On the Road Review: Dodge Durango Citadel

West of Bethel, right up next to the Maine/New Hampshire border in the village of Gilead, is the northern start of Route 113, a meandering drive through the White Mountain National Forest to Fryeburg. A large sign at the entrance to this narrow roadway states, “This Road Not Maintained for Winter Travel.”

{gallery}citadel{/gallery} Given our recent protracted winter season and the wreckage that it bestowed on far too many of our rural roads, perhaps the MDOT will have to consider similar messages throughout the state.

This, and many more thoughts, bounced around inside my brain after nine days with this week’s Black Crystal Dodge Durango in high-end Citadel trim. With a robust Hemi V-8 under the hood, the Dodge fostered several opinions and helped me reach several conclusions about not only our season past, but the recent vehicles that visited during our never-ending winter.

The Durango highlighted several observations, putting a fine point on the variances between cars and crossovers. For winter driving at least, and in several other notable arenas, the crossovers beat the cars — hands down.

First, our selection of crossover wagons this season all featured AWD. Many of our visiting cars were front drive only. Some crossovers, like the Durango, also offered a selectable locking control for ensuring four-wheel drive traction when the conditions require maximum traction. Given the automakers’ preponderance for offering all-season tires (only good for three seasons in the Snow Belt) the front-drive cars had to rely on traction control and stability control to aid foul-weather driving. For many of these cars, these tires also were low-profile, low-rolling resistant tires to enhance fuel economy, further reducing grip when there was deep snow covering the path to home.

One car, which will remain nameless here, almost didn’t make the 11-mile drive from Ellsworth to home during a wet snowstorm, its front-drive platform struggling mightily to find enough traction. That car stayed home for two days, waiting for better weather.

Our visiting crossovers, on the other hand, suffered no such indignities. Usually riding on taller tires (with more tire sidewall that aids ride) and using more ground clearance than cars, the crossovers could put power to all four wheels when necessary and worked splendidly even if they lacked true winter tires, which would increase any vehicle’s stopping and turning ability on snow and ice.

Lots of highway travel also revealed numerous flat tires, with some days producing multiple vehicles along the side of the four-lane with deflated tires. This seemed to be occurring much more frequently than during summer. Is this because of the economy and people using tires until they are fully worn out and susceptible to blow-out, or are tires severely underinflated and failing at highway speeds? Or is there that much debris on the road, cutting tires more than ever? Is the road surface now so dangerous that our tires are at risk?

For the Durango, it came with Goodyear Fortura all-season tires that really did appear ready to handle all elements. These tires were quiet runners, offered very good grip and ride qualities, plus a 6-inch snowfall didn’t rattle their performance. In fact, the Durango didn’t seem at all ruffled by either our rough roads or the constant winter weather, the rear-biased AWD system working perfectly no matter what the surface, the elements or the driver’s throttle application.

In the ride department, the crossovers, en masse, rode better than any of our cars over winter ravaged pavement. With longer spring travel in their independent suspensions, plus more ground clearance and often more wheelbase length, the crossovers dominated any bad road travel and literally left our visiting test cars longing for warmer climates. The difference was very noticeable; several cars actually felt a little fragile — if that is the right term — compared to the more solid feel of several of this seasons crossover wagons.

In winter, we wear more clothes and often heavier footwear. Crossovers, by their nature, sit a little taller with a higher hip-point than cars. Access was much easier in all of our crossovers; you glide in and out with your heavy coat on, not lowering or raising yourself like you do getting into and out of a car seat. Rear seat occupants enjoy the same benefits in a crossover wagon, plus you get a liftgate at the rear for loading groceries, a liftgate with a rear wiper. How many sedans do you know of with a rear wiper for increased winter visibility? Who isn’t tired of lifting heavy articles out of a trunk? Another point for crossovers; convenient access and more user friendliness in an everyday world.

When was the last time you saw a two-tone painted vehicle? Our cars and trucks are heavily skewed to silver, white and black paint now, one brand blending into another except for insignias and LED headlights. Time for some visual contrast in our vehicles.

And, it is darn near impossible to keep a car clean in Maine — winter or summer. Salt, dirt, dust, mud — some foreign substance is waiting to attach itself to your clean car as soon as you have finished washing it. Some of our visiting vehicles this winter got washed two to three times a week and still left for home filthy. Travel and clean in Maine are not synonymous.

Yet travel and Durango in Maine are synonymous. Loaded up with four adults for a day afield, the Durango Citadel appointed itself quite nicely. It is quiet, at all speeds, allowing relaxed conversation front to rear and vice versa. The rear seat is actually designed for adults, with good foot and head space plus leather upholstery that is heated. A center console swallows your traveling gear, while Citadel trim offers dual-screen rear seat DVD entertainment as well as rear climate controls. The second row seats easily tumble forward for third row access, while a power liftgate out back provides convenient cargo room access that will surely be exercised in this family wagon.

From the helm, the Durango Citadel offers memory settings for the power tilt and telescoping steering wheel (heated of course) and supportive leather-clad seating, while remote staring, push-button ignition and keyless access are all standard. The 8.4-inch touch-screen display produces a huge rear camera field to view (aided by rear Park Assist sensors), plus GPS navigation and satellite radio with SiriusXM Travel Link also are standard. Multiple power ports and USB outlets populate front and rear seating areas.

On the right side of the Durango’s steering wheel there is — nothing, except the paddle shifter for increasing gear ratios. Dodge has integrated the rotary shift control often found in Jaguar and other premium automobiles (as well as the new Ram pickup) into the Durango’s center console. The new eight-speed automatic transmission works well, combining forces with the standard 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 or optional 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, plus cylinder deactivation technology and Eco-mode programming, to enhance overall fuel economy. EPA fuel economy estimates for our 360-hp AWD Hemi-engined Durango were 14/22-mpg with a combined average predicted for 16 mpg. After 1,560 miles, over 38 hours of driving time, the Citadel returned 18.0 mpg average — one mpg less than the trip computer’s calculation.

If there is any weakness or shortcoming in the Durango’s portfolio, it might be the Hemi-engined vehicle’s fuel economy. Tow ratings are 7,000 pounds, so you can see why some owners want the V-8’s extra torque and power — which is audibly evident and pleasing to summon — yet most Durangos will be sold with the V-6 engine, which has a higher fuel economy rating. Does it make sense to slip the new, more fuel-efficient 3.0-liter Eco-diesel into the Durango’s engine bay, Chrysler? With Durango sales increasing again this year, yes it does.

Visually, the latest Durango Citadel ($29,800 for rear drive base model, $43,300 for Citadel trim, $53,300 as shown) makes an aggressive statement. LED daytime running headlamps add some character; while full-length rear LED taillights (like the Charger) offer a distinctive view when leaving other traffic. Two strangers actually stopped to ask what the Durango was; they were so taken with its appearance.

The loaded Citadel adds adaptive cruise control and advanced brake assist with forward collision warning system — two features that move us closer to not just safer travel but the fully autononymous car. Blind-spot detection and cross path detection, a boon to exiting parking spots where you have limited rear vision, are also available with the Technology package.

The Durango Citadel earns high marks for its polished interior presentation, comfortable cabin, numerous convenience factors and stellar driving dynamics. The Durango was flawless during its visit, a nice blend of new and old attributes in a family wagon/crossover for the 21st century American driver.

When the third generation Durango debuted in 2011, it earned a spot on my 10 Favorites List for that year, alongside its Jeep Grand Cherokee sibling. I remain puzzled why Jeep hasn’t adopted this longer, three-row wagon for its lineup. Jeep reinvented the Cherokee this past year, isn’t there room for a large, profitable Grand Wagoneer revival too? Former partner Mercedes has made big money with its high end GL series; surely Jeep’s marketing staff has watched this success with envy. BMW certainly has; it will offer a three-row X7 for 2016.

Leave off the wood paneling and this Durango, with a host of family-friendly virtues, is a solid crossover wagon no matter which Fiat/Chrysler badge it wears.

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Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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