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2016 Dodge Durango R/T: America's Most Exciting 3-Row SUV under $50k

While driving most 7-passenger SUVs usually means that you can’t have a much fun while behind the wheel, the 2016 Dodge Durango R/T is proof that a big SUV with three rows of seating can be fun - and you can have that combination of passenger space and driving excitement for under $50k.

Before getting into my review of the 2016 Dodge Durango R/T, I wanted to take a second to explain my proclamation that this muscular SUV is the most exciting SUV under $50,000. For the most part, the entire SUV world is governed by functionality before "fun to drive" factor. Most SUV buyers would list their key concerns as being passenger space, cargo space, interior gadgets and fuel efficiency, which is why so many of the bigger SUVs focus less on driving dynamics and more on cubic feet of interior space, miles per gallon and exclusive interior gadgets. Really, that isn’t just true of the larger SUV segment, as the majority of all SUVs across every class focus on the same basic features.

In short, most SUVs focus on function-over-fun and for most people shopping for a 7-passenger, 3-row SUV, the approach of function-over-fun works just fine. However, there are people out there who want a big, roomy SUV that offers similar driving excitement and attitude to a performance car and for those folks, Dodge offers the Durango R/T.

I am sure that some of you are reading this, thinking that there are other sporty, performance-minded SUVs sold in America and you would be right - but no other SUV offers this level of interior space or this level of performance with a price under $50,000.

My 2016 Dodge Durango R/T test vehicle was an all-wheel drive model, which carries a base price of $44,495. When you add in the 2nd row captain’s chairs, the rear entertainment system and the destination charge, we have a price as tested of $48,480 and really, if you don’t spend much time occupying little kids on longer drives, the rear seat entertainment system is $1,995 that can be better allocated elsewhere, so for around $46,485, you can get all of the other features of the Durango R/T discussed in this review.

The Exterior
On the outside, the 2016 Dodge Durango R/T shares the majority of the styling cues with the rest of the Durango lineup, with the only real exterior changes being the body colored grille, the dark headlight bezels, the R/T badging, the 20 inch Granite Crystal painted wheels and the dual polished exhaust tips. The appearance of the Durango R/T also benefits from the package-specific sport suspension system, which lowers the big SUV by just under an inch, but that inch makes a big difference in giving the Durango R/T a far sportier stance.
Also, in addition to the basic lines of the Durango, the addition of the LED-trimmed projection headlights up front and the stunning LED “racetrack” taillight setup out back give the big Dodge SUV a very modern, high performance look.

16 durango rt front sq

Really, the Durango R/T doesn’t have any real changes from the non-sport models, but the fact that some painted bits and unique wheels present such a sport stance speaks volumes to the aggressive design of this Dodge SUV. The fact that Dodge doesn’t spend a fortune adding unique body parts to make the Durango R/T sportier plays a part in the low MSRP, but at the same time, this big Dodge SUV most certainly won’t be accused of being too vanilla in its styling.

Basically, the entire modern Dodge Durango lineup puts the “Sport” back in Sport Utility Vehicle, while the R/T package adds some simple yet poignant touches to drive home the performance oriented nature of this package.

The Interior
Although the 2016 Dodge Durango R/T is a sport model, spending a few minutes in the cabin provides the feeling of a luxury SUV.

The R/T package adds heated/cooled, power adjustable Nappa lather seats with perforated inserts in either Black (with red stitching and an embroidered R/T logo) or Radar Red as well as the heated, leather wrapped steering wheel compared to the less expensive trimlines. Those leather-covered bits join the standard award-winning UConnect infotainment system and the configurable gauge cluster to match up with any comparable luxury SUV, with a system which allows the driver to control basically every aspect of the interior from the steering wheel controls, the voice controls or the touchscreen. If you don’t like any of those options, the 2016 Durango also includes a set of traditional knobs and buttons just below the big screen to adjust the key features of the system such as the radio and the climate control.

16 durango rt fr seats

I have talked about the UConnect system a great deal in the past few years and as I have said in the past, this is easily one of the best systems on the market today. In the Durango R/T, the 8.4 inch touchscreen controls the radio (including satellite and auxiliary media), the heated/cooler seats, the climate control, the UConnect Apps, the navigation system, the hands-free phone system and all of the settings for the vehicle. This is one of the most user-friendly systems that I have tested, especially when accessing the navigation software, as the voice prompts work very well when you are moving, so you don’t need to stop to use the touchscreen every time you want to get directions for your trip. The “buttons” on the screen are big and easy to use while driving and, most importantly, the system is just plain makes sense. Rarely will you find yourself hunting for a specific control on the touchscreen and in the event that you need to turn the radio down or the defrosters up in a hurry – the buttons and knobs below the screen have you covered.

16 durango rt dash

Also, aside from the large touchscreen, the 2016 Durango has the configurable 7 inch gauge cluster, which has two large analog gauges on the outer edge and in the center, there is a large readout surrounded by a collection of smaller figures – allowing you to have something like the navigation readout or a digital speedometer in the middle with things like outside temperature and vehicle direction in the corners. By using the buttons on the steering wheel, the driver can opt to have a variety of information in the middle of the cluster, including a speedometer, navigation information, sound system information, trip mileage and fuel economy figures.

In short, everything that you could want to change in the cabin of the 2016n Durango R/T can be adjusted through the gauge cluster or the infotainment touchscreen via voice controls, the touchscreen or the steering wheel controls. This makes what could be a very intricate system remarkably simple to use without much learning curve – making it clear why UConnect has been so heavily awarded since being introduced.

Gadgets and luxury features aside, the 2016 Dodge Durango offers a ton of passenger space and it does so in a way that helps keep everyone comfortable. While the Durango can be ordered with a standard 3-person 2nd row seating setup, my R/T test vehicle had the 2nd row captain’s chairs with a center console. This eliminates one seating position, but it makes the ride far more comfortable for those folks in the middle row, but like the bench-style seat, these buckets flip forward quickly and easily to load people into the 3rd row of seats.

16 durango 2nd row seats

Like the front and 2nd row, the 3rd row offers plenty of shoulder and head space, but the leg room is a little tight for taller adults. You can put adults back there for something like the daily commute, but for a longer trip, this rear-most row is best suited for kids or shorter adults.
Finally, in addition to the three rows of seats, the 2016 Durango R/T has a nice sized rear cargo area which is big enough for a couple hockey bags, a couple of golf bags or enough luggage for a family trip to the beach. The Durango is slightly longer than the closely-related Jeep Grand Cherokee and that extra length allows Dodge to add the rear seats without compromising cargo space, but in the event that you need a whole lot more cargo space – the 2nd and 3rd rows fold down to offer as much hauling space as the biggest SUVs on the market.

The 2016 Dodge Durango R/T offers all of the modern comforts that you would want from a luxury SUV, but this swanky cabin is nestled into a performance model – doing what Dodge does so well, combining luxury with performance.

The Drive
The 2016 Dodge Durango looks great on the outside and has pretty much everything that you could want on the inside, but that is true of the entire lineup. On the other hand, only the Durango R/T offers a level of “fun to drive factor” that you don’t get as much with the other trimlines.

16 durango hemi

The Durango R/T has the same 5.7L Hemi V8 that you can order on the other models with 360 horsepower and 390lb-ft of torque being sent to all four wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission. This engine features a special engine tune which sharpens throttle response and increases the top speed, making the R/T package a bit more impressive when pushing the SUV to the limits. The optional all-wheel drive system allows you to mash the throttle with the knowledge that the tires will grip and go, allowing the Durango R/T to come up to speed as quickly as any similarly priced 3-row SUV. The Hemi engine shines at higher speeds as well, comfortably climbing past any speed limit in the USA without breaking a sweat. When you toss in the roar of the R/T exhaust, this Durango has the feel of a proper muscle car – albeit in a much larger vehicle.

More importantly, the Durango R/T package adds sport tuned suspension and a driver selectable steering setup, both of which go a long way in making this big SUV more fun to drive. The sport suspension setup lowers the Durango a bit, giving the vehicle a more aggressive stance and cutting down on body roll – giving the R/T a more planted feel than the other Durango models or the outside competitors. Also, when you set the driver selectable steering mode to Sport, the steering wheel required more driver input and provides more feedback, making for a more engaging feel during stints of spirited driving. When you combine these two sporty systems, the Durango R/T handles corners as well as any large SUV with a more controlled feeling than you get with every competitor shy of the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 (which costs far more).

16 durango rt road

One feature which has gotten mixed reviews in a variety of Dodge, Ram, Chrysler and Jeep vehicles is the rotary dial shifter, which in the Durango R/T works in conjunction with the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters. While this shifter design is different than what most people are used to, the basic function is really no different than any other “stick shaped” shifter. Rather than pushing a button and moving the lever to the desired gear, you turn the knob to the desired gear. Why turning a knob rather than moving a lever is such an issue to some people is beyond me, but I have no issues with the rotary dial, especially when I have the paddles as well. These shift paddles offer a high level of gear control and while it will shift on its own, the ability to shift with the paddles adds a little more driving fun when accelerating while allowing you the ability to slow the vehicle down more aggressively by downshifting as you approach a turn. I really like paddle shifters and I like being able to control the shifts in my vehicle, so I really enjoyed the shifting setup in the Durango R/T.

Finally, aside from the awesome acceleration and impressive handling capabilities, the Durango R/T is still perfectly comfortable for the daily drive in any situation. I drove the sporty SUV all over Metro Detroit and whether I was on the rough highways or the brutal, unpaved roads, the Durango R/T handled the roads very well. I don’t think that I would go storming down rough dirt roads with the low-riding R/T, but this isn’t a vehicle that will force you to avoid rough roads, lest you be abused by the ride quality.

In short, the Durango R/T will accelerate as quickly, corner as calmly and handle rough roads as comfortably as this big Dodge for anywhere near the $50k mark – making this the most engaging big SUV in America for the driver who loves to drive.

The Final Word
The Durango R/T doesn’t feel like a Challenger R/T, but this big SUV as is close as you get to a muscle SUV without stepping way up in price, and for that reason, this is the most engaging larger SUV to drive for this price point. There are SUVs which offer better performance from the likes of Jeep, Jaguar and Land Rover, but they all cost far more money, so if you want a big SUV that will seat 7 people (or 6 with the captain’s chairs), there is no option that can do a better job for the money.

16 durango rt rear 34

The driving dynamics of the 2016 Dodge Durango R/T are enough to draw in many buyers who want an SUV that is fun to drive, but when you factor in the great looking exterior and the heavily appointed cabin, there is really no large SUV in America which can compete with the Durango R/T on every front.

In the end, if you want an SUV that is roomy, packed with modern technology, tons of fun to drive and comfortable in every driving situation – the 2016 Dodge Durango R/T is the best option on the market.