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The Daily Drivers | By Peter Couture and Lyra Solochek, Times Staff Writers

The Daily Drivers: Welcome back Dodge Durango

Dodge has brought back the Durango after a two-year hiatus, transforming it from a dowdy midsize SUV into an attractive minivan alternative. Is it now poised to take on the competition? We think so.

Appearance: The Durango has been stretched 10 inches and given the same unibody construction as its cousin, the new Jeep Grand Cherokee. With the added length comes a third-row seat. Despite the increase in size, the Durango looks more streamlined, with a "lean forward" profile up front that is accentuated by a bold, crosshair grille and dual headlights. Our tester was the blinged-out Citadel trim, which also features chrome accents on the grille, mirrors, door handles and 20-inch wheels. Peter really liked the muscular look.

Performance: Our Durango had Dodge's new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, which we found to be competent if not spectacular. You'll need to rev it to get all 290 horsepower pulling the 4,905-pound vehicle. Need more power? There's a Hemi V-8 available. A five-speed automatic is standard in an era of more efficient six-speeds. But the transmission shifted smoothly. Lyra found the Durango had some chassis roll on turns, but in normal driving, it felt planted on its 20-inch wheels. Then there's the mpg, which isn't stellar for a V-6 — an estimated 16 in the city and 23 on the highway. We both liked that the Citadel came with much-needed blind-spot warning, a rear camera and lots of other safety features.

Interior: The Durango benefits from the upgrade in materials and fit, much like the Grand Cherokee we recently reviewed. Our plush Citadel model had comfortable Nappa leather seats, but the tan interior seemed out of place with the silver exterior. Peter liked the simple layout of the gauges and console, and the dual cup holders have blue ambient lightning. It's nice to have room for seven, but it can be difficult to get in and out of the third row — it's better suited more for nimble kids. The seats there are comfortable and well padded. The second row folds forward and the third folds flat for ample cargo space (Dodge claims you can haul a 6-foot couch and a coffee table.) There is a bin under the rear cargo floor for discreet storage. Lyra had trouble getting her Bluetooth phone to synch with the car. Peter found the 6.5-inch touch screen a bit on the small side, but we both liked Dodge's simple — some might say rudimentary — graphics and controls.

Our 3 favorites

Peter Couture

Style: One of the better-looking vehicles in this class.

Interior: It may not rival the best, but the quality has definitely improved.

Headrests: When unoccupied, you can push a button to drop the third-row headrests for better visibility.

Lyra Solochek

Power liftgate: A must-have for a short person.

Towing: Pull up to 6,200 pounds, and it comes with sway control and auto leveling lights.

Safety features: Lots of sensors and warning systems.

The bottom line: The V-6 could use more oomph and the price can quickly climb depending on the trim level. Overall, the Dodge Durango makes a good family hauler, especially if you need to do a little bit of towing.

2011 Dodge Durango Citadel

Price: $41,250, $42,100 as tested, base Durango starts at $29,195

Powertrain:

3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, 5-speed automatic, RWD

Horsepower: 290 at 6,400 rpm

Torque: 260 pound-

feet at 4,800 rpm

Curb weight: 4,905 pounds

Dimensions

in inches:

Wheelbase, 119.8

Length, 199.8

Width, 75.8

Fuel economy:

16 miles per gallon city, 23 mpg highway

Safety features: Air bags and curtains, active head restraints, electronic stability control, rear backup camera, park assist system, blind-spot and rear cross path detection, adaptive speed control/forward collision warning, trailer sway damping, hill start assist

Options worth considering: HEMI V-8, AWD

Website: www.dodge.com/en/2011/durango/

The Daily Drivers: Welcome back Dodge Durango

03/22/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 1:52pm]

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