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Dodge Durango New Special Service Vehicle
For late-2012, Dodge has developed a Special Service package for the AWD and RWD versions of the redesigned Durango. The Durango was dropped in early-2009; there was no 2010 model. Durango production resumed in mid-2011 with a brand-new, totally different, Third Gen Durango. In lieu of a “package” added to the retail Durango, the Special Service Vehicle actually has its own separate body models: WDEE75 (AWD) and WDDE75 (RWD).
Like the redesigned NextGen Ford Explorer, the redesigned NextGen Durango changed platforms. The Durango has gone from a truck-based chassis to an SUV-based chassis. Specifically, the new Durango is built from exactly the same platform as the Jeep Grand Cherokee – and built at the same Jefferson North (Detroit) Assembly Plant.
In fact, the best way to think of the new Durango is as a Grand Cherokee with a 5-inch longer wheelbase and a 10-inch longer body. Put another way, the Grand Cherokee is a five-passenger, two-seat SUV, while the Durango is a seven-passenger, three-seat SUV. Everything else is the same.
For fleet managers concerned about durability, the new Durango did not take a bigger step down from a truck platform to a car-crossover platform. Instead, the Durango took a smaller step from a truck platform to a large SUV platform. Both the Grand Cherokee and the Durango now ride on the M-class, WK2 platform co-developed with Mercedes-Benz.
Part of the improved ride and sure-footed handling with the Third Gen Durango is the upgrade to a fully independent rear suspension (IRS). The old Durango used a solid axle, while the new Durango uses a multi-link rear suspension.
IRS has a serious ride, handling and traction advantage any time the tire on one side has to move up or down but the other side doesn’t have to do the same thing at the same time. IRS makes the most difference on rough, uneven, wavy and broken roads and that definitely includes washboard rural roads and potholed urban roads.
“It feels like I am driving a car,” said Deputy Don Zichmund with the Benton County, Ind. Sheriff’s Office, who has put over 150K miles each on both a 2004 Durango and a 2008 Durango. In addition to IRS, coil springs on all four wheels are also keys to the car-like ride. The Short-Long A-arm front suspension on the new Durango is also a bit more refined than the double wishbone front suspension on the old Durango.
In spite of the major structural changes and all new sheetmetal everywhere, the new Durango is virtually identical in overall size and volume to the old Durango. Even still, double-check before transferring upfit gear and K-9 cages from the old Second Gen Durango to the new Third Gen Durango. The old and new SUVs are “about” the same size, however, every interior and exterior panel and dimension has changed.
For example, the rear seat volume on the new Durango is roughly the same length, width and height as the old Durango. The rear seat entry dimensions (the opening profile), however, are quite a bit different. As an example, based on preliminary measurements, an American Aluminum one-third Prisoner, two-third K9 kennel insert from the Second Gen Durango will fit the Third Gen Durango.
The rear cargo space is a different story. The new Durango has a rear cargo opening about 4 inches taller but about 6 inches narrower than the old Durango. Depending on the cargo box design and/or the behind-second-seat partition dimensions, the old upfitting components may need some new brackets or be replaced with properly sized units. Same with lightbars, push bumpers, etc.
Special Service Means What?
In the past, the term Special Service from all three automakers has meant the same thing – begin with the lowest trim level vehicle, and then start deleting features. Seldom, if ever, did Special Service package mean adding police-specific or even police-oriented features.
The Special Service package for the Durango is different. This is not just a rebadged or content-deleted SUV. This Durango starts with the low, SXT-trim level but then the Special Service package Durango indeed gets police-only components. Instead of the standard 160 amp alternator, the Special Service version uses a 220 amp alternator. The battery is also upgraded from 700 CCA to 800 CCA. The engine has heavy-duty cooling.
A police-oriented SUV, this Durango has a unique, police-specific headliner and dome light. Spotlight wiring prep is standard equipment. Also unique to the Special Service package Durango is a liftgate key lock cylinder not found on the retail SUV.
The best proof the Special Service package Durango is not just a rebadged retail SUV are the upgraded front brakes. Dodge Fleet ran the Durango on the race courses at Pomona (Los Angeles County Sheriff) and Grattan (Michigan State Police). As a result of this track time, the Special Service Durango comes with higher performance, “export” brake pads. This is essentially an upgrade from non-asbestos organic (retail) pads to semi-metallic (police) pads.
Importantly, the term Special Service has always meant something less than pursuit-rated. To the point, the Special Service package Durango is “not designed nor intended for high-speed emergency or pursuit driving” according to Chrysler Fleet. At this point, Dodge has said nothing one way or another about a pursuit-capable, police package version of the Durango.
Seats and Center Console
Even though the Special Service package Durango is based on the lowest trim level, power windows, power door locks and power windows are standard. The Special Service package Durango uses an eight-way, power driver seat with four-way power driver lumbar adjustment. Heavy-duty cloth is standard on the front seats, while the rear seats are cloth.
Don’t worry that the Special Service seats are “just” the retail seats. They have excellent side and bottom bolster support. The sculpting and seat back contours easily accepted a police duty belt with what are essentially cut-outs for the duty pistol. And the retail truck fabric is already heavy-duty. In fact, the same fabric in the retail Durango seats is used in the new-for-2012, police-specific seats for the Charger Pursuit. These seats have the rare qualities of excellent initial comfort and excellent day-long comfort. These are great seats.
The Special Service package Durango has a number of seating options to accommodate passengers, K-9s and cargo. The third row seat delete is standard on the Durango SSV. This is the only seating configuration available. A flat load floor with under-floor storage is in place of the seat. “The cargo spaces under the load floor are a big deal,” Zichmund said.
Rear HVAC is standard, while the rear HVAC controls are deleted. The Special Service package uses the retail center console and floor-mounted gear shifter. A column-mounted shifter is not available. Some aftermarket accessory makers, like Lund Industries, have already developed a replacement center console that accommodates all the emergency and communications gear.
Two toughness packages are options on the Special Service package Durango – options that should be standard equipment on a police SUV or truck. One is the Trailer Tow Group, even if you have no intention whatsoever of towing anything. This package includes rear-load leveling suspension, and a full-size spare tire on a steel wheel. Of course, it also includes a Class IV receiver hitch and wiring harness.
The other must-have option is the Skid Plate Group. This includes a front-suspension skid plate, fuel tank skid plate shield, twin front tow hooks, transfer case skid plate shield and underbody skid plate. The Durango carries a five-year / 100K-mile powertrain warranty. That specifically includes police use. The warranty even includes seals and gaskets. The tires are Michelin P265/60R18 On/Off Road.
We spent more than a week with the Durango, courtesy of Chicagoland’s Thomas Dodge. This Durango had both the Trailer Tow Group and the Skid Plate Group. (Yes, we cut medians during traffic enforcement with all of our One Ticket Book Review test vehicles.)
The new SUV-chassis Durango has a far and away better ride than the old truck-chassis Durango. It also has much less Noise, Vibration & Harshness, and much less Buzz, Squeak & Rattle. A quiet interior and comfortable ride may not be the top priorities for a police vehicle, but the new Durango definitely has both. Again, think Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The visibility out the front, to the front intersections, and out the sides is all excellent. The A-pillar and outside mirrors are not obtrusive. That said, the outside rearview mirrors could definitely be much bigger. This is especially the case for a SUV that is likely to have a K9 cage and/or prisoner partition that will partially or completely block the view out the back glass. Yes, small mirrors reduce wind noise – important in a retail vehicle. Even still, the mirror visibility to the rear, and the rear quarter blind spots could be much better.
The Durango is very maneuverable for a seven-passenger SUV. The new Durango has a turning circle, curb-to-curb, of just 37.1 feet. That is 3 feet tighter than the old Durango and, in comparison, 3 feet tighter than the Ford CVPI. This was a nice surprise. That tight turning circle allowed us to easily perform some aggressive maneuvers. It makes the Durango feel very nimble in urban traffic. It makes traffic enforcement U-turns on narrow two-lane roads a snap.
Even though the Durango had the Trailer Tow package, fairly aggressive driving generated some body roll. The hard steering during accident avoidance drills (sudden lane change) and evasive maneuvers (sudden lane change, then change back) caused a bit of back end wallow – even with zero cargo.
The steering was extremely responsive, but not overly sensitive or twitchy. Simply put, the Durango was very quick to respond to steering inputs. The initial turn-in is immediate – the nose of the Durango instantly dives in the direction you want to go. Dealing with the body roll and the tail-wag that follows takes a bit to get used to – which we did. That said, we would still prefer a stiffer suspension with less body roll.
So, how was the performance from the AWD Durango powered by the 3.6L Pentastar V6? The new, 290 hp 3.6L V6 Durango hits 60 mph in 9.5 seconds. Yes, that is slower than the current crossover / SUV competition. However, the V6 Durango is perfectly acceptable for routine patrol in urban and suburban areas.
We spent a full day of calls for service with 500 pounds of cage and K9 in the back. Its 0 to 45 mph acceleration is good. In fact, the Pentastar V6 produced strong acceleration from a full stop – better than the old 4.7L V8. The 30 to 60 mph performance from the Pentastar-powered Durango is OK. Its maneuverability and handling at these urban speeds are outstanding.
On the other hand, for more rural or higher speed applications, compared to even the 4.7L V8, the V6 Durango seems quite taxed. Above 70 mph, if you are in a hurry, the overall performance is not so much. Even without much cargo, it labors to get to 100 mph.
“If zero to 60 mph acceleration is a priority, the Durango with the 3.6L V6 will be perfectly OK. If 70 to 110 mph acceleration is a priority, the Pentastar V6 is noticeably slower than the older 4.7L V8 Durangos,” Zichmund said. As a non-pursuit SUV, the Special Service Durango uses the retail top speed limiter – 110 mph.
Chrysler Fleet heard the initial powertrain feedback from fleet managers who first saw the Durango Special Service Concept at the Police Fleet Expo – feedback that emphasized the need for the 5.7L V8 at a time before the engine was confirmed to be an option on a Special Service version. On the retail Durango, the 360 hp, 5.7L V8 required a $4700 (MSRP) jump from the low SXT-trim to the middle Crew-trim. Even then the 5.7L HEMI V8 is still another $2100 (MSRP) option.
Chrysler Fleet listened. The Special Service package for the Durango is available with either the 3.6L Pentastar V6 or the 5.7L HEMI V8…based on SXT trim level pricing. Powered by the HEMI, the Durango reaches 60 mph between 7.5 and 8 seconds. Of course, acceleration to speeds between 60 and 100 mph will be much quicker with the HEMI.
The EPA fuel estimates for the 3.6L V6 Durango are 16 mpg City, 22 mpg Hwy and 18 mpg Combined. During the 750 miles we put on the Durango V6 over an eight-day period, we averaged 17.7 mpg. The duties were mostly rural and suburban calls for service, a little traffic enforcement, very little idling, and some interstate driving. With very little cargo most of the time, that is about 3 mpg better than an upfitted, in-service, 4.7L V8 Durango doing similar duties.
Overall? The Durango is a practical, economical and reasonably well performing SUV for patrol, supervisors, special units and especially K-9 officers. The cargo space is less than the Tahoe but more than the new Explorer. The new Durango’s V6 performance at the bottom end (urban, suburban) is just fine, but at higher speeds (rural, highway) the Durango needs the HEMI – and it is available at fleet pricing.
Published in Police Fleet Manager, Mar/Apr 2012
Rating : 10.0
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