Road Trip Rage: The Dodge Durango GT, All Buttoned Up and Going Nowhere Fast

This past week, your humble author spent three days on vacation with a rented 2017 Dodge Durango GT. The black wagon you see above is the result of terseness at the Enterprise counter, where I had a reservation for a “Standard, Buick Verano or similar” vehicle, but where a base model Elantra with 25,000 miles, stained seats, and wheel covers was presented by the Enterprise staff.

The Durango was equipped with the Navigation and Power Liftgate Group, bringing its price to around $42,000 before incentives. That’s far too much coin for the irritation this vehicle causes.

All things considered, the Elantra may have been less annoying to drive.

All seemed well when cruising on I-74 from my home base in Cincinnati to the Windy City. Road and wind noise was minimal at 85 miles per hour, and the ride on those low-profile tires was reasonable — but only after I let some air out of the over-inflated rubber bands. Enterprise saw fit to fill all four corners to 47 psi when the tire label affixed to the door jam indicated 33 front and 36 at the rear.

On I-65 north of Indianapolis, the smooth, serene ride gave way to tire noise and an echo chamber-like interior on grooved pavement. As we got closer to Chicago, the road surface deteriorated and traffic dropped our average speed figure. It was there the Durango’s true personality came to light.

See the row of buttons at the bottom of the center stack? From left to right: parking sensors, auto start-stop control, eco mode, sport mode, and traction control. The button FCA saw fit to place smack-dab in the middle of this arrangement is the biggest problem, and it put me in dangerous traffic situations more than once.

As I was approaching my exit and needed a quick lane change to the right, there were roughly three car lengths of open real estate in my vicinity — which were simultaneously coveted by the driver of an old Civic. With a reasonable amount of pressure to the pedal, the Durango’s eight-speed automatic went down from eighth to sixth, and my speed increased from about 55 to 58. Since that didn’t cut it, I buried my foot to the floor. This confused the transmission, and revs jumped way up as the transmission performed several successive downshifts. The Durango lurched forward, only for me to look right and see the light blue Civic resting comfortably in my desired destination. Opportunity missed, and I received a what-are-you-doing? glare from the Civic driver.

In an attempt to save fuel and slow global warming, the Durango stays in eco mode unless you shut it off. In light traffic and other easy-going situations, this likely wouldn’t be a problem. But the Chicago area — as noted above — is blessed with heavy traffic and aggressive drivers rivaling touring-car competitors without the talent.

After the Civic usurped my lane change, I switched off eco mode, which improved throttle response and gave me a bit more revs to play with. Also, eco mode stays off until you switch it on again. This is not the case for the automatic stop-start button sitting an inch to the left.

To align FCA’s large vehicles more closely with fuel economy standards, a stop-start system is installed on every V6 Durango. Imagine the following situation: You arrive at your destination and pull into a parking space. Engine shuts off to save fuel — good! But you’re still in drive, so you grab the shift thermostat and turn it to the left, selecting that P. This causes the engine to groan back to life. Having nowhere to go, you hit the start button and shut it down again. This quick cycling is fairly annoying, and I’d think not great for any internal combustion engine.

But that’s not the only issue with the Durango’s stop-start system; the implementation is not quiet, smooth, or seamless. At one light, the start up startled an elderly man in the next lane, who managed to hear it through closed windows and over the whisper of his running ES350. His perplexed look made me want to roll down my window and explain how I was saving the planet in my large SUV, but I didn’t have time — I was already late getting away from the green light.

You see, there is a delay as the engine starts back up, and to avoid the car jumping forward, my foot automatically hovered over the go pedal until the engine startup was finished. Gradually, I became used to the hesitation, but that didn’t mean I enjoyed it.

Another inconvenience is only obvious on warm days (which, being June in the Midwest, there were some). When the vehicle isn’t running, neither is the A/C compressor, and that means you get hot at every stop light. Off goes the start-stop button so one can arrive at a destination without being a sweaty mess. Just don’t tell Greenpeace.

One more button bothers me in the Durango. I kept looking at it and questioning why it was there, especially in light of its neighbors. Sport mode on an SUV of this size confuses the mission. It’s a seven-passenger family vehicle working to save the planet, turning itself off at every opportunity and strangling the V6 to make it act and drink like a four-cylinder. A vehicle with these goals does not need the opposite tertiary goal of “sport” added to its plate.

It’s not all bad though. After 700 miles in the Durango, through heavy traffic, A/C use, and highway speeds over 80, the Durango returned 24 miles per gallon. That’s a reasonable figure for an all-wheel-drive SUV of this size and engine displacement. The Uconnect system paired via Bluetooth for calls and music flawlessly — and within seconds. Factory navigation was concise and accurate, automatically routing the car around toll roads. The center gauges were reconfigurable to my liking, and there were many metrics from which to choose.

It feels reasonably well made, though improvements in leather quality and plastics (especially dash trim and vent surrounds) wouldn’t go unnoticed in these higher trim levels.

The Durango comes with discounts right from the Dodge corporate site, and your dealer should be willing to haggle. And I must give credit to Dodge where it’s due: Right now, in 2017, Dodge is making a V6 and V8 rear-wheel and all-wheel-drive wagon everyone around here says they want.

Pity about that eco mode though.

[Images: © Corey Lewis, Bark M.]

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