- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2004

When the Hemi RT Concept was introduced, it was already known that Dodge would come out with the new generation of the Durango by the end of this year. So it’s no surprise that the production version does not differ much from the concept truck.

Surely, there are differences, such as the 21-inch wheels on the show truck and the absence of a radio antenna. But the pronounced rear fender extensions and the round tail lights that begin in the fenders remained on the production Durango. Pity though that Chrysler replaced the nice headlights of the Concept by less outstanding ones, but they will not drive away the customers who love the more retro looks and the bolder image of the new production truck.

The 2004 Durango gets the new 5.7-liter Hemi Magnum V-8 that debuted last year in the Ram heavy-duty truck and that will also power the new Chrysler 300C and the Magnum crossover, both of which will hit the market next year.

With 345 horsepower and a maximum torque of 375 foot-pounds at 4,400 rpm, the Hemi engine has 40 percent more power and 12 percent more torque than the 5.9 V-8 it replaces. The Hemi V-8 will be available as an option though, as is the 4.7 V-6 that is carried over from the existing Durango. The standard engine will be the new 210 horsepower 3.7-liter V-6.

The Hemi V-8 works together with a five-speed automatic transmission with a Tow/Haul-mode, that enables the transmission to stay longer in a lower gear when towing, or descending a hill, so that engine braking can be applied as much as possible.

The Concept also showed us what to expect of the new underpinnings for the 2004 Durango. The hydroformed frame has a greater torsional stiffness than that of the old model, whereas multilink front-wheel suspension, a live rear axle and coil springs have to improve ride and handling. The length of the Durango has grown to 200.8 inches, the wheel base is increased to 119 inches and width and height have increased to 76.4 inches and 74.4 inches respectively.

The larger size of the new truck especially works for the interior space that accommodates three rows of seats and a luggage compartment of 19 square feet. As the majority of the seven-seat SUVs are used with the third row folded flat, Dodge ranks itself as best in class with the then-generated luggage space of 67.3 square feet. In case you need to haul really big stuff, the second row can be folded down to increase space to 101 square feet. It’s important to note it also has best in segment towing capacity of 8,900 pounds.

The 2004 Durango has a new air-bag system, with dual stage front air bags and an occupant-sensing system for the passenger seat. It can detect the presence of a child seat and automatically deactivate the air bag. Side-curtain air bags are available for all three rows of seats.

Europeans are always impressed by big SUVs and the Durango makes no exception. I had the opportunity to drive the Durango 5.7 Hemi Magnum and was really taken by the enormous torque of the Hemi V-8. The engine sound reaches your ears through the dual exhaust pipes and it’s a treat. Its five-speed automatic transmission shifts at the right moments and the handling with the all-wheel drive (complete with low gearing) is exactly what you might expect of the new generation of the Durango. With AWD, a new traction-control system and ABS it provides a go-anywhere attitude.

The steering is effortless and stability is good.

Until you try one for yourself, you have to take my word for it: The Dodge Durango 5.7 Hemi Magnum V-8 is a mighty sport ute. Too bad that the European roads are not fit to accommodate big cars like this.

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