The Evolution of the Dodge Durango

2015 Dodge Durango

The 2015 Dodge Durango represents 18 years of history. It is the most recent in the third generation of Durangos, and it represents some of the finest automotive technology and design in the line.

Learning more about the evolution of the Dodge Durango, including how it changed from a mid-sized SUV to a full-sized SUV, can help you appreciate all that the current generation of the Durango offers and understand why it is one of the best SUVs on the market.

Here’s what you need to know about the evolution of the Dodge Durango:

First Generation

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The first Dodge Durango was introduced in 1998 and was based on the same platform as the Dodge Dakota. It was classified as a mid-size SUV, though it could hold up to eight passengers, which is more than most SUVs currently on the market.

The first Dodge Durango was only available in four-wheel drive, and it came with a 5.2-liter Magnum V8 engine. The engine was 318 cubic inches and had 230 horsepower and 300 pounds per feet of torque. It was a strong SUV that was able to two up to 8,950 pounds.

That year, a special version known as the R/T was released with all-wheel drive and a 5.9-liter Magnum V8 engine with 245 horsepower and 330 pounds per feet of torque. That engine would become standard on later models.

The early Dodge Durango looked similar to today’s models. The first model was released with Viper blue paint and two racing stripes down the center, giving it a sportier look than what most SUVs now have.

In 1999, Dodge released the Durango with two-wheel drive and a 3.9-liter Magnum V6 engine. Design changes on the 1999 model included two new paint colors, heated rear-view mirrors, radio controls on the steering wheel, and leather seats.

The 2000 Durango ushered in the 4.7-liter PowerTech V8 engine for four-wheel drive models, but some early models still had the option of the 5.2-liter engines. An R/T version of the 2000 model came with a 5.9-liter Magnum V8 engine and all-wheel drive.

The 2001 year got several design upgrades to give the Durango a bit of a facelift. An electronic vehicle information center was added to the overhead console, and the console, instrument panel, dash controls and steering wheel were redesigned. Dual-zone climate control was introduced, and an improved sound system was added, including SX speakers. Other changes included interior trim, door panels, seats and aluminum wheels.

The first generation of the Dodge Durango closed out with the 2002 and 2003 models, which featured few upgrades. The 2002 model saw the introduction of option side curtain airbags, and the 2003 version got four-wheel disc brakes.

Trim levels for the first generation included SLT, SLT Plus, S.P. 360 (available only on 1999 and 2000 models), SXT (2001-2003 models) and Sport and R/T.

Second Generation

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The second generation of the Dodge Durango was ushered in with the 2004 model and ended in 2009. The new, larger Durango was introduced at the 2003 Detroit Auto Show. It was seven inches longer and two inches wider than the previous model, as well as three inches taller. It had three rows of seating and could hold eight passengers, like the previous models, but it offered a bit more leg and cargo room.

The second generation was based on the styling of the Dodge Powerbox, which was based on the Power Wagon and Durango R/T concepts. It had a large frame that was fully boxed, and its hood and front looked a lot like classic Dodge trucks.

Mechanically speaking, the second generation was updated with a coil-spring rear suspension system and a solid rear axle for better performance and durability. The new Durango was given greater stability with a Watt’s linkage system that was fitted to the rear axle, reducing the risk of slips on rough surfaces. The change also accommodated a lower, wider rear cargo platform, making it easier for drivers to load cargo and making room for larger cargo.

Three engine choices were available: A 3.7-liter PowerTech V6 with 210 horsepower, a 4.7-liter PowerTech V8 with 235 horsepower, and a 5.7-liter HEMI V8 with 335 horsepower.

Sales of the second generation Dodge Durango only declined over time, which prompted to Dodge to introduce a redesign for 2007. The 2007 Dodge Durango featured new head lights, fenders, grille, hood and wheels. Mechanically, it got a new tire pressure monitoring system, electronic stability control, rear parking assist and one-touch turn signals — features that are standard on many Dodge models now.

In 2009, Dodge introduced a hybrid version of the Durango and discontinued the line altogether. The hybrid model was produced alongside the Chrysler Aspen Hybrid and it featured a 5.7-liter HEMI engine with MDS and a Two-Mode Hybrid system. The hybrid models were slower than their standard counterparts but had a 25 percent to 40 percent gain on mileage, for the city and highway respectively.

The hybrid went on sale at the same time Chrysler announced it would close the Newark assembly facility where the Durango was built and discontinued the Durango line. Sales for full-size SUVs were waning, and the company ended production in December 2008. The company only sold 3,521 units for the 2009 model year, compared to 189,840 in 1999, its best sales year for the Durango.

Third Generation

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Dodge revived the Durango line after only two years and introduced the third and current generation in 2011.

Built at the same facility as the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, the 2011 Dodge Durango also shared some of its components, such as chassis parts, power trains and running gear, but it kept its third row of seating, compared to the Cherokee’s two. The standard engine on the 2011 Durango was a 3.6-liter V6 engine with 290 horsepower and 260 pounds per feet of torque. Special models came with a 5.7-liter HEMI VVT V8 engine with 360 horsepower. The new HEMI option also came with a fuel-saver mode that cut down on consumption when driving at consistent speeds over level terrain.

In 2014, Dodge updated the Durango with a sportier look and features similar to the Rallye and the Charger. The 2014 Dodge Durango had a black plastic bumper and outline and LED racetrack tail lights. The 2014 Durango got an eight-speed automatic transmission and a Thin-Film Transistor display that was configurable to driver preferences.

Dodge gave the Durango its final facelift in the latest model. The 2015 Dodge Durango has smoother lines for a sleeker silhouette and it keeps the racetrack tail lights. Inside, it has all the bells and whistles a driver would want, including three-zone climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, split-folding rear seat backs and integrated steering wheel controls.

The 2015 Dodge Durango has a 3.6-liter V6 engine and an eight-speed shiftable automatic transmission. It includes features like traction control, emergency braking assist, point-collision safety system and front, rear and third-row airbags.

The 2015 Dodge Durango may well be the last in the line. Dodge is rumored to discontinue the Durango as Fiat Chrysler moves production of SUVs to the Jeep brand while focusing on cars and crossovers for the Dodge brand. Other reports suggest that the Durango might get a facelift after the introduction of the new Jeep Grand Wagoneer.

Whatever happens with the Durango, we’ll always have previously owned models of past generations to drive. Of course, now would be a great time to pick up a 2015 Dodge Durango to own a piece of history and have your last shot of owning this line.