AUTO REVIEW: 2017 Dodge Durango Throws Its Weight Around

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(Tribune News Service/TNS) - The average American man is 5 feet 9 inches tall, weighs 195.5 pounds and has a waist size of nearly 40 inches, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The average femme fatale is 5 feet 4 inches, 166 pounds, with a waist slightly more than 37 inches. Clearly, the only weight watching Americans are doing is watching it grow.

This means the small, front-wheel-drive cars the Environmental Protection Agency and their cronies would prefer you drive don’t provide the space, comfort and utility to accommodate our bulk. If you weigh more than 200 pounds, finding comfort behind the wheel of a Chevy Spark or Kia Rio simply isn’t going to happen. Besides, there’s also the idea of proportion. If you’re a larger person, stepping from a vehicle sized like a clown car makes you look like a, um, well, never mind.

So, if you’re looking for a ride that won’t make you look like Bozo, consider the 2017 Dodge Durango. The plenty-large SUV employs the Jeep Grand Cherokee platform, which, developed in the dying days of the DaimlerChrysler Corporation, is related to that of the Mercedes-Benz M-Class.

The Dodge Durango is powered by a 293-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 or a 360-horsepower 5.7-liter V-8. Both engines are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Base SXT and volume-leader GT models get the V-6; sporty R/T and premium Citadel models get the V-8. All models come with rear-wheel or all-wheel drive but there are important differences: SXT and GT models get a single-speed, full-time system that lacks a low range, something addressed by the two-speed, active-on-demand system on R/T and Citadel trims. This means if you need a low range for off-road duties, you have to opt for a V-8.

And what’s wrong with that? Absolutely nothing.

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After all, with all of the extra weight Americans and their offspring now carry around, the extra power will come in useful, especially if you opt for the higher trim levels. Acceleration is effortless, as the Citadel test model quickly proved. The transmission furnished quick shifts, always keeping the engine speed just where it was needed. The steering seemed perfectly weighted with a trace of feel, making hustling this sizeable outbuilding on wheels much easier than it should be, while providing more than a little fun.

Yet the Citadel seems happier on paved surfaces than off, where the tires seemed to lack the grip needed to handle dirt roads, although bump absorption was impressive as the vehicle was rock-solid and free of flex and rattles.

Best of all, fuel economy was a budget-friendly 21 mpg. That’s very good for a two-ton, V-8-powered, all-wheel-drive truck.

The Citadel’s interior had a premium feel that matched its premium price. In fact, it was better equipped than most homes. The front seats were wide, accommodating and comfortable during long stretches in the saddle. The second row bucket seats had heaters and were separated by a convenient console, with each seat possessing its own screen as part of the optional Premium Entertainment Group package, which also includes a Blu-ray-DVD player and a Beats premium audio system.

In fact, there are any number of option packages, most of which lend the Durango a distinct look. And while some seem dubious — would you really want the Brass Monkey Appearance Package? — there are a couple well worth considering.

The first is the Technology Group, which adds important driver assistance safety systems, including adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with active braking, brake assist, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross path detection.

If you plan to tow with your Durango — it can yank up to 7,400 pounds of your favorite plaything — you’ll want the Trailer-tow Group IV, which adds a 220-amp alternator, heavy-duty engine oil cooler, Class IV hitch receiver, 4- and 7-pin wiring harness, rear load-leveling shocks and a full-size spare tire. It can be paired with the Skid Plate Group, which adds skid plates for the fuel tank, transfer case and underbody, and a brush guard.

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Regardless of how you equip the Durango, whether it’s two rows or three, V-6 or V-8, rear- or all-wheel drive, you’ll find it’s very much the accommodating family room.

And it’s large enough to accommodate your entire brood and a week’s worth of groceries. According to the CDC, that could be significant. Just keep in mind that vehicle payload is as little as 1,280 pounds and tops out at 1,420 pounds.

Your family might need to go on a diet.

Base prices: $29,995–$45,090

Engine: 3.6-liter V6; 5.7-litre Hemi V-8

Horsepower: 293 (V-6); 360 (V-8)

Torque: 260 pound-feet (V-6); 390 pound-feet (V-8)

Fuel type: Regular (V-6); Mid-grade (V-8)

EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 18-18/25-26 (V-6); 14/22 (V-8)

Wheelbase: 119.8 inches

Length: 201.2 inches

Ground clearance: 8.1 inches

Cargo capacity: 17.2-84.5 cubic feet

Towing capacity: 6,200-7,400 pounds

Curb weight: 5,397 pounds

NHTSA rating: 4 stars