2015 Dodge Durango R/T review notes: Interior luxury for three (rows)

Photo: 2015 Dodge Durango R/T Photo 1

Call it a Jeep, watch sales triple

DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: Why is this a Dodge and not a Ram or a Jeep? Even this R/T Durango doesn’t make a ton of sense in the niche muscle car Dodge lineup these days, and it may help explain why FCA only moved about 5,500 of them last month — a month when Ford sold almost 25,000 of the similarly sized and priced Explorer. Stick a seven-slot grille on it and some round headlights, call it a Jeep Gladiator or something and watch sales triple. Jeep gets its three-row SUV, and Dodge gets … well, Dodge gets the Hellcat, and maybe that’s enough.

In its current iteration, the Durango gets aggressive Ram 1500 styling, and I think that may be part of its mediocre sales numbers. It’s a … burly design, more flannel shirt and Carhartt than the assertive three-piece suit look of the latest Tahoe; I’d like to see Dodge’s male/female sales ratio on these things. One note on the exterior: Our Durango tester had some of the worst factory paint I’ve ever seen with visible ripples in the side panels and rocker-panel grade orange peel on the driver’s side door.

Seating is high and firm — possibly too much so for some — and everything feels well screwed together. After about three uses of the rotary shifter, you begin to wonder why this isn’t the standard for everyone; it takes up very little space, it’s nigh well impossible to knock it into the wrong gear and it’s intuitive, at least for those of us old enough to remember the traditional PRNDL arc on the steering column. There’s good space in all three rows without too much of a climb up/over for access, making it a very usable design for its size.

On the road, you’d be hard pressed to guess the vaunted Hemi lives under the hood. With 5,300 pounds to haul around and horsepower and torque peaks both over 4,000 rpm, you’ve got to put your foot in the pedal to get any kind of exciting forward progress. That also helps explain the hideous 16 mpg combined fuel economy (I saw around 15 mpg in my mostly city driving) despite an eight-speed automatic transmission and cylinder deactivation tech. If it were my money, I’d skip the Hemi and go with the excellent Pentastar 3.6-liter V6; unless you do a lot of towing, you’ll notice the extra 3 mpg more than you will the missing 65 hp.

Overall, this is a good-looking truck if you’re into the 3/4-size semi thing, and it offers a ton of features for its roughly $45K sticker. I’m surprised Dodge isn’t moving more of them in this SUV-crazed sales environment.

Photo: 2015 Dodge Durango R/T Photo 8

ASSOCIATE EDITOR WESLEY WREN: Slap a Trail Rated badge on this and it would make a really good example of a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Though this SUV probably wouldn’t fare too well on a trail; it would fit in better with the rest of the high-end Jeeps at the parking lot of your local mall.

The loaded interior of this Durango made for an extremely comfortable road-trip experience. I made a five-hour one-way trip in this gas-chugging beast, and hopped out of the leather seats without feeling exhausted. It seemed like there was a lot of thought spent in laying out a comfortable interior: the rotary dial shifter was space saving and ergonomic, the multifunction steering wheel had video game controller-esque buttons on the back to control the infotainment system, and the seat and steering wheel would adjust to anywhere you would need it. The interior, even if a little gaudy, was probably the best part about this Durango. 

The downsides of the Durango are a little too obvious. The aggressive styling is inline with what the rest of the Dodge lineup, but it doesn’t seem to do this SUV any favors. It could be a selling point to some, but judging by the numbers — not many.

I was also surprised by the quality of the paint. The interior was so well crafted, I feel like the outside was kind of slacked on. I’ve seen better paint coming out of used car lot body shops. The whole truck could have used a nice cut and buff to make it look like it’s worth $45,000.  

The actual performance of the truck was about what I expected. The eight-speed automatic can be paddle shifted, which to me didn’t make a lot of sense on a car like this — an SRT8 maybe, but this R/T didn’t have enough power for it to act like a sports truck. The AWD would make for a handy feature in a snowy climate, but doesn’t help the fuel economy: which on my trip was around the 19 mpg mark — not horrible but not exactly great. I think that the V6 would have made for about the same driving experience as the small Hemi, but would have helped save a little gas. The eight-speed Torqueflite really was the best part of this whole driveline. It worked beautifully: the shifts were smooth, it kicked down quickly, and it kept the Hemi awake.

Overall, I enjoyed my time in this thing. If I were looking at buying one, I would probably skip the 5.7-liter Hemi and take a hard look at the V6 or just wait until Dodge makes a Hellcat Durango, because it looks like they’re trying to Hellcat everything. 

Photo: 2015 Dodge Durango R/T Photo 4

Options: Rear DVD entertainment center including Blu-Ray compatible dual screen video and rear seat video system ($1,995); Premium napa leather group including power tilt/telescope steering column, lux leather-trimmed bucket seats, perforated leather-wrapped steering wheel, ventilated front seats, leather-wrapped door panels, power eight-way driver seat with memory and eight-way passenger seat, floor console with leather armrest, rain sensitive windshield wipers, automatic high beam headlamp control, cargo compartment cover and cargo net ($1,295); second row fold/tumble captain chairs , floor mats, third row mini console, second row mini console with cup holders and second row seat mounted inboard armrests ($995); Uconnect 8.4AN AM/FM/SXM/HD/BT/NAV, GPS navigation, HD radio, SiriusXM traffic with five-year traffic service and SiriusXM travel link with five-year subscription ($750)

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