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2002 Dodge Durango 4x4 SLT

By Michael Cohn

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2002 Dodge DurangoLong after the demise of the full-size Ram Charger, Dodge debuted a new truck in 1998 that would be their entry into the mid-sized SUV market. Based on the Dodge Dakota, the new Durango featured a best-in-class tow rating, bold Dodge truck styling, and a genuine truck platform. By 2000, the original 5.2L motor was replaced by Dodge's next-generation 4.7L Magnum. The 5.9L motor also remained an option for the power-hungry buyer. Not a whole lot has changed on the Durango's surface over the last couple years, however, why change when you've got a good thing going?

The 2002 Durango is available in four versions - the base model SXT, Sport, SLT, and R/T performance version. Durango is available with 2WD or 4WD. 4WD versions come with either a full-time (NV244HD) or part-time system (NV233HD).

The 4x4 SLT model we received for testing featured the 4.7L motor, 5-speed, 5-45RFE transmission (which features two 2nd gears depending on the driving situation) and NV233HD transfer case, which comes standard. The base price for this model is $31,215. Options included leather seats ($795), Trailer Tow Group ($590), and AM/FM/Cassette/CD ($100). Including the $600 Destination Charge, the total sticker for our Durango was $33,300.

2002 Dodge Durango
2002 Dodge Durango

The first thing you notice when you climb into the Durango is its truckiness. The comfortable leather seats do little to fool you into thinking you are in a cute ute. When you sit in a Durango, you feel like you are in a truck. To us, being an off-road magazine, this was a great plus! Before even looking underneath the Durango or reading up on it, I decided to go or a quick spin.

As soon as I eased down the accelerator, I could feel the 287 cubic inch (4.7L) motor's 295 lb.-ft. of torque (rated at 3200rpm). It takes a bit of foot pressure to make the truck move. You can tell right off the bat that this thing has some grunt. The motor eased up and I let it pull me up the hill out of our neighborhood. Unlike many SUVs we test, you could hold the throttle and maintain a climb. Others seem to want you to consistently increase foot pressure as you go.

2002 Dodge Durango
2002 Dodge Durango

Once on level ground, it was time to feel what the motor was really made of. Driving "normally" now I could feel that this V8 had power. The 235 horses peak at 4800rpm, but the power is available when you need it. Again, I felt like I was in a truck. Great! Frankly, it had more than enough power in most cases, and I was surprised to learn that the larger 5.9L was even available. The tow rating for this truck was 5,700 pounds. The big brother to the 4.7L kicks out 245 horse power at 4,000 rpm and has 335 lb.-ft. of torque at 3200 rpm. Grrrrr. The big boy 5.9L is rated to haul as much as 7,300 pounds.

When driving around town, the Durango really did show its truckiness. As it bounded through traffic and over potholes, I could have sworn it had a solid axle up front. The way the independent front suspension took to bumps and rolls in the road was rougher than other SUVs we have driven, tricking us into thinking we had a solid axle. Will soccer moms like this feeling? Possibly not. Do we? Heck yes! The Durangos apparent inability to soak up road imperfections actually made us like it more, strangely enough. In this day when SUVs are becoming more and more like cars (and even built on car platforms), it was refreshing to know that Dodge is still building theirs to feel and drive more like the trucks they are supposed to be.

2002 Dodge Durango
2002 Dodge Durango

The Durango handled pretty well overall. With the motor getting you up to speed quickly, the front disk brakes and rear drums stopped the 6,400 pound truck in ample time. The optional four-wheel ABS brakes would be a wonderful addition. It's also interesting to note that the Durango's 36.1 foot turning radius is a full foot smaller than a Saturn S-Coupe's!

The down-side of this truckiness does come at the expense of smooth ride, of course. Expect a little more shake on the road than your mom's Grand Cherokee. The rough ride also can take its toll on the driver. On more than one occasion while testing the Durango at higher than normal on-road speeds, I hit bumps in the road that made my head hit the door frame over the window. OK, so we like the truckiness, but really could do without clocking our noggins while driving around. In all fairness, this didn't happen during "normal" driving, but was worth noting.

2002 Dodge Durango
2002 Dodge Durango

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