2018 Dodge Durango R/T is a Challenger for the sensible driver

Who wouldn’t want a Dodge Challenger with a big, hulking HEMI engine? They’re a blast to drive with their big engines and Mercedes-derived architecture.

But, what if you want to pick up friends and hit the clubs? Or drop off a couple of smidgens and their peeps at school for band or sports practice? Yeah, well, that Challenger has its challenges. But, don’t slump like you lost your youth, virility, and vitality. Dodge has a better choice: the 2018 Durango R/T.

Squint at the front, and the Durango does look a bit like a Charger–especially in R/T trim with the performance facia, functional hood heat extractors, mesh grille, and LED foglamps. It looks like somebody peeved it off! Peek along the side, and the big hauler hunkers down over 20” dark alloys that fill bulging fenders. Around back, check Dodge’s trademark “racetrack” LED taillamps and large chrome exhaust outlets. It’s a very handsome design that encourages slow-pokes to move out of the left lane quickly.

Riding inside will give you attitude. Black heated and cooled leather seats with red stitching, a thick heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, and red-stitched dash panels provide devilish style. And, rear seats are not cheap. Heated middle row captain’s chairs face twin video screens that can be tapped with inputs for media players or for streaming the Blu-Ray player in the front console. Third-row seats are roomy enough for adults on short hops, but squelch cargo space on longer drives.

Beyond the DVD player, there’s plenty to keep everybody comfortable and entertained. Chrysler’s 8.4-inch touchscreen is incredibly easy to use with icons for radio, media players, climate, apps, and navigation arranged along the bottom. Don’t like touchscreens? Try redundant knobs and buttons below. Or, throw it commands by voice.

There’s Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, but also an array of USBs in the front center console and in the rear. Crank up the Beats audio system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Automatic climate control, including rear seat controls/vents, provides perfect climate for traveling. Safety is enhanced by adaptive cruise, blind spot warning, cross path detection, lane departure warning, and forward collision alert systems.

Right between the base 3.6-liter V6 and 6.2 liter V8 in the Durango SRT is the 5.7-liter HEMI. No mere Goldilocks, it has enough muscle for a beer run to Coors country. Stomp it to feel 360 horsepower and 390 lb.-ft. of torque push you into your cushions. Dodge links the big engine to the all-wheel-drive system through an eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. It can tow up to 7,200 lbs., but fuel economy may cause you to go home and drink: 14/22 mpg city/highway. Press Sport mode for a livelier throttle and brisk acceleration or press Eco to take some zip out of the big peddle and save a little money.

Basic architecture is shared with the Mercedes-Benz GLE and Jeep Grand Cherokee, all co-developed while Daimler controlled Chrysler. The big wagon comes with a load-leveling rear suspension, but it doesn’t have a fancy electronic air suspension like the high-end Germans. That’s fine, because it keeps things simple. On the road, it feels heavy, yet nimble when given steering input. Despite a four-wheel independent suspension system, those 20” wheels are a bit difficult to control, causing some rough thumps and thunks on less than smooth roads. But, out on the open road, it’s dreamy.

Chargers and Challengers are perhaps the best muscle cars of any era, though they might be bested by the Durango. Take a German-engineered chassis, lob in a HEMI V8, and dress it out like the American luxury wagon it is. It’s a muscle car for the sensible man or woman–one that can haul it and haul your tribe, too. If that sounds like something you’d like to engage in, dig deep. Base Durangos start at just $29,995, but came to $54,365 as-tested. Competitors include the Mazda CX-9, Ford Explorer, Chevy Traverse, Honda Pilot, and Toyota Highlander.

Storm Forward!

Contact Casey at AutoCasey@aol.com. Follow him on YouTube @AutoCasey.

2018 Dodge Durango R/T
Six-passenger, AWD Crossover
Powertrain: 360hp 5.7-liter V8, 8-spd auto trans
Suspension f/r: Ind/Ind
Wheels f/r: 20”/20” alloy
Brakes f/r: disc/disc
Must-have features: Style, Power
Fuel economy: 14/22 mpg city/hwy
Assembly: Detroit, MI
Base/As-tested price: $29,995/$54,365

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