2004 Dodge Durango Hemi Limited
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by Richard Russell

Bigger is better when it comes to many things in life – apparently that includes mid-size SUVs. The new Dodge Durango is clearly and decisively larger than the original. From its big, bold in-your-face grille to the back of the third row seat, the new version says I can take what-ever you throw at, in or behind me.

Daimler Chrysler’s Dodge division has taken the approach that there is no sense pussy-footing around, that if you want respect, carry a really big stick. The previous and current Dodge Ram pickups established that trend and it was so successful the designers of the new Durango dipped into the same gene pool. They decided that in addition to bigger and bolder outside, the new version should boast a lot more interior room.

The competition in this segment is intense with arch rivals Tahoe/Yukon and Expedition setting the pace. The old Durango was managing to hold down a respectable third spot on the sales chart but settling for less is not in the business plan. So we have on the street a second-generation Durango that is bigger, faster, more powerful and hugely more refined. And – it costs less! These Dodge folks mean business!

The first Durango was based on a Dakota truck platform. This one got its very own platform – which will also see duty beneath the upcoming 2005 Dakota. The difference is that it was developed initially for an SUV, so things like ride, handling, interior comfort and refinement took precedent over the ability to lug a load. The new Durango is 17-cm longer, seven cm taller and five-cm wider than the old putting it in a size range above the obvious competitors like Explorer and Tahoe. It is even bigger than the Toyota Sequoia and Nissan Armada.

2004 Dodge Durango Hemi Limited
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The single greatest improvement to these ears from the previous model is a remarkable reduction in sound levels. Both wind and road noise have been all but eradicated. Also among the top priorities were on-road and interior comfort. That is where the Durango excels. To start with, the new one sits lower than the old making it easier to get in and out. The interior is a much more friendly and comfortable space in which to reside. Whereas the old Durango looked and felt like a fixed-up truck, the new one is more car-like in ambiance. The quality of materials, fit and finish are all of a higher level. But it goes beyond that to things like the tactile feel of the controls, the way things are presented and the colour schemes. The designers obviously had more than jeans, T-shirts and work boots in mind.

In addition to more hip, shoulder, leg and knee room, the new Durango boasts a useful third seat. Not only can you sit in it, you can get there without being a contortionist. Bonus points as well for making it so the both second and third row seats can be folded flat without having to struggle with the head rests. Instead of having to wrestle them from their mounts and look for a place to put them, you simply fold the seats with them in place. I also had the opportunity to confirm there is space between the wheel wells for a regulation 4 x 8 sheet thanks to the new coil rear suspension.

2004 Dodge Durango Hemi Limited
Click image to enlarge

There are plenty of neat touches like a neoprene-lined centre console that allows quick and easy cleanup after the inevitable spills. Adjustable pedals and a tilt wheel allow folks of all sizes and shapes to get comfortable and properly positioned. Second row occupants have their very own climate controls and can recline their seat for added comfort or whatever else they might wish to do back there. A factory-installed entertainment system with DVD-player is available complete with wireless headphones, integrated game ports and remote control.

The new body-on-frame platform allowed the suspension engineers to establish parameters that allowed it to be a big and beefy tow rig without surrendering too much in the way of ride quality. The Durango is so big and heavy however, that nobody in their right mind will fling it into a corner expecting the agility of a Crossfire. But should they do so – and we did, purely in your interests – they will discover the big brute actually stays on its feet and while no sports car, manages to acquit itself surprisingly well.

Part of the credit has to go to a new hydro-formed and boxed frame that is much stiffer than the old. Instead of having to allow for flex, the suspension engineers were able to dictate spring, shock and bushing settings to control ride motion and maintain the contact patches in touch with terra firma. The same folks also get credit for ensuring the Durango has a better turning circle than the competition (12.2 metres/37.5 ft.) which is appreciated when manoeuvring in tight spaces like urban parking lots.

2004 Dodge Durango Hemi Limited
Click image to enlarge

You can’t be big and bold with a wimpy motor. Guess what, this thing’s got a hemi! Displacing 5.7 litres and producing a ground-pounding 335 horsepower, the Hemi is the king of the class. With 370 lb. ft. of torque it is rated to tow nearly 9,000 pounds. My tester had the whopper engine and I enjoyed the heck out of all that reserve motivation – but didn’t get quite the same kick out of filling it up. Not only is this thing big and heavy, the Hemi is a thirsty devil – a bad combination if you have a gas budget. Although not nearly as much fun, you can opt for a 230-horsepower V8 displacing 4.7 litres.

South of the border you can get a Durango with a six cylinder engine and with two wheel drive, All Canadian Durangos get an eight and all-wheel-drive. Air, power windows and locks, third-row seat, five-speed automatic and ABS are also standard equipment across the SLT, SLT Plus and Limited line-up.

Prices start at $42,175 but my fully-loaded Limited tester with Hemi, leather etc. reached over $53,000.

Technical Data: 2004 Dodge Durango Hemi Limited

Base price (Limited) $48,495
Options $3,945 (side airbags $460; rear seat video system $1,190; split 3rd row seat $75; skid plates $180; 265/65R-17 OWL tires $180; traction control $300; trailer tow pkg. $625; AWD electronic shift $465; 17 inch chrome wheels $470)
A/C tax $100
Freight $1,075
Price as tested $53,615
Type 4-door, 7-passenger full-size SUV
Layout longitudinal front engine/all-wheel-drive/4WD
Engine 5.7 litre V8, ‘Hemi’, OHV
Horsepower 335 @ 5400 rpm
Torque 370 ft-lb @ 4200 rpm
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Transfer case Selectable AWD, 4High, 4Lo, 4Locked
Curb weight 2304 kg (5079 lb.)
Wheelbase 3027 mm (119.2 in.)
Length 5101 mm (200.8 in.)
Width 1930 mm (76.0 in.)
Height 1887 mm (74.3 in.)
Max. payload 690 kg (1520 lb.)
Max. towing capacity 3946 kg (8700 lb.)
Load floor height 842 mm (33.2 in.)
Ground clearance (min) 201 mm (7.9 in.)
Cargo capacity 538 litres (20.1 cu. ft.) behind 3rd seat
  1900 litres (68.4 cu. ft.) behind 2nd row seat
  2870 litres (102.4 cu. ft.) behind 1st row seats
Fuel consumption City: 18.0 l/100 km (16 mpg)
  Hwy: 12.1 l/100 km (23 mpg)
Fuel Type Unleaded mid-grade 89 octane recommended
  Unleaded regular 87 octane acceptable
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 7 yrs/115,000 km
Assembly location Newark, Delaware

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