When Paxton Automotive set out to modify and refine its project 2000 Dodge Durango, it had one goal in mind: to enhance the performance of the Durango without sacrificing its driveability or luxury amenities. After testing out the black beauty that adorns these pages, we feel that Paxton has definitely achieved its goal.

Paxton used the Durango for four months to develop and test a supercharger system for the Dodge's 4.7L powerplant. Since Paxton Automotive's main business is developing and manufacturing superchargers for the automotive market, the company had a keen interest in creating the right package for the Durango. The centerpiece of the supercharger kit is Paxton's NOVI-1000 supercharger, one of the units in the company's line of NOVI geardriven superchargers.

The NOVI line of superchargers is based on Paxton's gear case, which features billet steel, helical-cut gears (3.54:1 step-up ratio), high-speed bearings, and direct engine oiling. The NOVI-1000 unit was designed to appeal to the enthusiast who wants an effective centrifugal supercharger in a compact package. The unit features a wide boost range that enables it to be used on four- and six-cylinder engines and small-displacement V-8 engines (in the case of the Durango). The NOVI-1000 typically offers a nearly 50 percent increase in rear-wheel horsepower over stock powerplants.

In conjunction with the supercharger, Paxton engineers also installed a Paxta-Map Fueler System and ignition timing control on the Durango. Basically, the system is boost activated and contains a programmable fuel curve that can manage as many as three additional injectors. The additional injectors can be mounted in the discharge tube of a supercharger application. The supplemental fuel system allows a consistent air/fuel ratio through varying levels of boost. As the boost is increased, more fuel is added. Providing more efficient elimination of exhaust gases is the addition of a MagnaFlow after-cat exhaust system, which also serves to throw a few extra ponies into the horsepower mix.

With these performance enhancers in place, the Durango was placed on a Mustang dynamometer for a series of test runs to determine horsepower improvements. Baseline testing, prior to the installation of the supercharger package, showed maximum rear-wheel horsepower at 209, with torque checking in at 255 lb-ft. After the installation of the supercharger kit and additional performance mods, horsepower figures jumped to 296, according to Paxton dyno figures, and maximum torque to 308 lb-ft -- a dramatic improvement over stock. Of course, what this means in the real world is the ability to handle larger towing loads, the power to pass lesser vehicles easily when conditions warrant, and the grunt necessary to cruise uphill without becoming bogged down.

With the performance mods completed on the Durango, Paxton turned its attention to some additional upgrades that would set the Dodge apart from the rest. Suspension upgrades are fairly extensive and include a set of Hotchkis Performance sway bars, Koni adjustable struts, and Hotchkis lowering springs. With a lower center of gravity and a stiffened suspension setup, the Durango's body roll and handling characteristics were noticeably improved. In addition, the Dodge's rolling stock was upgraded to stylish 18-inch Center Line wheels wrapped by Toyo rubber of the 265/55-R18 variety. A final stylish touch to the exterior was the addition of silver racing stripes over the top of the Durango.

Inside, the Durango benefits from the addition of a few aftermarket creature comforts. For the entertainment of backseat passengers, a fold-down Rosen video screen was installed in the headliner and receives cues from a Rosen DVD player and television tuner. Remote headsets are also provided for the passengers' viewing and listening pleasure. Lastly, an Auto Meter boost gauge was installed on the

A-pillar in the Durango's interior in order for the driver to keep track of the NOVI-1000's boost characteristics.

During a week-long loan of the vehicle, we came to appreciate and understand the Paxton Durango's many features and nuances. As we drove and tested the vehicle, one thing became readily apparent: The Durango, although performance modified and sporting an aftermarket suspension, offered excellent driveability and compliant ride quality and did not sacrifice any of its luxury amenity characteristics. However, when called upon to do so, the Durango had power in reserve to do the driver's bidding. We also noticed less lean and sway (as compared to a stock Durango) as a result of the suspension upgrades.

Paxton Automotive has a long history of developing supercharger applications for the automotive marketplace and more recently has been very active in creating supercharger packages for sport utility vehicles. Paxton has built a number of project vehicles, such as this Durango, to showcase its latest products; we'll be working with the company to bring these vehicles to the pages of Today's SUV.