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Updated 2014 Dodge Durango proves to be a towing machine

Updated 2014 Dodge Durango proves to be a towing machine

One of the occupational hazards of this job is being surrounded by the latest-and-greatest cars and trucks. Usually, I’m capable of warding off temptation. But there’s a chink in my armor. It boils down to a simple equation: Eight is better than five.

That’s the number of speeds in the automatic transmission in the updated 2014 Dodge Durango—compared to the five-speed transmission in my 2011 Durango. I own the Hemi-powered SUV for one big (well, 23-foot-long) reason: towing my 5,500-pound 2007 Airstream Safari SE trailer. My wife and I tow the trailer almost every weekend during camping season, plus an annual two-week trip, so our Durango spends a lot of time as a beast of burden. Turns out that adding those extra gears transforms the towing experience.

I hitched my trailer up to a 2014 Durango Citadel V8; CR recently paid Chrysler to try out a press car, since we’ll purchase a 3.6-liter V6-equipped Durango—the most popular engine choice—for our test fleet. While some of the Durango’s other changes, such as the new-for-2014 Uconnect touch-screen system, are welcome, the new transmission is the big draw here.

Acceleration is effortless, even when towing the trailer uphill, as the transmission better utilizes the Hemi’s power. I couldn’t resist measuring 0-to-60 mph times while towing my trailer on our track; 14.9 seconds is a pretty strong performance. And in regular commuting without the trailer, I can eke out two more mpg with the 2014 than with my truck.

But the subjective experience is more important than the numbers. Eight gears instead of five means you’ll probably find one better-tailored to your quest for power. You hardly notice the smooth-and-silky little steps between gears, and the transmission usually stays between fifth and eighth on the highway.

By comparison, the big steps among the just-five gears in my 2011 Durango deliver big jumps in engine noise as the V8 sometimes has to shift into a lower-than-optimal gear, typically hitting third to pull uphill. And my five-speed transmission’s shift quality is far from smooth. (The 2012-2013 Hemi-powered Durangos have six-speed transmissions. They might be better but still not as good as the great eight.)

Otherwise, I’m plenty happy with my 2011 Durango. (And my sister is happy with her 2012 model.)  My SUV has needed only one repair in 35,000 miles, and that’s with more than 10,000 of those towing the trailer.

As I mull the temptation to upgrade, I’m frustrated that you now need to buy a top-trim Citadel or R/T to get forward-collision warning, updated with autonomous braking capability for 2014. I want that safety gear without the stiffer-riding 20-inch tires that come standard with those trims. Earlier Durangos, like mine, had wider availability of those options.

But that’s not the main impediment to buying a new Durango. You see, my wife is also plenty happy with our 2011 Durango, and she’s got veto power. The plan now is to wait until the 5-year powertrain warranty expires on our car. So expect to see me in the Dodge showroom in January 2016—unless some other temptation strikes in the meantime.

Tom Mutchler

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