Our biggest surprise came when we drove the new '08 Dodge Durango SLT 4x4. Having tested the similar Chrysler Aspen last year and felt it lacked real soul, we were concerned the Durango wouldn't inspire us to take kindly to the almost fullsize SUV. Those fears were quickly squashed as the interior is nicely appointed and roomy, the freshened 4.7L provides ample power with smooth shifts from the five-speed auto, and the ride is not overly cushy, which was a big problem with the Chrysler. As with any truck or SUV, the real appreciation comes from long-term seat time and the Durango was ready to answer that call.
Driving the 4.7L equipped Durango, the 303hp and 320 lb-ft of torque were apparent, yet the throttle wasn't too sensitive for our driving styles. Its new five-speed automatic transmission provides smooth down-shifts, whereas the 13.63 MPG we received during our test wasn't the best, its sprite performance helps us overlook that fact. Steering is lighter than most large SUVs and the Durango's brakes were firm, thanks to the four-wheel discs. Its ride was soft and yet when towing felt very stable, which we're sure is in part due to the trailer sway control and electronic stability control. Full-time 4WD makes driving in any condition safer and provides confidence to the driver.
Starting at $33,065, the Durango is available with a fuel-friendly V-6 and a tow-ready 5.7L Hemi capable of towing 8,950 pounds and checking all of the options, which brings the price to $45,035. Our tester was well-equipped for an MSRP of $41,295. Options included the awesome MyGIG multimedia entertainment system, a backup camera, heated leather seats, power and key FOB-operated liftgate, a power moonroof, 20-inch chrome-clad wheels, a trailer towing package, and eight speaker Alpine sound system. These options, along with standard equipment like rear 115-volt outlet, power locks and windows, Sirius satellite radio, and all-rows supplemental airbags made the Durango an SUV with an impressive package of features.
An updated front fascia brings the traditional Dodge crosshair front grille and big-rig styled headlights to the Durango. Dual-round taillights add a little sportiness to the rear of the SUV and large wheel arches help make the 20-inch wheel package look proportioned. Dodge uses nicer materials inside the Durango, compared to its bigger Ram brother and the two-tones of neutral colors are pleasing to the eyes without being too boring. Controls are in logical places and are easy to use with features like steering wheel controls and the available UConnect hands-free communication system allowing you to program your Bluetooth cell phone into the integrated system and make calls safely and legally. Other improvements include second and third-row seats that fold flat and provide class-leading cargo space. Speaking of third-row seating, the Durango's third row is not as cramped as some of the other far rear seats we've tested, and was far more comfortable than the Jeep Commander we had for a year.
All in all, the Durango stood out from its competitors by providing what we consider to be the best value for its size and capabilities. Unique exterior styling, combined with logical interior design, and a drivetrain that feels solid, made this year's decision to name Dodge Durango as Truckin's SUV of the Year an easy one.