See the new Dodge Durango and the Smart for Two
Class: Large SUV
Drivetrain: Rear & All-Wheel Drive
Starting price: about $29,000
Dodge’s large SUV…round two
The TV commercial explains that the Durango has been off the market for the past couple of years. According the commercial, it’s been away getting an education. Well, now it’s back.
The new Durango is a sizable SUV with full 7 passenger seating. The exterior is sleek and modern, bordering on edgy. The eye-catching design of my test vehicle caught many people’s attention. Just because it’s an SUV doesn’t mean that it can’t be stylish too.
A number of unique features are found in the nicely finished interior. This 7 passenger vehicle actually has a third row that can hold large people. The headrests all fold down when not in use to provide an unobstructed rear view. The third row also folds into the floor increasing the usability quotient of the vehicle immeasurably.
The interior is stylish and inviting. The leather-clad seating is comfortable and supportive. Front seats are perforated and ventilated keeping passengers cool on those warm summer days. Technology abounds in the Durango. Dodge’s Uconnect moving hot-spot technology is available, as well as their media center with touch screen navigation. Rear seat passengers can opt for a video entertainment system and in-the-car TV. Just think: They can watch TV on the flat screen monitors fitted into the back of the headrests of the front seats while driving down the road.
Both rear- and all-wheel-drive versions of the Durango are available. The AWD system also offers a 2 speed transfer case. Power is provided by either the standard 3.6 liter V6 or the 5.7 liter Hemi V8
with cylinder deactivation and variable valve timing. As a testament to the Durango’s brawn, the V6 has a 6,200 pound towing capacity and the V8 is rated at 7,400 pounds, both having trailer sway control. EPA fuel economy ratings max out at a highway 23 mpg for the V6, giving the Durango a maximum range of over 500 miles.
The vehicle has excellent road manners. Though it’s substantial in size, it never feels ponderous or overweight. It drives with surprising precision all wrapped in a sporting flair.
The base price of the Durango is $29,195. My test vehicle, the Citadel AWD, tipped the price scales at $48,235. In all, the new Durango is a well-conceived large SUV with a big helping of fun-to-drive.
SMART FOR TWO
Class: 2-Seat Micro Car
Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive
Starting price: about $12,000
The intelligent “City” car
Smart, the 2-seat micro car from Mercedes, was first introduced to our fair shores in 2008. This world car had already been marketed in other 36 countries before it came here. Globally it’s a resounding success with over 1.2 millions units sold, but when it was first introduced here the concern was that it was just too small. Now with the dramatic market change toward smaller vehicles, maybe its time has come.
Because the Smart ForTwo is so different, some explanation is necessary.
The Smart is small. Just how small is it, you might ask? It is 106.1 inches long…just short of 11 feet and weighs in at 1,808 pounds. For comparison, the new Hyundai Elantra compact sedan is 6 feet longer and 1,000 pounds heavier. The Smart ForTwo is a 2-seater and has a payload capacity of 507 pounds. A couple of full-sized adults and some gas and you’ve reached the max. It’s small.
It’s also a wonder of engineering and packaging. The car is rear-engined and rear-wheel driven. The space in front of the cabin houses suspension and other automotive vitals. The engine is right behind the seats below the shelf floor and there is a small cargo area above with rear hatch access. Having said all that, I managed to load two full Walmart baskets of merchandise into our test Smart during a recent shopping binge.
The power for the car comes from a 3 cylinder 1 liter engine with 61 cubic inches and 70 horsepower. All of that plus a 5-speed manual transmission with automatic shifting is somehow stuffed into that small space behind the seats. It has an EPA rating of 33 city and 41 highway miles per gallon. Again for comparison, the aforementioned Elantra compact gets a 29/40 rating with its 1.8 liter, 178 horsepower 4 cylinder engine and a 6-speed automatic. The ForTwo requires premium fuel to generate its power, thereby blunting some of the financial benefit from high fuel economy. The Smart has no clutch pedal, so the transmission shifts gears automatically when it senses that its time to either up or down-shift. That is both efficient and annoying as pronounced fore-aft body pitching is felt with each gear change.
The vehicle sits high and has a high roofline. That makes ingress and egress simple and comfortable. From the driver’s seat, the vehicle seems much larger than it really is. You’re not aware that the front bumper is only about three feet in front of the gas pedal or that you can literally reach around and touch the back window from the driver’s seat. It gives the occupants a feeling somewhere between false confidence and outright denial of just how small the car really is compared with virtually every other vehicle on the road. Because of its elevated height and small stature, cross winds — either naturally occurring or big truck-generated — require a firm grip with both hands on the steering wheel.
The Smart ForTwo clearly has a place in the automotive landscape of America. Where it really shines and starts to make sense is in an urban setting where space is limited, freeway driving is infrequent and innovation is prized. In that space, the Smart is trendy, hip and fun.
An urbanite will pay the starting price of $14,690 for the air conditioned model, but frankly, many buyers will be tempted to just pay an extra thousand bucks and go for a compact sedan, again.
Visit www.MyCarData.com for more information on these models.
By Kelly Foss; www.car-data.com