There may be no more underrated vehicle emerging from Detroit than the Dodge Durango. In an era where demand for seven-passenger SUVs seems insatiable, and Chrysler dealers move more metal than Judas Priest, Durango sales fell 18 percent last year. It's not for lack of critical acclaim; the Durango's one of the rare Chrysler products endorsed by turbo lovers and Consumer Reports alike. It's not for lack of technology; much of its underpinnings underpin the more popular Jeep Grand Cherokee and more expensive Mercedes ML-Class. For 2014, Dodge Durango a few key changes, fixing many of the flaws that have kept it from heading out to the highway.
The biggest change to the Durango: the arrival of Chrysler's 8-speed transmission, replacing the janky corporate 5-speed automatic. Dodge says the extra gears and more advanced electronics boost the fuel economy of the 3.6-liter V-6 editions by up to 9 percent and a smaller boost to the 360-hp V-8 exciter. It also gives buyers more control on how parsimonious they want to be with dinosaur juice; the Durango will start up in "eco mode," with various engine tuning tricks to maximize fuel economy, but has a button to turn the green time off if drivers want to feel they're breaking the law.
Outside, the Durango gets a few tweaks, most notably the addition of Dodge's "racetrack" LED taillights. The interiors get more of a workover; new optional captain's chairs, new rear-seat Blu-ray players and screens, and the de rigueur dash updo with an 8.4-inch touch screen. The transmission shifter goes from a traditional gated handle to a smaller rotary knob paired with steering wheel paddles that grants more space to Big Gulp enthusiasts, and for those who demand a constant bath in mobile Internet access, the Uconnect electric eye can switch on a WiFi hotspot.
The Durango will always lie in the shadow of the more popular and luxurious Grand Cherokee, but in a field of painkilling family haulers, the Durango offers a rare bit of personality and, dare say, aggression. For a $30,000 SUV, the Durango seems most likely to make Costco runs in daylight and get to living after midnight.