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2014 Dodge Durango road test: Yes, rear-wheel-drive could be the way to go

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2014 Dodge Durango Rallye, RWD

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For New Yorkers, who have slipped, slid, shuddered and shivered through one nasty winter, this might not be the best time to extol the virtues of a rear-wheel-drive sport-utility vehicle.

Still, I found much to like about one such 2014 Dodge Durango on a recent trip to Scottdale, AZ, where the weather was predictably clear and dry and the roads were mostly level.

So let's take a look at this mid-level SUV, which I think might also be suitable to New Yorkers in winters more typical than the one which seems finally to have loosened its icy grip.

First, let''s deal with the nitty-gritty.

Officially, this billet silver, metallic clear coat, mid-size SUV is known as the 2014 Dodge Durango Rallye RWD, with Rallye signifying an optional appearance group that includes 20-inch wheel and tires, a monochromatic exterior treatment, dual exhausts, second-row fold-and-tumble captain's chairs and an assortment of electronic convenience accessories that included Bluetooth hands-free cell-phone access, trip computer and more.

Power is supplied by a smooth and unobtrusive V-6 engine that generates 295 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. It is teamed with a seamless 8-speed automatic transmission that can be manually shifted with steering-wheel-mounted paddles.

An extra cost V-8 engine is available, but it really is not necessary for anyone who wants a Durango primarily for the type of chores normally associated with a growing family.

Now, let's consider a few reasons why a buyer might actually prefer a rear-wheel-drive, V-6 powered SUV and even make a case for this vehicle in areas where infrequent snow creates occasional problems.

First of all, at $34,480 with options this corporate cousin to the Jeep Grand Cherokee is significantly less expensive than most of the other models in the Durango stable.

For comparison, a V-6 powered, all-wheel-drive 2014 Dodge Durango Citadel can approach $50,000 and the hotrod version, a rear-wheel-drive 2014 Dodge Durango R/T, powered by a 360-horsepower Hemi V-8, can have a price sticker nearly as high.

But price is not the only cost-saving feature. The rear-wheel-drive SUV will return an EPA-estimated 18 miles per gallon of regular fuel around town and 25 mpg on the highway. That compares with 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway for the Citadel and a lowly 14 mpg city/23 mpg highway for the V-8-powered R/T.

For the record, I averaged 19 mpg around town and a surprisingly frugal 28 mpg on the highway. Of course, most of my travels were with only me in the vehicle.

Buyers interested in towing a boat or trailer should note that the V-6 engine is strong enough to tow up to 6,200 pounds. That's just 1,200 pounds less than the V-8 engine can pull along.

Should a Durango owner dwell in an area with snows that seldom top a few inches, the rear-wheel-drive vehicle shod with snow tires should be able to make it easily through winter's unwelcome visitor thanks to its 4,756-pound curb weight and more than 8 inches of ground clearance.

Rear-wheel drive aside, the Dodge Durango Rallye offers all of the practicality available in every model.

It will hold six passengers --- two little ones in the third row --- equipped with the optional second-row buckets. Frankly, I would choose the second-row bench and enjoy the room for one more passenger. But that's a personal choice.

Available cargo volume ranges from 17.4 cubic feet with all three rows of cloth seats in the upright position, 47.7 cubic feet with the third row folded and a total of 84.5 cubic feet with the third and second rows folded into the floor.

One thing that should be noted is that there really is not much cargo space behind the third-row seat. I know that 17.4 cubic feet sounds substantial compared with the average sedan, but the space is more vertical than horizontal, meaning it generally can't be used to the fullest extent.

This is a common problem with mid-sized SUVs so a buyer should keep in mid that the Durango is really at its most practical with the third-row seat folded forward.

The advantage of a mid-sized SUV is, well, its mid size. It is relatively easy to maneuver in urban traffic and it will fit easily into the average shopping mall space.

Planning to take the Durango on vacation? You will find it a pleasant traveling companion, thanks to its supple suspension, quiet drivetrain, adequate sound system, and more.

I was not a fan of the shifter, which activates gears with a rotating knob. I admit that it takes a bit of clutter away from the Durango's controls, and I guess It would only be a short time until its operation became second nature. But, in the short term it seemed awkward.

On the other hand, while I had no need to change gears manually with the paddles, I can see how that feature could be valuable in hilly county and when that occasional snow begins to fall.

To sum up, the rear-wheel-drive 2014 Dodge Durango Rallye appears to b a worthy competitor in the mid-size SUV category for anyone who need not worry about forging through huge mounds of snow on a regular basis.

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