It might seem like a stretch, pardon the pun, but if you're looking for more passenger room than a Jeep Grand Cherokee has, you'll be looking for a Dodge.
The related Dodge Durango for 2014 actually uses the Jeep Grand Cherokee's bones, but finds room to fit up to seven passengers versus the Jeep's five. We told you it was a stretch.
Actually, it's a rubber-band-like five-inch stretch between the front and rear wheels with 10 extra inches added between the front and rear bumpers. That's enough to squeeze in three rows of seats with enough space left over to tote a decent amount of groceries, sports equipment, luggage, or what-have-you. With rear seat folded the cargo hold is more than generous.
The long-serving Durango was introduced for the 1998 model year as a truck-based sport-utility vehicle with body-on-frame construction, but the vehicle switched to a unitized (frameless) design for 2011. At that point, Durango sales ballooned as buyers began to embrace the vehicle for its exemplary cargo and passenger-toting capabilities.
The 2014 edition that arrives this fall is more of an update than a full-on makeover, but the changes are still significant.
Apparently mindful of the Durango's image, Dodge's stylists have tinkered with the vehicle's front and rear shape. There's a slimmer "split-hair" grille with a mesh-like backdrop and an enlarged lower air intake (also featuring the mesh effect). In back, there are new taillight pods containing light-emitting diode (LED) running lights along with Dodge's signature "racetrack" taillight system in back where an additional 192 LEDs fire up in milliseconds to keep inattentive tailgaters at bay. Dodge's spin masters refer to the Durango's restyle as "sinister" although calling it pleasingly aggressive might be a more apt description.
Inside, there's a new three-spoke steering wheel and the instrument cluster has been reworked to accommodate the standard 5.0-inch touch-screen info center. Among the new options, second-row high-back bucket seats with an available full center console can be ordered on all trim levels.
The Durango's engine compartment is familiar, with both the base 290-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 and the optional 360-horsepower 5.7-liter "Hemi" V8 returning for duty. Both powerplants, which are also found in the Jeep Grand Cherokee, have been fitted with all-new eight-speed automatic transmissions that replace the previous five- and six-speed automatics. The ZF-manufactured unit is controlled by a rotary knob on the floor console as well as by the steering-column-mounted paddle shifters.
Without releasing specific numbers, Dodge claims that the new transmission will help increase the Durango's overall fuel economy by about nine percent, which should roughly translate to about a two-mpg improvement for the V6's current 16-mpg city/23-mpg highway rating and the V8's 14/20 numbers.
Rear-wheel-drive remains standard, but the all-wheel-drive you get depends on engine choice. The V6 uses a permanently engaged system that automatically varies the torque between the front and rear wheels, depending on where it's needed. The AWD V8 comes with a part-time unit with a two-speed transfer case for those times when maximum torque is needed, such as when off-roading, or heading up an extra-steep hill.
The V6 is standard in the base SXT, R/T, new-for-2014 Limited and range-topping Citadel models (both rear- and all-wheel-drive). The V8 is optional for the Limited and Citadel, but standard in the R/T, which is also fitted with AWD.
The new Limited receives a "limited" amount of gear destined for the Citadel, such as leather-covered seats (heated in front), heated steering wheel and an 8.4-inch touch-screen for the Durango's "Uconnect" infotainment and mobile communications system.
The sporty R/T runs with a blacked-out grille, dark-tinted headlight bezels and a slightly lower (by nearly an inch) ride height.
Regardless of trim level, the Durango continues to deliver a level of ruggedness, interior capacity and outright performance swagger that few $30,000-$40,000 sport utility vehicles can match at any price. And in terms of passenger count, it even outdoes the Grand Cherokee.
What you should know: 2014 Dodge Durango
Type: Four-door, rear- /all-wheel-drive full-size sport utility vehicle
Engines (hp): 3.6-liter DOHC V6 (290); 5.7-liter OHV V8 (360)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Market position: The sturdy Durango mixes the Jeep Grand Cherokee's off-road DNA with the room and convenience of a seven-passenger wagon to create a vehicle with room enough for larger families.
Points: Mild styling update maintains Durango's tough looks; New eight-speed transmission should aid fuel economy, which is especially important for Hemi V8; Hauling capacity abounds plus plenty of towing capacity with either engine; Reasonable enough base price; A first-class multi-use transportation package and a scene-stealer for Chrysler's Dodge division.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy) 18/25 (3.6. est.);
Base price (incl. destination) $30,700 (est.)
Base price: $30,350
Solidly built three-row model that offers a competent AWD option.
Base price: $30,700
Likely the Durango's most direct competitor; great looks and lots of space.
Base price: $23,700
Restyled for 2013, it specializes in behaving like a sedan on the road.