When we first drove a new Durango, it was with the 4.7L V-8 engine. Recently upgraded, we felt the 4.7L proved to be a good match for the average consumer's needs. It had the right balance of power and economy, with decent fuel mileage and enough get-up-and-go for merging and towing light loads. In contrast, our long-term Durango arrived with a 5.7L Hemi V-8. Our past experience with Hemi V-8s has been bittersweet: plenty of power, but plenty thirsty. We're not sure if it's our driving habits (doubtful), or if Dodge's Multiple Displacement System, aka MDS, has been on its game in our Durango, but we've been able to pull down some decent fuel economy numbers. Around town, heavy-footed stoplight launches can quickly bring fuel economy down to 14 mpg, but spending some time on the highway can quickly bring that average up thanks to the MDS shutting down four cylinders.
One 600-mile trip from Orange County to Yosemite with four adults and a weekend's worth of gear onboard involved open-road cruising at about 75 mph, climbing over the Grapevine (4,400ft elevation) twice, and driving windy, mountain roads. Even with the full load and taxing situations, fuel economy for the trip was just shy of 18 mpg. If you pay close attention to your driving style, 20 mpg isn't out of the question. Not bad, especially considering that the 5.7L can unleash a surge of acceleration when needed. The fuel economy continued to be competitive when towing, as a heavy trailer loaded with a fairly light classic truck dropped fuel economy to 12 mpg. We've seen much worse from some of our other long-term testers.
Along with the Jekyll and Hyde personality of the 5.7L that's docile when you want it and surging when you need it, we've come to appreciate the simple interior and driveability of the Durango. The two-tone seats match the dash, as the interior stays on the plain side, but we don't have many complaints on the ergonomics, with several long-distance trips under our belts we've only come up with a few nags. First, the rear-seat screen should be larger, starting with a screen that size, any increase is a big help. Second, you can't aim the center HVAC vents side to side. The greedy rear seat passengers already have their own HVAC controls, they don't need half of the ones up front.
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We've had several occasions where five or more people were inside, which means using the third row. More often than not, passengers chose to climb over the second row seats rather than flip them forward. It's really not an issue if the second row occupants think to fold the seat forward after getting out. One bit of interior layout we continue to appreciate is the steering wheel audio controls you find on Dodge products. It seems to be the best placement for many of us, and the controls are intuitive.
Our initial impression was that the Durango's suspension was a bit too soft overall, and would benefit with stiffer shocks. After a few hours behind the wheel we forgot all about it as the vehicle's capabilities set in and we adjusted, it was very comfortable to drive on a daily basis. It wasn't until we towed with the Durango that we remembered our initial impression. We found that the rear suspension's coil springs improve handling over a leaf spring, but there were still some situations, even with an empty trailer, where the trailer had its way with the Durango, causing it to bounce. Some of this can be chalked up to driving too fast while towing, so keep it in the right lane and you won't have the California Highway Patrol telling you to move over a couple of lanes. Hey, it's not our fault the Hemi can go 65mph uphill with the A/C on while pulling a trailer!