual captain’s chairs in this rig – enjoy their own bun warmers, 115V AC power plug (plus two USB power points) and the optional flip-up screens displaying Blu-Ray disc visuals. Third-class… err, third-row passengers will have an awkward climb over the flipped second row seat to reach their spot back in steerage where space is adequate for children, but won’t be much fun for adults. With the third row up, cargo space is limited too, but folded flat, there’s generous area available that’s competitive in the class if not leading.

Up front, heated and cooled seats are a luxurious touch, and this particular Durango was fitted with options like Dodge’s great 8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment system, celebrated for its logical, easy-to-use functionality, and in this case, an absolutely thunderous stereo system that pounds out even more bass than the Hemi. There’s also an excellent Technology Group for $1,450 that includes Advanced Brake Assist, Forward Collision Warning and Adaptive Cruise Control that works well to regain speed after encountering a slowdown in traffic (a function that not all competitive systems do so well at).

The rest of the controls are sensibly laid out and easy to use, and most of the textures and materials feel like they’re made of quality stuff and properly assembled. The rotary-dial gear selector may seem gimmicky, but serves to free up space that would have otherwise been occupied by a shift lever that travels through a track. We would like to see the cubby with DC and USB plug points have a cover to keep prying eyes and would-be thieves from seeing our iPods and other plug-in-ables.

At over $60,000, this Durango has pretty much every option one could throw at it, driving it up into rarified domains occupied by premium brands. The volume-leader Durangos with their solid V6 platforms start tens of thousands of bucks cheaper than this rig, but lack the V8 bravado that defines the R/T. Still, with considerable restraint exercised when choosing options, a Durango R/T can be ordered for just under $50,000. You’ll need to search long and hard to find another seven-passenger crossover with V8 power for so little money.

Like dear ol’ Red from Orange Is The New Black, the Durango R/T seems to have a bit of trouble fitting in in many circles. Not quite as rugged as the body-on-frame truck-utes, but more rough-and-tumble than the soft car-like crossovers, it’s useful and respected by those who get to appreciate its qualities.

Warranty:
3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 3 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 5 years/100,000 km roadside assistance

Competitors:
Chevrolet Tahoe
Chevrolet Traverse
Ford Explorer
Honda Pilot
Nissan Pathfinder
Hyundai Santa Fe XL
Toyota 4Runner

2015 Dodge Durango R/T AWD
2015 Dodge Durango R/T AWD
Base Price $49,995
Optional Equipment Technology Group, $1,450; Rear DVD Entertainment Centre, $2,150; Trailer Tow Group, $795; Premium Nappa Leather Group, $1,000; 2nd Row Fold/Tumble Captain Chairs, $600; 2nd Row Console w/ Armrest & Storage, $250; Power Sunroof, $1,395; Uconnect 8.4” with Navigation, $1,250
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,695
Price as Tested $60,680
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.0
8 Exterior Styling
7 Performance
8 Interior
7 Comfort
5 Fuel Economy