Well, almost. As all you operatic coloraturas already know, a hemidemisemiquaver is the equivalent of half a demisemiquaveron no less of an authority than the Oxford English Dictionary. Plain and simple, it’s a sixty-fourth note; whereas the all-new Dodge Durango represents something like one sixty-seventh of the field of sport/utility vehicles presently playing arpeggio with our traffic systems.
And as all you couch-bound teletubbies already know, the new Dodge Durango is the only SUV available with venerable “Hemi” horsepower so reverently adored by wide-eyed male suburbanites whose Mrs. Cleaver wives are more primly preoccupied with airbags and rear-seat DVD theaters for the children. I do feel sorry for these children. It seems like everybody is trying to put words in their mouths (”Can you say, ’Hemi’?”) before they’re old enough to fend for themselves.
It’s getting so an auto reviewer doesn’t know what to be opinionating about anymore. If I light into a discussion of Durango’s 5.7-liter V8 “Hemi,” do I kick off with the legendary hemispherical combustion chambers from the muscle-car ’60s? Or do I point out that carbureted drag-racing V8s are the dodo birds of our 21st-century biomeand that today’s fuel-injected, computer-modulated “Hemi” shares very little with its hallowed ancestor?
Then again, maybe it’s the 384-watt Infinity AM/FM/in-dash six-CD audio system backed by an optional DVD entertainment center ($1,150) that should comprise the soul of a modern auto review. Not enough “Sponge Bob” in your baby’s day? There’s even hope for Mom and Dad now that “Bubba the Love Sponge” has been yanked off the air. Maybe he’ll establish his new orbit with Sirius satellite radio, which is another Durango option ($325).
A love of driving may have gotten me into this game; but it’s punk of me to imply that a marketplace capable of procreating 67 different SUV models is somehow veering off track. Time for me to get aboard, I suppose.
The first thing I notice is that SUVs, however driveable they may or may not be, are eminently empirical. You evaluate them by counting things. Cupholders, for instance. Well, okay, that’s not so good for starters since the new Durango has more cupholders than I could conclusively count. So let’s try again with the “fast food bin.” Yep, there is one. Only one. The only one I know of in the business, in fact, and it sits at the base of a giant central console.
On to occupants: There’s room for seven, distributed among three rows. Moreover the third row folds and tumbles flat, and the second row split-folds in 40/20/40 sections. This initiates impressive permutations for commingling different numbers of passengers and things. All told, the Durango boasts 20 cu. ft. of anytime storage behind row three; 68.4 cu. ft. behind row two; and 102 cubes behind the driver and front passenger.
Front airbags are standard. That’s the law. But that’s it. Two standard airbags. If you want more, you’ll have to add the three-row head-curtain airbags, a $495 option.
With the optional 5.7-liter Hemi underhood ($895), there are lots more goodies to count. There’s 335 horsepower, and there’s 370 ft.-lbs. of torque. That’s an impressive herd of ponies, and Durango makes the most of ’em. With the all-time four-wheel-drive powertrain, supplemented by an optional tow package ($455), the Hemi-powered Durango tows up to 8,700 lbs. (Make that 8,950 lbs., by the way, if you opt for a rear-wheel-drive Hemi-D.)
Payload capacity is a bit more chary at 1,520 lbs. Let’s say you’ve got a full house, with Mom and Dad up front and five 12-year-olds whacked on Sponge Bubbauh, Bobin back. By my conservative count, you’re looking at about 750 lbs. remaining payload, tops. Go easy on that fast food bin for the time being, I’d suggest.
So far, pretty good numbers for Durango, wouldn’t you say? Some of ’em are best or near-best in class. And then there’s mileagehemdemisemi mileage, in a manner of speaking. The 5.7-liter Durango gets just 13 miles-per-gallon/city and 18 miles-per-gallon/highway. It’s hardly a matter of splitting hairs into little hemi-sized shafts to say, “Shame!” Dodge’s defense, of course, is to protest, “Everybody does it.” Full-size SUVs are uniformly bibulous. But Dodge’s brouhaha over the 2004 Durango is about what’s so new, new, new. An uncreative surrender to this level of mileage from a modern engine design is, by contrast, tediously old.
It is, moreover, a pall over a roomy, versatile vehicle that turns out to be, well, very enjoyable to drive. Physics is physics, you say; and it takes lots of fuel and motor to move 5,079 lbs. through space. Fair enough; but those same physics have somehow been updated when it comes to the suspension.
Even with its older-style live rear axle, the new Durango rides crisply through traffic, handles smartly through corners. Steering feel is direct and light. Even five years ago, vehicles this size lumbered, waddled, pitched down the road. Today, this two-and-a-half-ton Durango drives like a pup weighing one hemi as much.
So how’d Dodge do that? And why can’t Dodgeanyonemake as substantial gains in high-output V8 fuel efficiency? Couldn’t we at least get a stump-pulling, fuel-saving diesel for dedicated highway cruisers and trailer-pullers?
Don’t hold your breath. With 67 SUVs to choose from, it’s clear that nobody’s yet complaining too much about spendthrift mileage. Cheeky TV spots teaching toddlers how to say “Hemi” raise a smile, after all. What will be the reaction when those kids, all grown up now, pull up to the fuel pump and learn to say, “Ouch”?