Roadtrip road test: 2015 Dodge Durango Citadel AWD [Review]
Summer is officially upon us, which can only mean one thing — it’s road trip season.
Back in the day that meant piling up the family and all of their gear into a wood-paneled wagon. But things have changed quite a bit since then, with the modern crossover taking over as the family truckster of choice.
And thanks to the crossover’s meteoric rise in popularity, there’s not shortage of options in the market place today. Heck, soon you’ll be able to buy a utility vehicle from the likes of Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin and even Lotus (!).
Where to start
While it’s good to have options, that veritable sea of crossovers flooding the market can make the shopping process a little daunting. But like anything, you need to start with your needs.
For our evaluation purposes, we focused on the larger-end of the crossover segment. After all, if you’re going to haul a family and a week’s worth of supplies to the lake, you’re going to need as much space as possible.
Like many of you, we consider ourselves driving enthusiasts. That means we like a little sport to go along with our utility. Using that as a criteria, we scratched many capable but not necessarily exciting rigs off our list, like the Nissan Pathfinder, Ford Explorer and Chevrolet Traverse.
Toeing the company’s Zoom-Zoom line the Mazda CX-9 is a good handler, but its interior is a little behind the times. So with our list whittled down, we finally settled on what is considered by many to be the best handling vehicle in the large crossover segment — the Dodge Durango.
The test subject
With our minds made up we rang up Dodge to see what they had available for our summer road trip test. What we got in return was a 2015 Durango Citadel AWD.
For those that don’t know, the Citadel is the top trim in the Durango range, so it pretty much comes loaded in base form. However, our tester came with a few additional goodies, including a tech pack that featured things like blind spot warning and adaptive cruise control, a kid-friendly rear-seat entertainment system, and flip and fold second row captain’s chairs. Just about the only option box that was left blank was the one for Dodge’s 5.7L V8. The cost for all that technology and comfort? $50,770, including a destination charge of $995.
Like every road trip, ours started with the life-size game of Tetris known as packing the car.
The Durango comes with a rear cargo cover, which was immediately removed and stashed in the garage in the name of space. Once that was dispatched, it was easy to fold and store the third row seats with a couple of levers. Some automakers have moved to electronic actuators to hide their third rows, but we prefer the speed and simplicity of a manual setup.
The Durango is one of the longest vehicles in the full-size crossover segment, but it’s also one of the narrowest, with a width that is nearly three inches shy of Honda‘s latest Pilot. That fact combined with protruding side walls means the Durango’s cargo area doesn’t offer a whole lot of side-to-side room. Still, its long wheelbase and high roof mean you can cram plenty of cargo into the back of the Durango, but you do have to be a little more creative when packing large or bulky items.
In the end we were able to fit all of our gear, which included six suitcases, a large cooler, golf clubs and several other odds and ends. Oh, and the Durango has a small storage bin beneath it’s cargo floor that’s the perfect size for stashing away a few six-packs. And let’s face it, after a long road trip, everyone needs a beer.
We’ll get to the driving part in a bit, but no one is going to have an enjoyable time behind the wheel unless everyone else in the car is entertained and happy. Enter our test car’s $1,995 rear seat entertainment system.
Rather than relying on a single, center-mounted screen, Dodge’s setup uses dual screen integrated into the backs of the front seats, which results in a few key benefits. Firstly, when paired with our test car’s second row captain’s chairs, the screens are directly in front of rear seat passengers rather than up and at an angle. Moreover, the screens can share a single feed from the in-car BluRay player or display two different entertainment options thanks to individual RCA and HDMI hookups. The seat-mounted design also keeps the screens out of the driver’s view; some roof-mounted screens tend obscure the view out the back window. Wireless headsets are also a plus.
The system isn’t, however, without its flaws. The Durango’s center console is already small and the DVD player reduces that space even further. But the biggest problem we encountered was using the system while on the go.
Older kids will be able to use the Dodge-supplied remote to work the system just fine, but parents of younger tots will have a much more frustrating experience. The dash-mounted 8.4-inch screen can control the rear screens, but it’s hardly intuitive. There is no “master” play button, which is a major problem when the entertainment is a modern BluRay disc that contains half-a-dozen previews and then its own menu.
For example, the copy of “Toy Story” we brought along had six chapters to scan through just to get to the main menu. At that point you have to select a language before you can hit the ‘play movie’ button. And it doesn’t end there — following all that you still need to pick if you want to start from the beginning of the movie or start off from where it was last stopped.
The scanning part is simple enough, albeit annoying, but the menu is where it gets really tricky. You have to memorize the order of the prompts and the location of each command on the screen because you’re basically flying blind — all you get up front is a generic set of buttons rather some kind of feed mirroring the options appearing on screen. Scroll too far down the menu and Junior is stuck watching the deleted scenes instead of the main feature. And good luck getting back to the main page once that happens.
To be fair, we’re not sure if this is an issue with Dodge’s system or with in-car BluRay players in general. We rarely see such systems in the cars we test, and it’s even rarer that we actually put them to use. But one thing is for sure, we weren’t huge fans of Dodge’s control interface.
Passengers not interested in catching a flick can make use of the Durango’s WiFi hotspot. However, unlike similar systems on the market, the Durango’s internet relies on a 3G connection rather than a faster 4G LTE connection, so it’s not quite up to the task of streaming videos from services like Netflix. Still, it proved fast enough to check Facebook and even stream This American Life‘s fabulous Serial podcast.
On the road again
Admittedly, the Citadel isn’t the star athlete of the Durango lineup. That title belongs to the Durango R/T and its standard 5.7L V8, sports suspension and performance steering system. But, as we quickly found out, the Citadel is no slouch.
Even with a full load on board, the Citadel’s standard 295-horsepower 3.6L V6 provided plenty of punch. The only time we ever felt the V6 being taxed was when we were accelerating back onto the highway from a roadside rest stop. But even then acceleration was still more than acceptable and comparable to other full-size crossovers on the market.
Helping the V6’s cause is a standard eight-speed automatic transmission. Power delivery through the ‘box is smooth and shifts are quick and precise. Even with that many cogs to choose from, we never felt the Durango hunting for gears. For those interested in wielding a little more control, the Citadel also comes equipped with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
Though not as peppy as the optional V8, the V6/eight-speed combo made up for its power deficit with good fuel economy. The EPA says the Durango Citadel AWD is good for 19 mpg in the city, 24 mpg on the highway and 19 mpg combined, but we managed to eek out slightly better figures. On our highway runs we saw about 24.5 mpg and our overall stated economy after more than 1,200 miles was 21.3 mpg. Not bad considering we were hauling a full load at speeds north of 70 mph.
The Durango Citadel’s softer suspension also turned out to be a welcome compromise during our week-long journey. Still capable of flashing its athletic side when the road turned twisty, the Durango Citadel also proved to be a comfortable highway muncher. Even with our test car’s 20-inch wheels the Citadel rolled over every type of road imperfection with nary a jolt or jiggle.
Despite its long wheelbase, the Durango wasn’t much more difficult to navigate through town than a large sedan. Steering is light and direct at any speed and its relatively skinny track made for easy maneuvering in parking lots. Aids like blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and a rear-view camera also helped to make city driving a little less stressful.
Adding to the Citadel’s on-road comfort is a quiet and well laid out interior. Though noticeable narrower than other full-size utilities like the Chevrolet Tahoe, the Durango offers plenty of head, shoulder and leg room for front and rear seat passengers. And after spending two, 10-plus hour stints behind the wheel, we can safely say that the Durango’s front thrones, which boast both heating and ventilation, offer all-day comfort.
The third-row in the Durango is surprisingly livable and offers enough head and legroom to be used by actual adults. Naturally we wouldn’t suggest the third-row for a cross-country excursion to Wally World, but a ride into town and back is perfectly doable. Going by our unofficial seat-of-the-pants measurements, we’d say the Durango’s third-row is second in the segment in terms of space and comfort, losing out only to Honda’s latest Pilot. Accessing the third row is done via a flip-and-fold second row.
Other than finicky rear seat DVD controls, we found the Durango’s 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system to be easy to use and a snap to navigate. Voice commands for navigation and text message responses were particularly useful during our long days on the road.
Equipped for the modern family, the Durango has several USB ports located throughout its cabin. However, as we mentioned earlier, storage space for portable devices is at somewhat of a premium. Materials in the Durango are generally first-rate, but some items, like the HVAC buttons, feel a little flimsy and low-rent. Overall the Durango’s interior feels on par with its near-luxury positioning.
We’re not a fan of rotary shift knobs in other Fiat Chrysler products and the one used in the Durango doesn’t do anything to change that stance. Our only other real complaint with the Durango was a key fob that didn’t always know where it was — on several occasions we received a “key has left the vehicle” dash warning even though the fob was safely on-board.
The Durango has been with us in the same basic form since 2011, but Dodge has updated it to keep it looking modern. Our Citadel model offers a few additional upgrades over the standard Durango like a chrome grille and mirror caps.
Despite sporting a shape that’s nearly five-years old, the Durango remains a sharp SUV that looks just at home hauling the kids to the beach as it does sitting outside a fine dining establishment. Chrome accents generally aren’t our cup of tea, but the shiny bits used on the Durango Citadel manage to come across as tasteful rather than gaudy.
The Durango’s front LED lights are nothing to write home about, but the ‘racetrack’ treatment given the rear beams gives it a unique look that really stands out on the road. The taillight treatment also connects the Durango with the Charger sedan, upholding the SUV’s sporty positioning.
Opinions will vary, but we found our test car’s Deep Cherry Red over tan leather color combination to be quite striking. Ditto for the 20-inch polished wheels.
Leftlane‘s bottom line
Though not perfect, the Dodge Durango Citadel remains a strong option in the full-size crossover segment. It may not offer the interior storage space of vehicles like the Honda Pilot and the Toyota Highlander, but the Durango makes up for its shortcomings with excellent driving dynamics and a long list of available features. If you’re the one actually doing the driving on family road trips, the Dodge Durango should be on your radar.
2015 Dodge Durango Citadel AWD base price, $43,495. As tested, $50,770.
Technology Group, $1,995; Rear DVD Entertainment Center, $1,995; Trailer Tow Group IV, $995; Second Row Fold/Tumble Captain Chairs, $995; Second Row Console with Armrest and Storage, $300; Destination, $995.
Photos by Drew Johnson.
Roadtrip road test: 2015 Dodge Durango Citadel AWD [Review] Reviewed by Drew Johnson on July 22 We hit the road for a review of Dodge’s top-spec Durango. Rating: 3.5