2009 Dodge Durango
Chrysler has launched two big gambles into the automotive world: the 2009 Dodge Durango Hybrid and the Chrysler Aspen Hybrid
. With SUV sales plummeting and hybrids growing ever larger in their appeal, the manufacturer hopes to take advantage of this turn of events by mating a HEMI V-8 with the two-mode hybrid system, developed in conjunction with GM, Mercedes-Benz and the BMW Group, to create a more efficient SUV. The underbellies of these giants are essentially the same, but the Durango is the more rugged of the two, putting an aggressive exterior design on display and finishing the interior with industrial edginess. With more than a 25 percent increase in fuel economy over their gas-powered relations and a price tag thousands less than comparable hybrids, the gamble should pay out nicely.
What's to Like
Three rows of seats and V-8 power are combined with livable gas mileage at 19 mpg city and 20 mpg highway. The starting price, very close to the standard Durango, will appeal to consumers. A sophisticated instrument gauge displays your engine and hybrid battery usage so you can keep your fuel economy in check.
What's Not to Like
Gas mileage may be improved, but it still doesn’t beat a passenger car. The cabin materials feel cheaper than you’d hope in an SUV topping $45,000. Like most vehicles this large, you’re aware of its size every moment during the drive.
DriverSide Driving Impressions
Most people buying an SUV hybrid aren’t going to expect a sedan-like ride. And it’s a good thing they don’t get their hopes up. With a high command position, huge dash and thick pillars, driving the Durango feels a bit like taking the Queen Mary out for a spin. Cornering is dull and the weight of the car - including the heft of the added hybrid batteries - lends itself to slight body roll, but the Durango’s suspension smoothes out bumps more efficiently than some of its competition. The two-mode hybrid can propel a car forward up to 25 mph without having to use the gas engine. When turning the ignition, the absence of the fuel engine firing up makes the vehicle so quiet that they’ve added a “Ready” light below the speedometer so you don’t keep turning the key. Having as much mass as it does means it doesn’t take a lot of throttle to force the engine to kick in though, and unless you feather the peddle from a stop, you’re going to feel and hear the engine helping much sooner than 25 mph.
Engine and Drivetrain
When a vehicle uses both a gas engine and electric motors, it is difficult to put the power output into horsepower and torque terms. The numbers are only estimated, but a 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 engine and electric motor that deliver roughly 345 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque sounds pretty good to us. The Durango has standard four-wheel drive.
Interesting Vehicle Features and Options
The uconnect system has replaced the previous MyGIG infotainment system and is simple to use. The hybrid energy usage display on the center screen highlights the engine and electric motor components to show you which system is powering the SUV at any given time. It also shows you real-time fuel economy stats, and switches to a backup camera when reversing. The Durango can also tow up to 6,000 pounds.
Key Technology Evaluation
Two-mode hybrids are named as such because they use two electrically variable modes in order to best power the vehicle during different types of driving. The first mode, used at slower speeds and lighter loads, can drive the car with electric power, engine power or a combination of the two. The second mode makes more use of the HEMI V-8 as it’s utilized during higher speeds or when towing heavy loads. Regenerative braking employs the electric motors to slow the Durango instead of traditional friction brakes, restoring battery power in the process. While many hybrids possess this technology, few accomplish such smooth transitions between coasting and braking as the Durango.
Green Evaluation/Gas Mileage
This is as green as you’ll get with an SUV this size. In addition to the regenerative brakes, the Durango’s V-8 also turns off when the car is at a stop, thus reducing fuel usage. It returns 19 mpg city and 20 mpg highway, though you can manage more if you are light on the throttle.
A Closer Look: Vehicle Details
The large interior lends itself to comfortable seating for every one of the potential eight occupants. Even the third row had enough headroom for six-footers. Standard leather and power seats are cushy for an SUV. The fit and finish isn’t as clean or upscale as the Aspen’s, but the Durango’s interior does a nice job appealing to those with active lifestyles.
When a manufacturer makes two cars whose underpinnings are the same, it all comes down to styling for the buyer. More aggressively trimmed than the Aspen, the Durango features a bulbous front-end with a large chrome-rimmed grille in Dodge’s signature crosshairs design. Fat arches cover the standard 18-inch wheels, and chrome plates accent the side panels and rear tailgate.
What We Think
Hybrid technology seems to be the path many manufacturers are following at the moment. Whether it is the right one remains to be seen. What we do know is that the Durango finds its stride in hybrid form, combining towing capabilities and seating for eight with better fuel economy and a fully loaded interior. Its hybrid system is the best in the market for managing power output through various driving conditions as well. If you’re going to invest in a V-8-powered piece of green technology, this SUV might be just the one for you.