Test Drive: 2012 Dodge Durango Citadel car test drives reviews dodge
2012 Dodge Durango Citadel. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Chris Chase

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2012 Dodge Durango

I have no logical reason to lust after a large truck. I don’t tow, I rarely need to transport anything that a small hatchback or CUV can’t handle, and my married-without-children lifestyle would be perfectly well served by many of the smallest vehicles available in Canada.

But, in the course of doing my job, I end up driving a handful of super-sized vehicles, including this Dodge Durango: a truck that I believe to be one of the best vehicles in the Chrysler Corporation’s portfolio.

The third generation of this SUV was drastically redesigned for 2011, moving from the Dodge Dakota pickup truck platform (which was discontinued after 2011) to a version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee’s unibody platform. Where the Jeep is strictly a five-seater, the Durango is a bigger truck — it stands taller and stretches an extra 254 mm (10 inches) end to end — and comes standard with three-row seating for seven.

Test Drive: 2012 Dodge Durango Citadel car test drives reviews dodge
Test Drive: 2012 Dodge Durango Citadel car test drives reviews dodge
Test Drive: 2012 Dodge Durango Citadel car test drives reviews dodge
2012 Dodge Durango Citadel. Click image to enlarge

Few things change for the 2012 Durango, but one of the changes is fairly significant: the 5.7L Hemi V8 gets a six-speed automatic transmission to replace last year’s five-speed. The base engine, Chrysler’s Pentastar 3.6L V6, sticks with the five-speed.

That V6 is a nice engine, but felt overmatched in the Grand Cherokee I tested last year (http://www.autos.ca/car-test-drives/test-drive-2011-jeep-grand-cherokee-v6-overland-2), mostly due to a lack of low-end torque. The Durango Citadel I tested weighs almost 100 kg more than the Jeep, so the V8 installed in my tester might be a wise choice if you plan to load this truck up on a regular basis.

With the Hemi, the Durango’s fuel consumption ratings (according to Natural Resources Canada) come in at 16.6/10.1 L/100 km (city/highway), a pretty serious penalty compared to the 13.0/8.8 L/100 km ratings for the V6-powered model. That’s a pretty serious penalty for choosing the V8′s extra power (360 hp/390 lb-ft, versus the V6′s 290 hp/260 lb-ft), but I’d argue that it might be the better choice overall, given how hard the Pentastar has to work to move this much weight.

The V8 moves this big truck with ease. Driving home one evening, in a moment of forgetfulness, I mashed the gas pedal at about 20 km/h, flinging my 50-pound guitar amp (not to mention the three guitars I had with me) flying from its place behind the second-row seat to rest against the tailgate, with enough force that I could feel the impact in my seat. (It’s lucky the amp emerged unscathed.)

The V8 loses some of its punch at higher road speeds, but still proves potent; plus, it sounds great. More importantly, I think my tester’s 15.7 L/100 km observed fuel consumption, in a mix of city and highway driving, illustrates that a bigger engine doesn’t necessarily mean burning more fuel. I doubt the V6 would’ve saved me much at the pumps, based on my experience with the Grand Cherokee.

Test Drive: 2012 Dodge Durango Citadel car test drives reviews dodge
2012 Dodge Durango Citadel. Click image to enlarge

(As a side note, the V6-powered Grand Cherokee I drove in early 2011 averaged about 15.0 L/100 km, and a 2012 Dodge Journey, equipped with the same 3.6L V6, that I tested in March 2012 averaged 14.7 L/100 km in similar driving, despite Transport Canada ratings of 13.0/8.4 L/100 km, city/highway.)

One of the V8′s advantages is its use of Dodge’s FuelSaver MDS (multi-displacement system), which shuts down four cylinders in light-throttle situations. An “eco” indicator in the gauge cluster tells you — perhaps unnecessarily — when the motor is running as a four-cylinder, but that’s the only indication; no vibration, no noise, no nothing. That said, it takes a very light foot to activate it.

All Durangos come standard with all-wheel drive, though the type depends on engine choice. Both motors get full-time systems, but the Hemi’s setup has low-range gearing and a fully variable front/rear torque split, while the V6′s lacks a low range and splits power 50/50 at all times. Hemi-powered models can also be optioned with a limited-slip rear differential.

It’s not too surprising that the six-speed transmission shifts beautifully, and that the Durango’s buttery throttle tip-in allows for smooth, gentle driving away from a stop. What got me was how this truck moved over the road. The suspension is compliant, but does a great job of controlling body motions on the frost-heaved roads in my neighbourhood. I suspect that played a role in how surprisingly well the Durango behaves when pointed around corners.