Most SUVs look like they're ready for serious off-road adventures, even they're not. Almost all appear raised for additional ground clearance, even if they have low front air dams that would be damaged on rutted roads. They also tend to come with street tires that don't perform well when the pavement ends.
The midsize Dodge Durango doesn't play this game. It is the Muscle Car of SUVs. All versions are hunched over wide wheels and tires, including those equipped with all-wheel-drive. Drivers sit low in the cockpit. The shifter is a genuine lever, not a dial or push-button. The base 3.6-liter V6 produces a hefty 295 horsepower. The optional HEMI 5.7 liter V8 ups that to 360 ponies.
Most buyers would likely be satisfied the V6-powered version, which comes with three rows of seats and can tow up to 6,200 pounds. But our test R/T AWD version is a better choice for enthusiasts with families because of its HEMI engine, one of the few V8s today that can trace its heritage back to the Glory Days of early Detroit performance cars. The exhaust tone alone is enough to make owners turn off the stereo and enjoy just the sound of the engine itself. It also came with a high performance adaptive suspension and upgraded Brembo brakes to keep everything under control.
Because Dodge so clearly intends the Durango R/T more for streets than back country trails, the low front air dam, wide Pirelli tires and big disc brake calipers don't look out of place. And as promised, driving the 2021 Durango R/T AWD was always entertaining. The slightest pressure on the gas pedal produced instant acceleration, thanks in part to the responsive eight-speed automatic transmission. Performance was also improve in the Sport mode. A Track mode was also included that shut off the traction control, which is only advised under closed course conditions.
But the Durango R/T AWD is not just about performance. Our tester was well equipped with a full leather interior, an awesome stereo, an advanced touch screen infotainment system and a full range of safety features. It was also practical, capable of towing a best in class 8,700 pounds. A Snow mode was also available for slippery conditions, which increases the traction of the AWD system even more, a benefit in wet Pacific Northwest conditions.
Despite all that, the 2021 Dodge Durango R/T starts at just $49,827 and our fully-loaded AWD version was a reasonable $67,142.
And the R/T isn't even the most powerful version. For 2022, that honor belongs to the top-of-the-line SRT 392, which comes with a 6.4-liter HEMI V8 ups the ante to a pavement-pounding 475 ponies.It replaces the limited edition 710-horsepower SRT Hellcat as the fastest Durango this year.
Some potential buyers might find the R/T suspension a little too stiff. It was not jarring over broken pavement, but rocked over uneven surfaces, like rutted road. The ride in V6 version is more manageable and the SRT 392 comes with a Comfort mode that should also have been available with the R/T. It probably isn't a deal breaker, but shoppers should take a lengthy test drive over a variety of conditions before making a final decision.
That said, the biggest challenge facing all gas-powered SUVs now is rising fuel costs. Our test R/T is EPA rated at less than 20 average miles per gallon, which is not that much lower than most. The V6 versions are better, but not as good as the few affordable hybrid and plug-in hybrids — which aren't exactly fun to drive. Compact crossovers are more economically but don't have as much interior space or towing capacity. The coming generation of electrified SUVs will undoubtedly get better mileage but will also be more expensive.
All that is to say, setting priorities when choosing a midsize SUV is more important than ever. And if your priority is performance and advanced technology, the 2022 Dodge Durango R/T should be at the top of your shopping list.
2021 Dodge Durango R/T AWD
Base price: $49,827
Price as tested: $67,142
Type: Mid-size SUV
Engine: 5.7-liter V8 (360 hp, 390 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Modes: Eco, Snow, Sport, Track
EPA estimated mileage: 14/22
Overall length: 201 inches
Curb weight: 5,710 pounds
Final assembly: Detroit, Michigan
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.