2014 Dodge Durango Citadel: big, bad and brawny

For some people, a small vehicle just doesn’t cut it. By necessity or by desire, big SUVs still please a lot of buyers. Yes, even in Canada.

Obviously, the US market is a very lucrative one for any manufacturer that builds a mainstream midsize or full-size utility vehicle. Trailing behind most of its competitors in sales, including the Ford Explorer, the Nissan Pathfinder and the Toyota Highlander, Dodge's Durango is seeking to fetch a bigger piece of the pie, and gets a host of changes and improvements this year.

For starters, the 2014 Dodge Durango boasts slightly redesigned grille, headlamp clusters with LED daytime running lights, front bumper and LED taillights as well as new alloy wheels. The changes aren't all that obvious, which makes one wonder why Chrysler spent money on this facelift in the first place. Still, the Durango retains its macho, bad-boy appearance, and that's what matters most, I guess.

This SUV is big, although it still belongs in the midsize utility segment. It rides on a very long wheelbase, while its proportions are unusual with an extremely short front overhang. The Durango looks muscular, although a little flabby in the rear quarters, too.

As before, you get to choose between two engines, and neither one is very fuel-efficient. Well, what do you expect from a vehicle that weighs more than 5,000 lbs.?

Chrysler's widespread 3.6L V6 serves as the base engine, developing 290 horsepower. It does work hard in the big Dodge, although it can do the job for most consumers, and can even tow up to 6,200 lbs. For ultimate macho-ness, however, the big honkin' 5.7L HEMI V8 is the engine of choice, which belts out 360 hp in the Durango and allows for a 7,200-lb. tow rating.

Unsurprisingly, with so much firepower, our 2014 Dodge Durango Citadel tester goes like hell, with violently quick launches and angry sounds escaping the engine bay and exhaust pipes. However, that HEMI V8 sucks down unleaded at a voracious rate, despite being equipped with cylinder deactivation technology, and the best we could manage was an average of 17 L/100km. You'll become the best of friends with the local gas pump attendant.

Matched to both engines is the same TorqueFlite eight-speed automatic transmission that's turning up in other Chrysler products, such as the 2014 Ram 1500 and the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee. It includes a centre console-mounted rotary gear selector and even wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

The Durango shares many components with the Grand Cherokee; in fact, it's built on a stretched version of the Jeep's platform. However, the Dodge makes do with a simplified all-wheel-drive system which, on V8-engined Durangos, includes a low range setting for light off-roading and specific towing duties. Otherwise, the AWD system automatically shifts engine torque around from back to front, according to road conditions.

The Durango provides an extremely comfortable and quiet ride, and you feel like you're the king of the road when you're behind the wheel of this rig. On the other hand, the Dodge doesn't feel as buttoned down on the highway as the Grand Cherokee, as if it had trouble throwing its weight around, especially when you hit a bump in a curve. Maybe stiffer shocks would help.

Hop in the 2014 Dodge Durango Citadel, and you'll be greeted by sumptuous perforated leather seats as well as a tidy, well-executed dashboard. The driver instrument pod gets a TFT display, which can be configured in various ways; you can select the replica of an analog speedometer, or a digital one, it's up to you. The centre stack includes easy-to-use rotary dials for audio and climate control temperature settings, while the Uconnect infotainment now gets the large 8.4-inch touchscreen, which is arguably the most responsive in the automotive industry.

The optional rear-seat entertainment system includes wireless headphones, two flip-up screens mounted in the front seatbacks, and can read both DVDs and Blu-Ray discs. On each seatback, there's also an HDMI port and RCA jacks for plugging in portable devices.

A big SUV usually means lots of passenger room. Our tester was equipped with the optional second-row captain's chairs, for six-passenger seating instead of seven. Accessing the third-row seat is easy, and all the seatbacks can be folded flat. Cargo space with the third row folded is rated at 1,350 litres, which is good. However, maximum cargo room reaches only 2,390 litres, about average among midsize SUVs, but well short of the volume found in GM's triplets, the Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia.

The 2014 Dodge Durango starts out at $39,995, before freight and delivery charges, for a base SXT. The top-rung Citadel trim is priced from $52,295; loaded with the V8 engine and a long list of optional equipment, our test truck busted the $60K mark.

As much as I like the Durango, I think the Jeep Grand Cherokee is a better proposition, and it's available with a turbo-diesel V6. That is, if you don't need room for seven. If you do, though, I'm tempted to sway you towards the Durango R/T instead; it's cheaper, it includes the glorious HEMI V8, and its monochrome appearance just adds more flair to the SUV's already macho look.

FAMILY RATING

5/5: Child seats fit easily in the Durango, as does the baby stroller, even with all rows of seats upright.
In collaboration with Canadian Tire.

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