Just Driven
2004Dodge Dakota
All new for 2004, the Dodge Durango has been redesigned from the ground up to be even more competitive in a hotly contested and ever-growing market. Dodge says the fullsize SUV segment, which makes up 43 percent of the SUV market, continues to surpass 2 million units of sales per year. The in-between-sized Durango, introduced in 1998, has always straddled the large and fullsize markets, capturing the interest of large families with the needs of a fullsize SUV, without the bulk.

To keep up with the ever-increasing size of the fullsize competition, the new Durango also expands to present a roomier interior and once again offers fullsize SUV capability in a smaller package, which also benefits from being more fuel efficient and less expensive. The '04 Durango is 7 inches longer, 3 inches taller, and 3 inches wider, resulting in a commodious interior that expands legroom, cargo, and headroom past the Chevrolet Tahoe and Ford Expedition. In fact, the Durango offers the same level or greater towing capacity and interior space.

As before, the Durango continues with body-on-frame construction, keeping its true roots as a tough, truck-based SUV. The new body is stiffer and mounted on an incredibly rigid hydroformed, fully boxed frame. Underpinning the Durango is a new A-arm front suspension with rack-and-pinion steering for a smoother ride and more precise handling. Under the rear, a live axle with a Watts linkage and coil springs replace the archaic rear leaf spring setup of the current Durango, while saving 40 pounds of weight and increasing wheel travel by 12 percent. The looks are pure Dodge with its family DNA incorporated in the Durango's drop shoulder front fenders and powerful front end, reminiscent of the original Power Wagons.

For the first time, a V-6 will now be available on the Durango and completes one of the most expansive engine line-ups of all the large and fullsize SUVs. Engine choices are the 210hp 3.7L V-6, 230hp 4.7L Magnum V-8, and the awesome 330hp Hemi Magnum 5.7L V-8. Either a four-speed or five-speed automatic transmission comes in the Durango, depending on the engine chosen. GVWR is a Best-in-Class 6,600 pounds and an ability to tow an incredible 8,950 pounds of trailer.

Safety starts with the largest ABS brakes available in its class with a full complement of airbags, including side curtain airbags for all three rows of seats. The frame is designed with specially shaped horns that are replaceable after an accident, to keep collision repair costs down

Dodge says it is the big SUV that is not too big, and we have to agree. After a day of driving the Durango in nearly all trim levels, all three engine options, and while towing a 6,500 pound, 26-foot boat with the Hemi, we were surprised at the stability and agility of this truck. The ride is firm, but comfortable and compliant. Helping out on those long journeys are the pleasing seats and hushed interior. Also impressing us was the quality switchgear and the rich interior materials, something we are becoming accustomed to with recent Dodge redesigns. We enjoyed many of the new convenience features, such as the extra-large sunroof, the rear door, which opened a full 84 degrees, and the Bluetooth personal electronic device technology. The 384-watt stereo was crisp and clear, while the overall package was very livable and easy to drive. We'll let you know how the Durango stands up to the competition in our SUV of the year testing.