Some drivers embraced motorcycles and a whole different set of operating skills. Driving a single-track vehicle teaches one to practice a more deliberate ‘pace’ in order to avoid potential hazards and other vehicles. Some might even call this defensively aggressive driving.
Other drivers learned basic skills working on a farm, where it is paramount that you develop spatial skills and physical limitations in a hurry while operating various trucks, tractors and other heavy equipment. The physics of driving any vehicle — and your relationship to your surroundings — is keenly refined in this environment, where speeds are generally slower and the consequences less severe for mistakes.
All of this is meant to reveal that there are some drivers better prepared for the vulgarities of driving today, drivers with better skill sets and awareness who are more capable of handling the physical dynamics of increased traffic and compromised situations.
And then, there are far too many steering wheel operators who are woefully ignorant of the physics of driving, one prayer away from disaster and they don’t even know it.
Far too many vehicle operators today are more engrossed in the entertainment atmosphere in their vehicle. Staying connected, working their social media, being regaled by their collection of take-anywhere music — constantly. This extension of their home living room is generally a bad idea behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.
The more time that we spend in our cars and trucks, the more amenities we grow to appreciate — and want. We all like greater levels of comfort; heated and cooled seats, enhanced ride dynamics, automatic climate control and traction assist systems for inclement weather. But do access to various social medias and a plethora of stored photos, as well as directions to recommended restaurants, the lowest gasoline prices and stock updates reflect our need for immediate justification or our inability to actually sit and concentrate on the task at hand? Perhaps for those drivers who spend hours idly waiting in urban traffic, this question is easier to answer.
The automakers have been all too happy to provide these profit generating features on many of our latest cars. Since General Motors created in-car connectivity with its OnStar program, other manufacturers have been racing to upstage each other with more and better telematics features that elevate the level of information — and distraction. The increased advances in vehicle electronics have provided many safety benefits that are getting overlooked. However, to the less-skilled drivers mentioned above, these innovations are relied upon by operators so they can continue to pursue their entertainment activities.
We’ve all heard the comments; “But I have all-wheel drive and traction control” as they dance their way through wintry weather with bald tires. The link to actual driving physics is missing.
A central part to Chrysler’s resurgence is how well it has integrated a plethora of convenience features and technologies into restyled cars and trucks. We have chronicled these changes many times in this space, and this week’s Dodge Durango is a strong reminder of how impressive this transformation has been.
The Durango is considered a full-size crossover/SUV. At 200 inches long, it is about the same length as a Dodge Caravan or a Chevy Tahoe. Dodge would like you to associate with the latter, not the former, as the Durango is the anti-minivan for buyers who want the convenience and space of a minivan but not the social stigma.
Liberally based on the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which is based on the Mercedes ML, the Durango is blessed with a supple fully independent chassis that delivers improved road manners that would never have been possible with the previous truck-based ladder frame design that was used from 1997 until 2008.
The Durango uses the same revised powerplants as the Jeep — 290-hp 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 with a six-speed automatic and the 360-hp Hemi V-8 with a five-speed automatic transmission — yet it packs an optional AWD system that requires no driver involvement, a system best suited for bad dirt roads and bad weather rather than serious off-roading. The Durango also has a third row seating area that can hold real people — the Jeep is strictly a two-row seating layout.
With five trim levels — SXT (starts at $28,995), Crew, Heat, R/T and our featured Citadel — the Durango covers a broad spectrum of buyer expectations. This is where those aforementioned electronic features enter the picture.
Top Citadel trim ($42,995) affords buyers a wealth of components meant to coddle. Besides keyless access and ignition with remote starting, as well as rear parking assist with back-up camera, there are several systems worth noting here.
Cross Path Detection is a new feature that allows the rear-mounted sensors used for backing up to detect if some object — like a car — is approaching from a 90-degree angle when you are in reverse. This technology increases driver “visibility” when leaving crowded parking lots or tree-shaded driveways. Yet, if you had backed into an empty parking spot or backed into your driveway, then this ‘technology’ might not be necessary.
If you look closely at the Durango’s front end, you will note a large ball-like device at the bottom center of the forthright front grille, as well as a large sensor on the back of the rear-view mirror. These two units combine for the Adaptive Cruise Control and Forward Collision Warning systems.
Adaptive cruise control is wonderful and is widely used in the auto industry. Drivers select their desired traveling speed and then toggle up and down through another steering wheel button to set the allowable distance they want to be from other traffic — close to far. When engaged, adaptive cruise control will automatically accelerate and brake the vehicle to maintain that set distance — even to the point of you following other traffic through a toll-booth with you doing nothing more than steering the vehicle.
Forward Collision Warning senses that your closing distance is too fast for the traffic or obstacles ahead and sounds an audible warning as well as a flashing light sequence on the dash that alerts you that you are about to have a collision unless you take evasive action — RIGHT NOW! Text later, OK?
The Citadel also comes with Blind Spot Detection, monitors that detect other vehicles lurking in your right and left blind spots. Very helpful if you are disciplined to employ continual surveillance of your mirrors while driving.
The Durango’s Citadel trim level also provides a wealth of comfort features that create a comfortable cabin. Front leather seats have heating and cooling, while rear seats are heated only. Both the driver and front passenger get four-way lumbar adjustments, while dual-zone climate selections appease both front occupants as well. There is a power tilt and telescoping steering column with a heated steering wheel — very nice — plus the industry’s best steering wheel audio controls comfortably situated on the back of the steering wheel so your fingertips can easily detect.
There is a comprehensive information center, rain-sensing wipers, plus 40GB hard-drive storage in the nine-speaker stereo system with Sirius satellite radio (Sirius delivers a better signal in the Northeast than XM). Smartbeam auto-dimming headlamps are featured, too, plus a Garmin-based navigation system with touch-screen operation. A power rear liftgate, power sunroof and 20-inch chrome alloy wheels are all part of the top Citadel trim level.
For drivers whose first SUV was one of the original Chevy Blazers or Ford Broncos, power windows and FM radio were the essential luxury pieces. Traction control was the measured application of your right foot while four-wheel drive was a hefty tug on the console-mounted floor shifter. You heated your steering wheel by parking into the sun.
Durango sales continue to climb, up about 10 percent year to date, but the heyday of the large SUV/crossover segment has apparently peaked. Dodge sold over 189,000 Durangos during its late ’90s debut period — a lofty goal in this market. Dodge should sell about 60,000 units this year as the midsize Journey captures more buyer interest.
The Durango, however, is the better driving crossover of the two Dodge units available. It offers more room, more features, more towing ability and the option of that Hemi V-8 for buyers who want it all. The Durango gives buyers the refinement that they desire, plus the amenities to escape and travel with the comfort of their living room.
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