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2004 Dodge Durango 4 x 4 SLT

Welterweight Fighter

Dodge’s redesigned 2004 Durango offers a bigger punch in a true midsize package.

Dodge’s goal for the new Durango was fairly simple, yet lofty: Offer the towing capacity, passenger and cargo room of a full-size SUV, but provide it in a smaller package at a lower price—and make it better than the model it replaces.

No small task, but the new Durango can go virtually round for round against larger SUVs. It’s peppy, yet quiet, makes a great daily driver and doesn’t take up more than its share of space in the garage.

“You can't buy more SUV for your dollar, period,” said Darryl Jackson, Dodge’s vice president of marketing, in a news release. “The Durango is an exceptional value, with more room, more content and more refinement, all delivered at a lower price than the previous generation Durango.”

The basic Durango prices out about $1,000 cheaper than the 2003 model, and with the SLT 4 x 4 package, it rings in at $2,000 less than the previous model.

What’s more, Dodge increased cargo volume by 15 percent by making the Durango 7 inches taller and about 3 inches wider than the ’03 model. According to Dodge literature, the Durango has more cargo room than the Ford Expedition, the Chevy Tahoe, Nissan Armada and the Toyota Sequoia.

You also can configure the cargo area in a number of ways. For example, the middle seat split 40/20/40, which was ideal for carrying people and long cargo, such as 2 x 4s or snow skis. The third row folded flat and is available with a 50/50 split back.

Despite the manufacturer’s claims of room for seven adults, the third row is best reserved for children—or adults you don’t care for. The seats were cramped for six-footers, but they did have their own sent of HVAC vents, as did the second row.

We didn’t carry any cargo or people in the Durango, but we did pull 8,000 pounds of trailer. The good news is that the Hemi works well in the Durango. For towing, we’d still prefer that the torque come in sooner, but the moderate curb weight of the Durango allows the engine to pull slightly better than the full-size Ram Quad Cab we tested in April 2003.

Even on inclines, the truck backs and pulls the trailer no problem. On the freeway, it loafs along at 60 mph, turning 1,900 rpm. With the cruise control engaged, the truck will hold 60 mph up a 7 percent grade with a boat in tow. To maintain speed, it drops to second gear and revs to 4,500 rpm, but it holds it just fine.

The five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission felt civil and luxurious, and came fitted with a “Tow/Haul” mode button on the shift handle. The feature provided crisper shifts and held a lower gear longer before upshifting. The system also can select a lower gear for engine braking when traveling downhill.

The system never kicked down while we were towing, so we had to rely solely on the four-wheel disc brakes, which offered adequate power and reacted at the top of pedal travel, but they felt a little “wooden.” Antilock engaged at the right threshold, with minimal tire chatter. The system comes in a three-channel setup in two-wheel drive trim, but our four-by-four had a four-channel system.

While towing, the ride was supple—perhaps a little too much so. With coils up front and in the rear, the Durango felt a little softly sprung. The suspension seemed to use too much of its travel over dips and crests on the freeway surface, and it felt like it could use a bit more compression and rebound damping and perhaps even stiffer springs. Dodge advertises an 8,950-pound towing capacity, but the truck felt a bit taxed pulling an 8,000-pound trailer.

Conversely, without a trailer in tow, the Durango’s ride around town and on rutted freeway is among the best we’ve experienced, which makes it more rewarding if your tow vehicle is also your daily driver. Part of that ride quality stemmed from the new hydroformed and fully boxed frame, which is stiffer and feels more refined than the previous Durango.

A few minor rattles aside, the interior of the new Durango felt inviting and comfortable. White-face gauges were backlighted with blue light. They were easily legible and looked great at night. Even better, Dodge improved the cruise-control switches on the steering wheel. They’re not lighted as we have suggested in the past, but they are much more intuitive than previous switches, so much so that lighting may no longer be necessary. It’d still be nice, though.

We’d also like to see Dodge add an opening window to the rear lift gate. It’s a great convenience when loading the cargo area with small, light items.

Our test vehicle came with four-wheel drive, which we didn’t use, but we were impressed that it didn’t feel like a four-wheel drive. Often, four-by-fours have a heavy, clunky feel, but on the Durango that wasn’t the case. It’s even more impressive that the truck featured standard all-wheel drive—but you’d never know it to drive it on dry pavement.

If we had a lighter boat, something that weighed, say, around 7,000 pounds on a trailer, this would be an ideal tow vehicle. It’s rewarding to drive every day and doesn’t require three-point turns to park at the supermarket. It has the Hemi power under the hood and room for people and gear. For its competition, the Durango could be the knockout punch.

SPECIFICATIONS

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy Estimates
City... 13 mpg
Highway... 18 mpg

ACCELERATION
0-60 towing... 18.79 seconds
40-60 towing... 12.03 seconds
0-60 non-towing... 8.25 seconds
40-60 non-towing... 4.96 seconds

POWERTRAIN
Engine... 5.7-liter Hemi V-8
Horsepower... 335 @ 5,400 rpm
Torque... 370 pound-feet @ 4,200 rpm
Compression ratio... 9.6:1
Transmission... five-speed electronic automatic

CHASSIS
Axle ratio... 3.92:1
Fuel capacity... 27 gal.
Tire size... P265-65R-17
Brakes... four wheel disc with antilock
Suspension... Front: independent short/long A-arm with coil springs; Rear: live axle with coil springs and track bar
Tow rating... 8,950 lbs.
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating... 6,600 lbs.
Gross Combined Weight Rating... 15,550 lbs.

DIMENSIONS
Overall length... 186.6"
Maximum width... 84.3"
Wheelbase... 109.5"
Curb weight... 5,076 lbs.
Base price... $30,945
Price as tested... $35,915

BOAT TOWED
Formula 271 FAS3Tech
8,000 lbs.

INFORMATION
Customer service... 800-423-6343
Web site... www.dodge.com

 

 

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