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A Review of the 2014 Dodge Durango R/T: More 'Sport' Makes for an Even Better SUV

There are rumors that the Dodge Durango will soon leave the company lineup, but it only takes a short time behind the wheel to figure out why the sales of the 2014 Durango R/T are going so strong – with tons of interior space in a high tech cabin, a super aggressive exterior design and a drivetrain that makes it versatile and a total blast to drive.
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Sport utility vehicles these days are often referred to as SUVs or crossovers not because they are easier to say – it is because most vehicles in that class really don’t offer any sporty qualities but the 2014 Dodge Durango R/T maintains all of the great qualities that helped these vehicles flourish in their early days. It has tons of interior space for people and cargo – as expected – but unlike so many other large SUVs the Durango R/T packs big power and a suspension setup that makes it more thrilling to drive than any comparably priced large SUV on sale right now.

My 2014 Dodge Durango R/T AWD test vehicle carried an MSRP of $41,395 while options including the Technology Package ($1,995), the rear sear entertainment package ($1,995), the trailer tow package ($995), the premium Nappa leather interior package ($995), second row captain’s chairs ($895), the second row console ($300), the premium UConnect 8.4 inch infotainment system ($400) and the destination fee ($995) bring the final price as tested to $49,965. For my uses, the only option on that list which I would purchase myself would be the rear seat entertainment package but every other feature of my test Durango R/T played a role in making it such an incredibly engaging SUV.

The Exterior
One of the most significant changes for the 2014 Dodge Durango lineup is the mild refresh to both the front and rear end. While fairly minimal in the grand scheme of things, the changes made go a very long way in making the 2014 Durango much more aggressive looking than the previous model years with a heavy dose of high tech lighting all around.

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Up front, the 2014 Dodge Durango R/T wears a more aggressive lower front fascia than the previous model year, with sharply angled lines tracing each of the projection fog light assemblies that are mounted towards the out corners of the front air dam in black bezels. This big lower front fascia opening has a very SRT-like feel and I think that it makes the Durango R/T the most aggressive looking SUV sold in America except for its high performance SRT Jeep cousin. This new front end is finished off with a set of high tech headlights featuring LED projection headlights underlined by LED accent lighting – all set in a black lens assembly. Just looking at the front makes it obvious that this is an SUV that is made to tear up the street with the roar of American muscle.

From the side, the 2014 Dodge Durango R/T is pretty much identical to the past few model years, but that isnt a bad thing by any means. The Durango has a long, flat hood and roofline that give it a very fluid look for a big SUV. The short overhang up front and longer overhang of the rear end give the Durango R/T a very aggressive posture – like an animal that is ready to pounce. The R/T package comes with no chrome and the mixture of the dark side glass with the monotone paint job really gives this SUV a rugged yet sporty design.

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Out back, we have the crown jewel of the Dodge lineup – the “race track” LED taillight assembly. New to the Durango for 2014, this design was introduced on the Charger and then the Dart with some individual design elements making each slightly unique and in my opinion, this new taillight setup completes the exterior design of this big SUV. The thick, dark red race track that traces the outer edge looks great day or night while the predominantly black lens provides a wicked, sinister look in the daylight. The back end features the same sculpting lines, low profile roof spoiler and dual exhaust as the previous model year, but the new taillight really makes the back end pop. The race track taillight is (in my humble opinion) the best looking taillight design in the segment on the Charger, the Dart and now the new Durango.

Since this newest generation Dodge Durango was introduced, I have really liked the styling but the addition of the race track taillight and the restyled front end make the 2014 Durango R/T the sportiest looking SUV sold in America today.

The Interior
Although the basic interior layout of the 2014 Dodge Durango R/T is identical to the previous model years, the 2014 models received a facelift to the dashboard area that really brought the Durango to the forefront of motoring technology.

14 durango rt dash

The large one-piece design of the dashboard itself gives the 2014 Durango R/T a very clean, fluid look while the new infotainment system and the gorgeous new gauge cluster give the Durango one of the most modern looking cockpits on the market today. The big, bright touchscreen mounted high on the dash allows the driver to control pretty much every interior feature from the basic cabin settings to the navigation to the stereo system to the advanced climate control system. This infotainment system is very user friendly with touch screen “buttons” to bring up the various menus while a collection of knobs and buttons that are neatly nestled into small integrated panel below the touch screen offer quick access to the basic controls such as stereo volume, station selection and dual zone front climate control. Those drivers who don’t want to take their hands off of the steering wheel will enjoy the elaborate collection of buttons mounted on both the front and back of the sport steering wheel, including a voice control button that allows you to access the navigation system without ever taking your eyes off of the road. In addition to allowing the driver to adjust the sound system or navigation program, the buttons on the steering wheel provide full control of the customizable gauge cluster which, aside from including just about every bit of information you could ask for, just plain looks awesome.

14 durango rt front seats

The 2014 Dodge Durango R/T AWD is basically the top of the line package for the big SUV, especially when it is all loaded up like my test vehicle. Based on that, it should come as no surprise that the R/T package brings a very “luxury sport” feel with bright chrome trim accenting the otherwise black cabin. My Durango R/T test rig was fitted with the second row bucket seats which, like the front seats, feature the R/T logo embroidered in red on the seatbacks with red stitching all over the seats and center consoles driving home the sporty interior feel. The front and rear bucket seats are plush and very comfortable with deep base and back bolsters keeping everyone snug in place during stints of spiriting cornering. The driver and passengers in the first and second row will enjoy gobs of leg, knee, hip, elbow, shoulder and head room, even for very tall people so whether you are driving the family across the country or just driving your friends out for a night on the town, everyone rides in the sporty lap of luxury. The luxurious feel is accentuated by the optional rear entertainment system that has monitors in the back of both front seats so both of the people sitting in the second row bucket seats can enjoy a movie without having to stare up at the ceiling like some rear seat systems. There are also wireless headphones so if you don’t want to listen to whatever your kids are watching on a long car trip, they can throw on the headphones and enjoy their programs while you listen to music.

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One aspect that makes the 2014 Dodge Durango R/T (and all new Durango models) unique from the newest Jeep Grand Cherokee is the longer cabin with a third row of seats. These seats offer more passenger space than most comparable vehicles with a third row, offering enough leg space for two adults to sit somewhat comfortably. I don’t know that I would expect a couple 6 foot tall people to spend hours seated in the last row, but if the need arose – the capability is there. Also, the Durango has a nice, big cargo area that can be made even larger by flipping down the third row seats. With that rear row folded flat, you have nearly as much cargo space as you would in a pickup truck with a cap so in terms of storage space – the Durango is impressive.

14 durango rt rear seats

The interior of the 2014 Dodge Durango R/T features an impressive amount of high tech gadgetry, comfortable bucket seating for six adults and enough cargo space to fit luggage for those six people – or a big stack of hockey bags to get the kids to practice on a cold winter morning. The infotainment system is among the best on the market today and the high gauge configurable gauge cluster has a look that is fitting of a true sport utility vehicle. This is the cabin of an SUV that is made to go fast and keep everyone inside comfortable while going fast – all with amenities that rival many luxury SUVs.

The Drive
The 2014 Dodge Durango R/T is powered by the tried and true 5.7L Hemi that, in this application, sends 360 horsepower and 390lb-ft of torque to all four wheels via an advanced all wheel drive system. New for 2014 is the 8 speed automatic transmission that helps to improve fuel economy while also improving performance. The biggest advantage of this new 8-speed automatic transmission is that the engineers are able to set up the numerically lower gears (1-4) more aggressively, which helps to improve low end acceleration and the ease with which the Durango R/T will tow a trailer while the numerically higher gears – particularly the 6th, 7th and 8th gears – are geared far less aggressively. This allows the 5.7L Hemi engine to run at lower RPM when cruising at high speeds and those lower RPMs lead to lower fuel usage.

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The official fuel economy numbers for the 2014 Durango R/T AWD are 14mpg around town, 22 on the highway and 16 combined; numbers that are only slightly better than the 13 city, 20 highway and 15 combined from the previous model year but in a battle of inches – every little bit makes a big difference. My time spent driving the 2014 Durango R/T was filled with miserable snowy conditions that hurt my observed fuel economy so I only averaged around 15mpg, but it should be noted that on one clear day I was able to observe slightly over 22mpg on a long highway trip. Based on that, I believe that the Durango R/T AWD is very capable of hitting the EPA fuel economy figures and with some gentle driving, owners should be able to slightly exceed those official numbers.

The slight improvement in official fuel economy figures is a nice marketing piece for the 2014 Dodge Durango R/T, but in all reality most folks looking to buy a performance minded full sized SUV aren’t all that concerned with MPGs. They are, on the other hand, far more interested in the real performance capabilities of the Durango R/T and fortunately – that is where this brawny SUV really shines. With 360 horsepower and 390lb-ft of torque on tap, this big SUV hustles from a stop in a big hurry with the roar of the mighty Hemi under the hood. The all wheel drive system assures that there is no wheelspin on a good, hard launch and the aggressively geared 8-speed transmission provides incredible acceleration with quick, positive shifts keeping the Hemi in the powerband from a stop to well beyond any posted speed limit. Those acceleration rates are almost as nearly as impressive when cruising at speeds on the highway so when you feel the need to swing out and blow past slower moving traffic – the Durango R/T is more than happy to answer the call. Best of all, when you don’t want your SUV so launch of sound like a muscle car, the Durango R/T is quiet and mild mannered under normal everyday driving situations. Also, under normal driving conditions, the 8-speed transmission shifts calmly and quietly enough that you won’t notice that it has 8 gears. However, when you are driving the Durango R/T hard, the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters provide incredible control while both upshifting and downshifting – bringing an extra element of added fun to the drive.

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The R/T in the name 2014 Dodge Durango R/T stands for “Road and Track”, and like most other vehicles with the R/T badging the new Durango has a suspension system that is designed for sportier driving. Sitting a little lower than other large SUVs, the Durango offers surprising road-hugging abilities in both tight turns and sweeping high speed turns so while it won’t handle like the Charger R/T – the Durango R/T affords the driver far more capacity to hammer the twisties than any large SUV I’ve driven under $60k. Where some SUVs feel more like half ton pickups in terms of handling, the Durango R/T feels more like a large sedan when you pushed to the limits. Best of all, Dodge was able to design this suspension setup in a way that gives the Durango impressive cornering abilities, but they did so in a way that preserves a high level of ride quality. The ride is stiffer than some of the more luxury focused SUVs, but it doesn’t beat you up when cruising at highway speeds…even on the rough roads of the Metro Detroit area.

The one place where the 2014 Dodge Durango R/T AWD might not offer the same level of capabilities as its cousin the Jeep Grand Cherokee is in offroading situations. The Durango sits relatively low with a sporty stance enhanced by the low-reaching body cladding. This makes the Durango R/T look sportier, but the lack of ground clearance will prevent you from doing much hardcore driving in wooded areas. However, the all wheel drive system makes this performance minded SUV a real beast in the snow. While driving the Durango R/T, I found myself leaving the Detroit airport into what was one of the biggest snow storms of the year. The highways leading me home were so slippery with deep snow that there were four wheel drive pickups stuck on the side of the road, joined by a great many on-road accidents with vehicles of all types. The Durango R/T had no problems traveling at the low rate of speed and once I got away from traffic, this brawny Dodge SUV made short work of the snow covered roads. While it is an awesome performance vehicle in clear weather, it is also a supreme winter vehicle in even the worst possible conditions.

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The odds are good that if you are considering the 2014 Dodge Durango R/T, you want a large SUV that will provide plenty of driving excitement and this Durango makes good on every expectation. This is one of the most exciting SUVs I have driven and I believe it to be THE best SUV under $50k in terms of performance capabilities…but it achieves that high level of fun to drive factor without killing the comfortable ride and solid fuel economy needed to serve as a daily driver.

The Final Word
If you are in the market for a full sized SUV that packs enough power to cure the need for speed but you don’t want to face the $60+ price tag of the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT – the 2014 Dodge Durango R/T is the vehicle for you. The 5.7L Hemi coupled with the new 8-speed transmission and the available all wheel drive system makes this one of the most entertaining SUVs sold in America from a driver’s standpoint but more importantly, this drivetrain also makes the Durango R/T unstoppable in the worst that winter has to offer.

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The Durango R/T packs the American muscle feel that is nearly impossible to find in today’s market, but it does so without killing the versatility and capabilities that are required of a full sized sport utility vehicle. This is a full sized hauler that will get your blood pumping every time you put the pedal to the floor while still being able to do everything that you would get from any other (less exhilarating) large SUV sold in America for under $50k. To get a combination of driving fun and go-anywhere capabilities like this from another SUV, you have to step up to the likes of the Porsche Cayenne or the aforementioned SRT Jeep but those models will run you far more than the sub-50k price as tested of the 2014 Durango R/T – making the top of the line Durango one of the best bargain options in the world of the true SPORT utility vehicles.

If you are in the market for a full size SUV that focuses more closely on performance, I would recommend the rear wheel drive version of the 2014 Durango R/T (especially if you live in an area that doesn’t experience a real winter), but if you want an SUV that can do pretty much anything that other SUVs can do while also providing a near-muscle car like driving experience – the Durango R/T should be your next new vehicle.


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Comments

Great review article on the 2014 Dodge Durango R/T AWD