by Aiden Eksteen
Hemi V8 power, versatile utility, and everything badass - these were the ingredients chosen to create what Dodge deems to be the perfect midsize SUV: the Dodge Durango R/T. It's the muscle car for those who need to seat up to seven, and with the Road/Track badge affixed to its tailgate, you can bet there's a whole lot of performance on offer under the hood. A 5.7-liter Hemi V8 churns out 360 horsepower of rumbling thunder, with a start-up loud enough to have anyone exclaiming, "IT'S ALIVE!" like some mad scientist on a morning school run. An eight-speed automatic transmission pumps its life force straight to the R/T's rear wheels as standard, or all four wheels optionally - the R/T's monstrous acceleration, commodious three-row cabin, and class-leading maximum tow capacity of 7,400 lbs are just a few of the R/T's superpowers. That said, the R/T faces stiff competition from the Honda Pilot and Hyundai Palisade; is a V8 all it needs to blow the competition away?
The changes are minimal for 2020, most amounting to visual upgrades. When optioning on either the available Blacktop or the Brass Monkey Packages, the R/T's chrome Hemi front fender badge is featured in matte black, while a new 20-inch wheel design with a gloss-black finish is included in the Blacktop Package. The only 'equipment' changes amount to a new Premium Interior Package that has been made available. This package enhances the R/T with a Dinamica suede-wrapped headliner with a matching finish on the hand-wrapped instrument panel with live accent stitching.
In terms of appearance, the R/T takes on the mantle of being a performance-based derivative, which is why it borrows elements from its SRT-badged big brother, including a functional hood scoop flanked by hot air extractors. Other muscle-car attributes peak through the brawny visage, such as the LED taillights that run the width of the Durango and are incredibly similar to the setup on the Dodge Charger, while dual tailpipes act as conduits for the V8's rumble to be heard. Automatic HID headlights with LED daytime running lights, body-colored bumpers, and a rear lip spoiler complete the look. As for the wheels, a set of 20-inch Satin Carbon finish alloys are standard, while gloss black items are available with the Blacktop Package. Also available, the Brass Monkey Package adds brass-colored alloys and black exterior badging, while a range of over-the-top stripes are available to remind you you're still in a muscle car.
The Durango shares the same platform as the Jeep Grand Cherokee but has a longer wheelbase of 119.8 inches to provide for a third-row of seating, making it a relatively big vehicle. It's bigger than even the Ford Explorer; with an overall length of 201.2 inches, the R/T is 2.4 inches longer than the Explorer and it's around two inches taller at 71.9 inches. It's a big machine, accentuated by a width of 75.8 inches while keeping the Durango R/T grounded is a mammoth curb weight of 5,176 lbs in RWD guise and 5,381 lbs when equipped with AWD.
Highly customizable, the 2020 Durango R/T is available in one of ten exterior hues, with nine available at no cost and most of which are inherited from Dodge's muscle car lineup. No-cost colors include stealthy options like DB Black, White Knuckle, Billet Clear-Coat, and Granite Clear-Coat for when you feel like blending in with the rest of the soccer moms, while those who want to embrace their inner hooligan would be better suited to shades of Destroyer Grey, Reactor Blue, Octane Red, Redline 2, and F8 Green. A lone premium option is available, asking $595 for Vice White, while if you hand Dodge the sum of $1,195, you can get full-length stripes in Bright Blue, Flame Red, Gunmetal Low Gloss, or Sterling Silver. We'll take ours with F8 Green and a set of Sterling Silver stripes, please.
In a cookie-cutter segment defined by naturally-aspirated V6s and front-wheel-drive, the Durango R/T shakes things up in more than just a few ways. There's no FWD econo-boxing here, as the R/T uses a muscle-car-inspired RWD platform - with all-wheel-drive available - and packs a Hemi V8 under the hood to deliver some of the best performance this side of the premium segment. 360 hp and heaploads of torque give the Durango R/T a best-in-class towing capacity of up to 7,400 lbs in RWD form, while AWD-equipped derivatives only see a loss of 200 lbs of capacity. The R/T isn't just a workhorse, though. With muscle car styling and an engine shared with some of the most hallowed names in muscle car lore, there's the ability to turn the rear tires to clouds of smoke or hook up cleanly and slingshot from 0-60 mph in 6.2 seconds. Need more pace? Then there's an SRT version just for you - reviewed separately.
Dodge has a history of big, brawny V8s, and the Durango R/T continues that legacy. While lesser trims get a standard V6, the R/T gets a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 shoved into the engine bay, mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox. The naturally aspirated motor generates 360 hp and 390 lb-ft of twist, and in typical old-school V8 fashion, that torque is available right down low. It works a treat for the 5,000-pound-plus Durango R/T, allowing it to take off from traffic lights enthusiastically, getting up to highway speeds with no fuss, and making overtaking almost too easy a feat. The eight-speed 'box is smooth and measured in its responses, keeps the engine in the sweet spot at all times, and makes towing an absolute breeze.
Sure, it's thirsty and the noise intrudes the cabin, but for the family man who can no longer own a Challenger due to family commitments, the Durango R/T's V8 is a perfect way to reminisce about the good old days when the kids weren't around.
Despite a substantial amount of mass to be supported, the Durango R/T's suspension does a pretty bang-up job of carrying the crossover's weight through corners. It treads a fine line between comfort and sportiness, and with the standard rear-wheel drivetrain, there's a genuine athletic demeanor to the way the Durango tackles corners. While road imperfections might permeate the calm a little more frequently than plush three-rowers like the Kia Telluride, it's a worthwhile trade-off for a crossover that does its damndest to remind you that driving is still fun - even if you own a crossover.
Sadly, the brakes and steering didn't quite get the memo, however, as they belie the SUV platform underpinning the Durango. There's a vagueness to the steering and its slow responses mean there's a tangible delay between inputs and turn-in response, while the brakes don't quite cope with the circa 5,200-pound mass as well a the brawny V8 does.
The Durango R/T is certainly an outlier among the crossover crowd, and those in search of a premium-feeling sensory deprivation chamber won't be fans of the ride and handling dynamics, while performance enthusiasts will only be happy until the point the steering and brakes remind them they're not in a sport-wagon.
Epic V8 power means not-so-epic fuel economy, and considering the R/T's sport-tuned underpinnings and hefty curb weight, one should never expect anything better than the EPA estimates of 14/22/17 mpg city/highway/combined that both the RWD and AWD models return. The standard versions of the Durango, which are equipped with a V6 mill, are far more fuel-efficient, returning 19/26/21 mpg - but those who yearn for a V8-powered crossover will likely care little for the compromise. The R/T is equipped with a large 24.6-gallon gas tank, availing it with a maximum drive range of around 418 miles in varied driving conditions.
Buyers upgrading from a Charger or Challenger will feel a familiarity when climbing into the cabin of the Durango R/T, with a similar design and a matching assortment of plus, soft-touch materials. However, soft-touch doesn't always mean high-quality, and the Duranbgo's materials are beginning to show their age when placed alongside newer rivals like the Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade. Still, most will appreciate the thoughtful layout, simple controls, and intuitive infotainment suite, while the plush, supportive seats will be a boon for long family road trips. Seating up to seven, the second and third rows aren't the most spacious, but overall, the Durango R/T has an interior that's hard not to like.
With three rows of seating on a stretched platform shared with the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Durango R/T seats either seven in default configuration or six when opting for the second-row Fold and Tumble captain's chairs - a $,1095 option. Power adjustment is standard for the pair of front perches with eight-way adjustment for the driver and four-way adjustability for the front passenger, and the plush seats provide loads of comfort and ample support when hunting corners. Front passenger room is generous up front, with 40.3 inches of legroom and 39.9 inches of headroom, but moving rearward sees these figures decrease. The second-row seats still accommodate adults with head- and legroom of 39.8 inches and 38.6 inches respectively, but the third-row is far more cramped, with only 37.8 and 31.5 inches available. Accessing the third-row is also a little tricky, unless the second-row captain's chairs are equipped which stow and fold with ease.
Nothing less than leather will do for the Durango R/T with standard Capri leather with perforated suede inserts offered in plain black by default. The optional materials are well worth a browse though, as upgraded Nappa leather with Axis II perforated inserts and Tungsten accent stitching is available in three hues: Black, Radar Red, and a combination of Black and Sepia for a more mature look at $795. Leather trim adorns the doors and dash as standard, and the trim inserts can be specced as genuine carbon fiber for $995, while the instrument panel can be hand-wrapped in premium leather with accent stitching as part of the Premium Interior Group Package, which also adds a Dinamica suede headliner for $1,495.
The purview of a mid-size crossover categorically includes having a spacious cargo bay to house everything a modern family might need. To this end, the Durango fairs well, although it's some way off the best in the segment. Behind the third row of seats, you'll find 17.2 cubic feet, while if you fold the third row - a 50:50 split - you unlock 43.3 cubes. This falls behind the space offered by the Kia Telluride, which boasts 21 and 46 cubes respectively. Folding down all the rear seats in the Durango leaves you with 85.1 cubic feet, once again a couple of cubes shy of Kia's midsize offering. A power liftgate, standard on the R/T adds extra convenience, while a 31.4-inch liftover measurement means the Durango is relatively easy to load up. The front passenger's seat also features a fold-flat function which increases storage versatility for really long items. Dodge claims that the Durango offers up to 50 seating and storage configurations.
There is an abundance of in-cabin storage solutions, too; in the front center console, there are two small-item storage trays, two illuminated cupholders in the front, and an expansive center armrest cubby. All doors feature large storage pockets capable of holding bottles, and there's a seatback map pocket behind each front seat, two cupholders within the second-rows center seat backrest, and a cupholder in the armrests on either side of the third-row seats.
With the R/T slotting in second from the top of the complete Durango range, it gets the lion's share of the available features from Dodge. These include tri-zone climate control, power-adjustable front seats, automatic headlights, heated first and second row seats, a heated steering wheel, optional ventilation for the front perches, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. A federally mandated rearview camera is standard, as is keyless entry, push-button start, and front and rear parking sensors. However, advanced driver aids like adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, and lane keep assist are the reserve of the options list, even at this near range-topping level.
Another high-point for the Dodge Durango R/T is the comprehensive infotainment system that arrives as standard. FCA's Uconnect 8.4 NAV suite boasts a large 8.4-inch touchscreen with intuitive menus and easy operation. The system boasts a complete functionality regiment, with a CD player, AM/FM radio, SiriusXM satellite radio, and media streaming via USB, auxiliary, and Bluetooth. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration are included, as is built-in navigation with SiriusXM Travel Link and SiriusXM Traffic Plus. A ten-speaker Alpine sound system is standard including a subwoofer, but the options list allows for the fitment of a 19-speaker Harman Kardon system with 825 watts of punch.
The Dodge Durango has been on the scene since 2010 in its current form, and despite a number of recalls in its early years, the 2019 and 2020 model years are currently recall-free. Dodge covers the Durango R/T with an industry-typical three-year/36,000-mile basic warranty and a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty with roadside assistance for the same duration.
Based on an older vehicle architecture, the Dodge Durango doesn't score the most exemplary safety scores. From the NHTSA, an overall score of four stars and middling scores from the IIHS (a mix of Good and Marginal in most tests) is backed up by the fact that any front crash prevention equipment is purely optional - a worry when most at this level offer these systems as standard.
Despite middling safety scores, the Durango gets all the basic safety requirements, with safety features like ABS brakes, EBD, stability control, and hill-start assist, as well as front and rear park sensors and a rearview camera. Seven airbags are standard including dual front, front side, side curtain, and a driver's knee airbag. However, the best features are left to the options list, with blind spot monitoring, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and lane departure warning all excluded from the standard specification.
The three-row crossover segment is a hotly-contested one, but few do anything to deviate from the norm, and few truly stand out. It's difficult not to when you're a rear-wheel-drive machine with a Hemi V8 and a set of muscle-stripes running over the hood and roof, and that's what the Durango R/T capitalizes on. It's anything but subtle. It's a muscle-SUV for the muscle enthusiast, but it seats up to seven and has a generous cargo area to boot. What's not to love?
As it turns out, a fair amount. The infotainment suite is excellent and the interior is comfortable and well-laid-out but the Durango doesn't have the most storage space in the segment, nor is it the most feature-packed. It's tremendously thirsty, too, although some might consider the V8 worth the extra expense. But the biggest issue is the lack of standard safety features, even at this high-level stage. You have to spend extra on packages that include equipment the best in the segment offer as standard at a base level. The ride quality is also disrupted by sporty suspension, and at the end of the day, the Durango R/T is feeling its age. It's certainly unique, and many will love its loud, brash nature, but with the Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade in the fray, the Durango just can't compete for all-round competence.
As a top-specced - performance-based model, the Durango R/T is naturally priced higher than the Durango Citadel as it technically sits higher up in the trim ladder, $1,300 higher to be exact with its starting MSRP of $44,295. That's excluding Dodge's hefty destination, processing, and handling fee of $1,495 as well as any tax, registration, or licensing fees. The available AWD system will cost an extra $2,600 to option, and a fully-loaded Durango R/T can easily come to a total price up of $60,000 with added packages; you may want to consider the available options carefully before making a final purchase decision.
The R/T slots in above the Durango Citadel and just below the true performance-variant SRT. As such, it comes solely equipped with a 5.7-liter naturally-aspirated V8 engine coupled to an eight-speed automatic transmission to drive outputs to the R/T's rear-wheel-drivetrain. All-wheel drive is optional.
Starting from the exterior, the R/T is equipped with 20-inch satin carbon alloy wheels and is standard-fit with automatic HID projector headlights, heated power-operated side-view mirrors, and with a power-operated liftgate.
Moving to the inside sees features such as remote keyless access, remote engine start, push-button start, a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel with a power tilt/telescoping steering column, eight-way power-adjustable front seats with four-way power lumbar support, heated front and rear outboard seats, and tri-zone automatic climate control. In the way of safety and driver-assist features, the R/T gets only front and rear parking sensors, an integrated rearview camera, and cruise control.
The Infotainment system comprises an 8.4-inch touchscreen tethered to an AM/FM/SiriusXM-compatible stereo with a premium nine-speaker Alpine sound system. Both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality are standard, as is Bluetooth wireless technology and an onboard navigation system with voice activation.
5.7-liter V8 Gas
There are many optional packages available for the Durango R/T, ranging from appearance packages to equipment groups with all-important driver aids to add on.
The updated Blacktop Package costs $1,195 and equips the R/T with 20-inch high-gloss black aluminum wheels, gloss black badges, and with gloss-black exterior mirrors. The also-updated Brass Monkey Appearance Package equips the R/T with 20-inch Brass Monkey Bronze wheels and with gloss-black badging, also for $1,195.
New for 2020 is a Premium Interior Group which, for $1,495, upgrades the R/T with a premium hand-wrapped instrument panel with live accent stitching and with a Dinamica suede headliner.
An important consideration, the $2,395 Technology Group is available, and installs lane departure warning plus, full-speed forward collision warning plus, advanced brake assist, and with adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality.
There is also a $1,995 Rear DVD Entertainment Center which fits two Blu-ray high-resolution nine-inch screens to the back of each front seat and comes with wireless headphones and a wireless remote.
The R/T's Trailer-Tow Group IV package costs $1,195 to opt-in and equips the R/T with a seven and four-pin wiring harness, a Class IV receiver hitch, heavy-duty engine cooling, a rear load-leveling suspension, and with trailer brake control.
Standalone options include a $1,295 power sunroof, a 19-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system for $995, a $495 blind-spot monitor with cross-path detection, $1,095 second-row captains chairs, a $595 second-row console, and $995 real carbon fiber cabin accents.
With only the one R/T model available, your only decision relates to what options and packages to add on when you purchase the R/T. We recommend opting in the available AWD system for the improved handling dynamics, low-range gearing, and ultimately better light off-road capabilities - bear in mind that this will, however, lower the R/T's maximum towing capability slightly. The available Technology Group is also recommended for the improved safety features, as well as the available blind-spot monitor, which is a standalone option. Both these additions add value as the Durango R/T's standard safety consignment is a little sparse. Either of the appearance packages are really appealing too, adding unique flair to the R/T, especially in terms of the interesting wheel styles and color.
The base model of the Ford Explorer is priced a little more than $7,500 cheaper than the Durango R/T, but the most accurate like-for-like comparison would be with the Explorer ST which is the performance-oriented model in the Explorer lineup. Prospective buyers will be paying in excess of $10,000 more for that model in place of the R/T, but it's equipped with a twin-turbo V6 engine that's not only more powerful than the R/T's V8, but a little more fuel-efficient too, returning 18/24/20 mpg. Having undergone a full redesign for the 2020 model year, the Explorer comes with the latest in design and styling, and subsequently has the more premium-feeling cabin, with more modern appointments including a fully-digital driver display. The Explorer also comes outfitted with a compendium of high-end features as standard and dominates the Durango in the way of advanced driver-assist features and safety. Furthermore, there are a lot more options offered within the Explorer lineup and significantly appealing ones at that. The Explorer is a little more commodious and practical too, making it the better all-rounder SUV, worthy of its higher asking price.
The Chevrolet Traverse is a large crossover SUV and offers seating for up to eight passengers in total, in a more modern cabin than what the Durango provides. The Traverse boasts one of the most spacious cabins in the segment - adults, even in the rear-most seats, will find ample stretch room, which is not so much the case in the Durango R/T. With 23 cu-ft in the trunk, the Traverse is a lot more practical too, though the Durango has the superior towing capacity, offering up to 2,400 lbs more than the Traverse. The Traverse is better equipped with features as standard, including a more comprehensive suite of advanced driver-assists. The Durango R/T delivers the better driving experience, with greater acceleration than what the Traverse's V6 provides, and far more poised handling dynamics. The Traverse is the more comfortable commuter though, and the more fuel-efficient one with estimates of 17/25/20 mpg from the AWD model. If the Traverse's seating for eight isn't required, opt-in the available captain's chairs and compound on its commodious cabin; while the Durango is the better driver's car in terms of engagement and dynamics, the Traverse is the best family SUV in this comparison.