2019 Dodge Durango R/T Blacktop AWD: Hot-rod SUV?

Price: $60,340 as tested ($46,595 for the trim level). Technology group added adaptive cruise and other safety features for $2,395; Blacktop package added 20-inch wheels and blacked-out trim for $1,095; rear entertainment center, $1,995; towing group, $1,195; sunroof, $1,295; more below.

Marketer’s pitch: “Unmistakeable muscle.”

Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver liked the “muscle-car assertiveness, intuitive infotainment, entertaining to drive” but not the "muscle-car fuel economy, limited interior space, difficult-to-access optional third row.”

Reality: Not the hottest, but easier to live with.

Where it’s at: The Durango R/T came to us during a first-ever winter respite trip through southwest Florida with the Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat.

The testing grounds were not Mr. Driver’s Seat’s home turf. I can report how the vehicle functions in a straight line on flat boulevards, in a straight line on Interstate highways, in a straight line through the Everglades, and in a straight line to the beach. The Durango was not pushed to all its limits.

The Durango has only minor changes for 2019 and last redesigned for 2014.

Up to speed: The Durango R/T comes with the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 engine, and I found making getaways at stoplights and passing slow travelers through two-lane Everglades highways to be quick. If I was not careful, I could exceed 90 in nothing flat. According to Car and Driver, 0 to 60 takes 6.2 seconds, not a muscle car by today’s standards, but not slow either.

(If that’s still too slow, the SRT gets a 6.4 Hemi and goes even faster, but it’s going to be a real piggy.)

Back to zero: The standard antilock heavy-duty disc brakes do a fabulous job of getting back to a stop, whether surprised by a red light or an alligator sighting in one of the canals. Roar.

On the road: I told the Lovely Mrs. I’m going to buy a couple of square miles of southern Florida land, where I’ll build hills and winding, Pennsylvania-style roads. I’ll make a fortune with a unique development, and sooner or later own the only Florida land not underwater. And have my own year-round automotive testing ground.

Until then, know that the Durango handles turns from street to street just fine. It also flattens out the bumps on washboard dirt roads through the deepest parts of the Everglades. Fort Myers Beach taught me I could drive in a parade just fine. The Durango is also very comfortable while waiting 25 minutes for Vice President Mike Pence to get around Sanibel Island. Sigh.

Shifty: The 8-speed automatic transmission does its job without complaint, mostly, although on a few occasions I felt it stay in a lower gear at around 55 mph. A few instances of hesitation or shudder also made their presence felt, but I never could pinpoint the source.

Shiftability occurs through paddles, and operates smoothly.

The black interior of the 2019 Dodge Durango R/T is serviceable and attractive. The digital-only speedometer could be a bit of a challenge in brought sunlight, though.
The black interior of the 2019 Dodge Durango R/T is serviceable and attractive. The digital-only speedometer could be a bit of a challenge in brought sunlight, though.

Friends and stuff: With just two travelers, I can’t say we put the second and third rows to the test, although one afternoon I used the backseat to change out of my swimsuit while parked on the street in Naples — under a towel — and found conditions rather cramped. The rear rows had no adjustment, which is always a disappointment.

A $1,095 package added second-row captains’ chairs that tumble forward for storage space, and a $595 package added an armrest in the second row with storage.

Cargo space is 85 cubic feet behind the first row and 17.2 with all rows upright, so not huge among the big boys.

Play some tunes: The 19-speaker Harman Kardon system ($995) played songs brilliantly, an A+, but I lost connectivity with my iPhone at one point and never got it back. We’ll blame that on the Lovely’s Android being a stereo hog. (Android and iPhone — can this marriage be saved?)

Control is as simple as on all FiatChrysler products, with dials for tuning and volume and touchscreen for the rest.

Keeping cool: Because it’s Florida, duh (as opposed to Flori-duh), the Luxury Leather-Trimmed Bucket Seats were ventilated in front ($695) and that spared us a lot of aggravation. Florida should make that a requirement in all vehicles.

Night shift: The headlights cast a perfect glow along the road, and interior map lights made hunting around the cabin clear but subtle enough to not interfere with the road ahead.

Fuel economy: I averaged about 18 mpg in a flat, straight, unfun week of driving; the mileage in my home district would certainly be worse.

Where it’s built: Detroit.

How it’s built: The Durango gets 2 out of 5 from Consumer Reports for reliability.

But I’ll give a shout-out to Sturgis Brother 1.0’s 1999 Durango with 338,000 miles on it. It only needed a rebuilt transmission at 190,000.

In the end: The Durango R/T made a fairly nice companion for a week. I’ve always appreciated the SUV’s nimble handling and fairly easy maneuverability in the Philadelphia area, and the 5.7-liter engine combines a good dose of performance with acceptable-ish fuel economy. Of course, that might be the 80-degree sunshine talking.