- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 17, 2004

With its Durango, Dodge wants to sell us on the idea that less is more.

Quite frankly, it has managed to be rather convincing. Although in terms of exterior dimensions the Durango slots in between midsize and full-size SUVs, it can hold up to eight persons or can carry just about as much cargo as a Chevrolet Tahoe. Durango is a brilliant use of interior space.

Totally redesigned for 2004, Durango has grown in every direction in comparison with the version it replaces. At first glimpse the new Durango might not look much different from the 2003, but place them side by side and the changes aren’t subtle at all.

Every facet of the 2004 is bigger and bolder.

The new Durango is 7 inches longer, 4 inches taller and nearly 5 inches wider than the 2003. The wheelbase has been stretched by about 3 inches too.

Stretching the exterior dimensions has increased passenger room. There is an inch or two of extra space in all directions. Cargo room, however, is up dramatically with this year’s Durango providing 14 cubic feet more maximum hauling space. The third row is pretty cramped, but smaller children will be fine back there.

Available in either rear- or four-wheel drive, the 2004 Durango has three trim levels: ST, SLT and Limited. Two-wheel-drive ST and SLT versions come with a V-6, while a V-8 is standard in the two-wheel-drive Limited and all four-wheel-drive models.

The seats are comfortable. The redesigned instrument panel appears less cluttered than before. Less complicated, the audio controls are conveniently placed in the center of the dashboard.

The ventilation system is still operated by three large knobs located below the stereo controls. Sporting a more modern appearance, the gauges are large and easy to read. The Durango delivered for this review was an SLT, so it came with a few more goodies than the ST model — such as rear air conditioning, third-row seat, wood-grain accents and a power-adjustable driver’s seat.

The 210-horsepower 3.7-liter V-6 in the test Durango left it a little underpowered. It wasn’t exactly sluggish, but it was less than enthusiastic when answering the throttle.

The 4.7-liter V-8 increases horsepower by 20, but delivers an additional 55 foot-pounds of torque.

New this year is the optional 5.7-liter Hemi V-8. Its 335 horsepower and 370 foot-pounds of torque turn the Durango into a real hard charger.

It also provides two-wheel-drive models with a remarkable 8,950 pounds of towing capacity. The V-6 transfers power to the wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission. V-8 editions get a five-speed automatic.

Dodge has stiffened the frame and tightened the suspension for 2004. Ride quality is good and the handling sound.

Durango is still more a truck than a car, but that’s the idea.

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