1998 Dodge Durango

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2000 Dodge Durango

This 2000 review is representative of model years 1998 to 2003.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 8
Pros:
  • Showy, retro-truck styling
  • Capable V8s
  • Third-row seating
Cons:
  • Truckish, sometimes jittery, ride
  • Fuel economy
  • Big step up to get inside

Dodge's sport-utility vehicle is larger than many competitors in the midsize category and arguably as rugged looking as any in the bunch. It's also distinguished by its V8s, and the top V8 would easily have been at home in the muscle-car era some 30 years ago.

Now I know what the late 1960s and early '70s could have been like if sport-utility vehicles had been the rage some 30 years ago.

You can experience it, too, in the 2000 Dodge Durango R/T. This new-for-2000 addition to the Durango lineup combines today's must-have SUV ruggedness with a '60s muscle-car personality.

Rather than making do—tongue in cheek here—with a 4.7-liter 235-horsepower 295-lb-ft V8 or a 5.2-liter 230-horsepower 300-lb-ft V8 available in a regular Durango, buyers of the Durango R/T get a take-no-prisoners, 5.9-liter Magnum V8. It generates 250 horses and 345 lb-ft of torque, making awesome throaty growls all along the way.

No wonder Jim Julow, vice president of the Dodge Division, called the Durango R/T a "muscle truck" when it was introduced early in calendar 2000.

Pricey, especially in R/T dress
Too bad this powerful new model doesn't carry a 1960s-era price tag. The truth is, the Durango R/T is the most expensive Durango with a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price plus destination charge of more than $34,000. A base Durango 4X2 starts at more than $26,000.

R/T stands for road and track and is a legendary name at the former Chrysler Corp. It's a label that has been showing up on several vehicles, notably the Neon and Intrepid, as Dodge seeks to bolster its performance image.

The good thing about the Durango R/T is that it's not just about image, although there's plenty of that because of the now-familiar Dodge retro-truck styling up front, prominent wheel arches and overall aggressive stance. With the 5.9-liter Magnum V8 under the hood and proper trailering equipment on the vehicle, the Durango R/T can tow 7,350 pounds. This compares with a maximum 5,000 pounds for the Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota 4Runner.

Nothing car-like about the ride
The Durango R/T comes only as a 4X4 model. So there's capable off-road performance, too, though I will warn that you may need to practice to get used to modulating that gas pedal.

A heavy foot inside the Durango R/T will have you and your passengers rushing through the woods, bouncing around uncomfortably in your seats. Even the less-powerful V8s can propel the Durango with gusto on muddy trails and across bump-strewn fields.

Remember, all Durangos—even those with 2-wheel drive—have a truck-like boxed frame, so don't expect a pillowy ride even on pavement. Dodge officials did revise the independent front suspension this year to improve the ride. But it's still nothing like a car's.

The ride is a bit sportier in the R/T, since this Durango includes sport-tuned shock absorbers at each corner and stiffer anti-roll bars. There are big, 17-inch tires, too.

I appreciated the feel of the rack-and-pinion steering that's new for 4X4 Durangos this year. I needed a comfortable sense of steering, since the test R/T often jitterbugged over bumpy pavement—sometimes even dancing out of its lane and into an adjacent one if not held in check by me.

Love those V8 tunes
I found myself keeping a window open at least a crack during my test drive of a 2000 Durango R/T. It wasn't for ventilation. It was to hear the wonderful, deep sounds of the V8. This top-of-the-line Durango comes standard with a sport-tuned exhaust, and boy, the folks at DaimlerChrysler must have had fun tweaking it to get the most vintage of sounds.

And just as in muscle-car days, it seemed that my noisy, fast-moving vehicle intimidated other drivers. They swung out of my way on highway passing lanes and mostly steered clear of me as I came down city streets.

The throaty growl wasn't just there when I accelerated aggressively. It was there at startup and at each little, or large, stab on the gas pedal.

I barely nudged the gas pedal and the test Durango R/T—in Flame Red color, no less—was immediately hulking down the driveway. If I forgot myself and pressed a bit harder, the vehicle strode boldly down the drive.

Even though the Durango R/T is a sizable and heavy SUV at more than 4,700 pounds, I never felt a wimpy response as I powered around town, on country roads and on highways. There always seemed to be plenty of power, even in quick passing maneuvers on 2-lane roads.

Giant sucking sound
But I paid for the performance at the gas pump. I averaged 13.3 miles per gallon during the test drive, which included at least two-thirds of the drive time on highways.

The Durango R/T is rated at 12 mpg in the city and 16 mpg on the highway. The other V8-powered Durangos aren't too much better, but they are more competitive with other midsize SUVs—averaging 13 to 15 mpg in the city and 17 to 19 mpg on the highway, depending on engine and whether the model is a 2- or 4-wheel drive. Competitors such as the Pathfinder and 4Runner, which have V6s, are rated from 15 to 17 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway.

Note that all Durangos also carry larger fuel tanks of 25 gallons compared with 21.1 and 18.5 gallons, respectively, for the Pathfinder and 4Runner.

Sheet metal stays the same
Every Durango model could well be described as ruggedly styled, even muscle-bound. Because of this, DaimlerChrysler officials didn't change much on the outside to create the R/T, save for badging and the R/T's big, 17-inch tires on aluminum wheels. The standard Durango tire is 15 inches in diameter.

Note that the sheet metal has stayed basically the same as it has been since the Durango debuted in the 1998 model year.

Automatics on board
Only automatic transmissions are offered across the line. In the Durango R/T with 4-speed automatic, I did notice some crudeness in shifting in stop-and-go traffic.

Much of the test drive occurred in rain, but the full-time 4-wheel drive of the Durango R/T kept the vehicle sure-footed at all times.

But notice that it's a big step up to get inside the Durango R/T. Ground clearance is a minimum 7.9 inches. I found myself making good use of the optional running boards to climb aboard.

My parents, who are in their 80s, struggled, however, to find a graceful way to enter and exit the Durango.

Seating for five, six, on up to eight
Inside, the top-of-the-line Durango R/T had a lot of equipment. I liked the mixed leather and suede interior, and the high-back, front bucket seats conveyed an immediate sporty feel.

They were relatively comfortable to ride in, even for several hours. The high ride height in all Durangos means occupants get good views all around.

The legroom in the optional third-row seats is a bit underwhelming at a mere 30.7 inches. Then again, not many SUVs in this category even offer third-row seating. With the third-row seat installed, the Durango can carry up to eight people.

The third row seat is possible because the Durango is longer and taller than other traditional midsize sport utilities. This translates into maximum cargo capacity inside of 88 cubic feet. This compares with 85 cubic feet in a Pathfinder and 79.8 cubic feet in a 4Runner.

The base Durango isn't too badly equipped, with air conditioning for the front of the vehicle, AM/FM stereo with cassette player, full-size spare, and power windows and door locks all standard.

But floor mats aren't standard on the base vehicle and neither is keyless remote entry or a security alarm.

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BB05 - 8/20/2014 11:15:48 PM