2012 Dodge Durango road test

The 2012 Dodge Durango starts at $28,995. The 2012 Dodge Durango starts at $28,995. Photo Credit: Handout

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The 2012 Dodge Durango is a midsize crossover with interior volume equal to some larger SUVs.

But this is not the same as the truck-based Durango it replaced last year, although it's still muscular-looking and powerful. It shares its basic architecture with the new Jeep Grand Cherokee, but has room for seven instead of the Jeep's five passengers.

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The Durango was completely new for 2011, moving to a unibody structure from its previous body-on-frame design. The 2012 model has only a few trim and powertrain updates.

Seven trim levels are available, starting with the rear-wheel-drive SXT for $28,995 and ending with the Citadel all-wheel-drive for $42,995, before options.

My Durango was the R/T rear-drive model, which lists for $35,795 before options. The R/T, or road-and-track, model comes with the optional 5.7- liter Hemi V-8 engine, rather than the base 3.5-liter V-6.

The body-color grille made it instantly recognizable as a Dodge, and the subtle sculpting on the body side, hood, fenders, wheel wells and rear window pillars suggested strength without being muscle-bound.

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My tester was actually quite comfortable, even in the third row, with lots of flexible space for hauling stuff. Even the front passenger seat folded flat to make room for extra-long objects.

Passengers in the third row have their own air vents on the ceiling, along with reading lamps, cupholders and two of the nine speakers located at head level on the rearmost side pillars.

Second-row passengers had full climate controls with vents on the console and the ceiling. They also had reading lamps, cupholders on the center armrest, speakers, bottle holders and map pockets on the doors, and heated seats.

My car had black leather front bucket seats, part of an option package, with contrasting red stitching and embroidered R/T badges.

Durango comes with a remote-start system, push-button keyless start, cruise control, hill-start assist, sport suspension, performance steering, security alarm and trailer sway damping.

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The R/T's Hemi engine cranked out 360 horsepower, and was connected to a six-speed automatic transmission. This combination gives the Durango a towing capacity of 7,400 pounds.

The V-8 engine has fuel-saving technology that cuts out four of the cylinders during level highway cruising. EPA ratings are 14 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway for the model I tested.

My around-town driving has a few sharp turns (no hills or extreme conditions), and the Durango performed more like a car than a truck, mostly because of the carlike unibody construction.

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