If you're a Mopar fan with a large family and want a new vehicle with all-wheel-drive, you have two choices — the midsize 2017 Dodge Journey and the full-size 2017 Dodge Durango. Jeep doesn't offer any vehicle with a third row of seats (yet), and the Chrysler Pacifica minivan doesn't come with AWD.
But if you ever need to carry two adults in comfort in the third row of seats, you should choose the Durango.
Fortunately, the Durango is a good choice for a lot of other reasons, too. Although previous generations were built on the Dodge Dakota pickup, the current version is a crossover, meaning it has a more car-like chasis. This translates into a more comfortable ride.
But make no mistake, the Durango is a serious rig. It comes standard with a 3.6-liter V6 but can be ordered with a more powerful 5.7-liter V8 in the top two trim levels. Properly equipped, it can tow up to 7,400 pounds, the most of any crossover.
But the Durango is also surprisingly refined. Although the current version was first introduced in 2011, Dodge refreshed it in 2014 and the current version boasts high quality interior materials and an available 8.4-inch touchscreen that controls one of the best infotainment systems on the market.
And the third row of seats are not merely for children but are roomy enough for two adults to ride at least a reasonable distance.
My test version was a GT, which meant it featured additional exterior trim, 20-inch wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated front bucket seats, dual USB charging ports and more, in addition to a long list of standard features included in the base SXT version.
Although the GT is only available with the V6, the 290 horsepower was more than enough for most driving conditions, especially because the standard eight-speed automatic transmission is so well tuned to it. Even with the additional weight of the optional all-wheel-drive system, it only felt a little strained on steep hills.
By coincidence, I had the Durango during the most recent Mudfest, the annual competition of family activity vehicles organized by the Pacific Northwest Automotive Press Association. Although Dodge did not enter a Durango in the competition, several other three-row family crossovers did participate. Despite being newer, none of them felt as capable as the Durango on the test courses, nor did they have more interior room.
The Durango is heavier than most if not all of its competitors, so mileage is likely to be less when similarly equipped. At the same time, the additional weight gives it a more substantal feel, which I appreciated while driving through heavy rains on the way home from Mudfest. Safety systems warned me of vehicles in the blind spots, too. Even with dark skies and lightning on the horizon, I felt completely secure behind the wheel.
There's no getting around the size of the Duango, however. Parking was a consideration in many trips. There are a couple of larger SUVs on the market, but also smaller ones that also come with three rows of seats. But they don't offer as much comfort in the second and third rows of seats. Or the 84.5 cubic feet of cargo space with them folded down.
Although officially a crossover, the 2017 Dodge Durango is rugged enough to blur the line between the older truck-based SUVs and their newer unibody competitors, which are more comfortable and fuel efficient. It has a wheel firmly in both worlds.
2017 Dodge Durango GT
Base price: $29,995 (2WD SXT)
Price as tested: $49,995
Type: Fullsize crossover SUV
Engines: 3.6-liter V6 (290 hp, 260 (lbs-ft); 5.7-liter V8 (360 hp; 390 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 8-speed automatic with manual shift mode
EPA estimated mileage: 14/22 to 19/26
Overall length: 201 inches
Base curb weight: 4,756 to 5,331 pounds
Final assembly: Detroit, USA