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It has been a while since we’ve sampled one of the Chrysler Group’s large sport-utility vehicles. Dodge’s Durango was refreshed right about the time that Chrysler introduced the Aspen, and this model has been largely overlooked in the past model year. Just in time for the cold weather to hit, a fully-loaded Durango 4×4 with Dodge’s lusty 5.7-liter Hemi engine came into our fleet.

While we were not madly in love with our test vehicle, we still give the Durango credit for being a true sport-utility vehicle that can still serve nicely as a large family-hauler. Four-wheel-drive and decent towing capability make this Dodge very useful in a wide range of situations. The overall driving experience is quite good, though we’d like the interior to become a bit more refined. In a segment that has been dominated by the General Motors line of sport-utes, it’s hard to stand out, but we still commend Dodge for offering a solid competitor in this market.

Click the photos below to open a high-resolution gallery and click through the jump for our impressions of the Durango.

Chris Paukert

For me, our Dodge Durango tester effectively nutshelled the Chrysler Group’s strengths and weaknesses across its entire lineup.

Though not universally admired by everyone, the company’s nip/tuck for 2008 still leaves a “take charge” exterior, and the V-8 beneath the sheetmetal delivers on that promise. While not hugely quick, I don’t imagine I would want a great deal more than the 5.7-liter’s 335 horsepower and 370 lb-ft of torque, because the on-road driving dynamics aren’t composed enough that I’d feel comfortable asking more from the chassis and steering.

The real letdown here is what’s inside. Refresh or no, the texture, fit and feel of the plastics and switchgear are that of a discount econobox, not a $43,000 anything. Cheap feeling interiors are an all-too-common Chrysler experience these days, but we have been promised that new executives Bob Nardelli and Jim Press are on the case. They can’t act fast enough.

Phil Floraday
Managing News Editor:

I prefer this Durango to the Explorer I sampled the weekend before. The only reason I think I’d rather have a Durango is it could tow my truck much easier than the Ford. I did some towing with an Aspen last winter and it certainly beat my expectations. If I’m going to have one of these dinosaurs, it better be able to work.

There’s more body roll in corners than I’d like, but the ride is so compliant over broken roads that I’m not sure I’d want much more stiffness dialed into the springs. I particularly liked the stereo. It’s a boon to be able to tune the Sirius radio by touch. AM/FM radio was easy enough to manipulate with a dial or seek button, but there are so many channels on satellite radio I love being able to just punch in the exact station number and get there without flipping through 150 channels in between.

Unless you’re towing or doing light off-roading, there’s not much reason to own this over a wagon, but if you’re going to stick with an SUV, there are certainly worse choices out there.

Laura Cowan
Chief Copy Editor:

The Dodge Durango was a decent drive. The smooth and powerful engine is paired with nice brakes, and I had so many creature comforts to coddle me as I rolled down the road that I felt like a baby in a playpen. However, several details didn’t fit with the overall package.

First, the steering had a good on-center feel, but as soon as I turned the wheel it became loose and overboosted, as if power steering only kicked in at more than 20 degrees to the right or left of center. The chassis also felt wobbly over bigger bumps, though it was composed on well-maintained dirt roads.

The interior was relaxing, with cushy heated leather seats, useful steering wheel controls, a customizable interface for satellite radio, and cool blue LEDs. I was impressed until I looked back: the light in the cargo space looked for all the world like a streelight embedded in the rear hatch. Keep your eyes aimed forward, I guess, because the effort went into the front row.

The Dodge Durango is like a remodeled condo: new carpet and appliances hiding old bones. I’m sure Dodge will continue to bring its older parts up-to-date, though, and other than a few mismatched bits and that unpredictable steering, I really enjoyed the ride.

Steven Ewing
Production Assistant:

I drove the Durango back-to-back with our GMC Yukon XL Denali. Going into this, I knew that the Denali interior would be much more plush and comfortable, but I didn’t expect the Durango to be so… cold. The plastics used throughout the cabin look and feel cheap, and are extremely uninviting. With large sport-utes, I like interiors that I can sink into and feel like I’m in the comfort of my home. All of the large General Motors SUVs do this well, even in base form. Ford’s new Expedition (especially the King Ranch) has the same effect. The Durango feels like a cheap roadside “no-tell motel” by comparison.

I will say, though, the Durango does offer some nice interior features. Great sound system, intuitive controls, and power everything (even liftgate) made this a very usable vehicle.

It’s probably a good thing that I focused so much of my ire on the interior, because the Durango’s driving dynamics are only slightly better. The Hemi V-8 has a good amount of power early on, but tends to be sluggish near the end of the gears, which seems odd to me. The engine does not sound like it’s dragging along, but a close eye on the speedometer will reveal that after 50 miles per hour is reached, further acceleration really takes some time.

I really wanted to like the Durango, but I’m afraid my heart lies with other large SUVs. It’s tough to compete in a segment like this when the General’s SUV platform vehicles perform so well in all respects.

2008 Dodge Durango Limited 4×4 Hemi

Engine: Hemi V-8, 5.7 liters, 32v
Output: 335 hp / 370 lb-ft
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Fuel economy, city / hwy: 13 / 18 mpg (EPA est.)

Limited 4×4 base price: $37,215

Light sandstone metallic: $150
Trailer tow group: $495
(heavy duty service group, class IV hitch, 7- and 4-pin wiring harness)
2nd row bucket 2-passenger seat: $950
(rear floor console, heated second row seats)
3.92 axle ratio: $40
5.7-liter Hemi: $990
Power sunroof: $850
20” chrome wheels: $795
Rear seat entertainment system: $1295

Destination: $745
Price as tested: $43,525
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