The 2012 Dodge Durango is a midsize crossover with interior volume equal to some larger SUVs.
But this is not the same as the truck-based Durango it replaced last year, although it is still muscular-looking and powerful. It shares its basic architecture with the new Jeep Grand Cherokee, but has room for seven instead of the Jeep's five passengers.
The Durango was completely new for 2011, moving to a unibody structure from its previous body-on-frame design. The 2012 model has only a few trim and powertrain updates.
Seven trim levels are available, starting with the rear-wheel-drive SXT for $28,995 and ending with the Citadel all-wheel-drive for $42,995, before options. Models are designed for specific lifestyle needs and also include Express, Crew and R/T version.
My Durango was the R/T rear-drive model, which lists for $35,795 before options. The R/T, or road-and-track, model comes with the optional 5.7-liter Hemi V8 engine, rather than the base 3.5-liter V6.
The body-color grille made it instantly recognizable as a Dodge, and the subtle sculpting on the body side, hood, fenders, wheel wells and rear window pillars suggested strength without being muscle-bound.
My tester was actually quite comfortable, even in the third row, with lots of flexible space for hauling stuff. Even the front passenger seat folded flat to make room for extra-long objects.
In the third row, the 50/50 split-folding bench seat folded flat, using a handle located on the seat back, to increase the cargo area from 17.2 cubic feet to 47.7 cubic feet. With the 60/40-split second row folded, the cargo area increased to a whopping 85 cubic feet. Maximum payload was listed as 1,340 pounds.
The front passenger and driver had 40.3 inches of legroom and 39.9 inches of headroom, while the second row had 38.6 inches of legroom and 39.8 inches of headroom. No data was available for the third row.
Both bench seats were a little firm, especially the middle position in the second row crowded by the floor hump, but not to the point of being uncomfortable.
The third row was accessed by folding and tumbling the passenger-side seat on the second row, using a lever and a strap. I managed to climb in, but I wouldn't want to do it on a regular basis -- it's best left to younger, more nimble individuals.
Passengers in the third row have their own air vents on the ceiling, along with reading lamps, cupholders and two of the nine speakers located at head level on the rearmost side pillars.
Second-row passengers had full climate controls with vents on the console and the ceiling. They also had reading lamps, cupholders on the center armrest, speakers, bottle holders and map pockets on the doors, and heated seats.
The assist handles were conveniently located on the pillars between the front and rear doors, which helped when I climbed into the third row. Second-row passengers also had access to a 115-volt AC outlet, bag hooks on the seatback pockets, and usable garment hooks above the doors.
My tester had black leather front bucket seats, part of an option package, with contrasting red stitching and embroidered R/T badges.
My driving position was pleasant thanks to the eight-way driver's seat with memory for radio, seat and mirrors. The "easy-exit" feature moves the driver's seat down and back when engine is stopped and door is opened.
There also was a power-tilting and telescopic leather-wrapped steering wheel with chrome Dodge crosshair badge. The passenger seat adjusted six ways, and both seats had four-way power lumbar support and heat. Large, multifunction manually folding mirrors were also included in the package.
Durango comes with a remote-start system, pushbutton keyless start, cruise control, hill-start assist, sport suspension, performance steering, security alarm and trailer sway damping.
My R/T's Hemi engine cranked out 360 horsepower, and was connected to a six-speed automatic transmission. This combination gives the Durango a towing capacity of 7,400 pounds.
The V8 engine has fuel-saving technology that cuts out four of the cylinders during level highway cruising. EPA ratings are 14 mpg in the city and 20 on the highway for the model I tested.
Electronic stability control and electronic roll mitigation help keep body sway to a minimum on hard turns and during extreme driving conditions on or off road.
My around-town driving has a few sharp turns (no hills or extreme conditions) and the Durango performed more like a car than a truck, mostly because of the carlike unibody construction.
2012 DODGE DURANGO
Base price: $28,995
Price as tested: $38,610
All prices exclude destination charges.