Hybrids are not just for the little cars. The technology is finding it’s way into other vehicles, large ones. Hybrids are now helping to squeeze out a few more MPGs from vehicles that need it the most like the large SUVs.
Our Dodge Durango Hybrid Limited 4x4 offers one of the more interesting combinations. It has a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 mated to a two-mode hybrid system. So depending who you talk to after buying the car you can say, “I got SUV with a big Hemi engine so I can tow my boat, ” or you can also say, “I bought a luxury hybrid that fits the whole family.” Sneaky.
If you like the regular Durango, then the Hybrid will be very pleasing. The only really giveaways that this not a normal Hemi 4x4 is the badging om front of the door. Other than that it’s just like any other Durango 4x4. That means it’s tall, long and plenty of chrome.
One of the best chrome features are the wheels. Chrome fans can rejoice as Chrysler is one of the best companies for factory mirror chrome finishes. In fact, our 18-inch wheels are shiny enough to see a full reflection.
If you get close enough, you may also notice that although the car is running, there is considerably less noise. That’s because the car will idle on purely electric mode (as well as up to around 20 mph) until the battery is half-way drained. So be careful, people may not hear you creeping up in this giant.
The interior of our Durango is a grey place. It’s a two-tone grey that works much better than it sounds. It complements the black and silver trip pieces, and allows the colors from the satellite navigation system to really stand out.
The touch-screen sat-nav is similar to the one from the Sebring convertible we had in our fleet recently. Nothing is hard to find. The touch response is extremely good and everything is laid out in a logical order.
An added feature to this screen is a diagram that updates the entire use of the hybrid system. The screen indicates whether the car is running under only electric power or Hemi and electric power. It also give status on battery, when system charging occurs through regenerative braking, and real-time MPGs. The whole set-up is fun to watch and encourages frugal driving, the only problem is that we should probably be watching the road more.
One of the more non-hybrid related features we were impressed with was the rear-seat entertainment system. If you buy a seven-passenger SUV, one of the things you’re likely to be hauling around is kids. The rear-seat entertainment system helps insure that dad and mom get to keep some peace an d quiet. There are two complete separate channels that can go through two headphones. What this means is one child can watch a DVD on the flip-down TV while the other one can control the radio (AM/FM/Sirius). It may spell the end of little conflicts on long trips.
The Durango Hybrid will usually start in electric only mode. It takes a little getting used to turning the key and rather than an engine roaring to life, a ready light tells you all is good to go. The truck will run purely electric up until about 20 mph, but once above this, a little low rumble can be heard as the 340 horsepower Hemi V8 awareness. The electric engine is good for about 40 hp, which means the combined power is a substantial 380+ horsepower.
With this kind of power, the Durango never had a problem with feeling peppy. The hybrid motor adds extra weight to the Durango, but since there is already a lot of heft in the Dodge, the extra mass is not felt very much. We had no plans on throwing the Durango into hard corners, but the suspension (independent front, coil-link rear) and four-wheel disk brakes left us never timid about driving the truck at its limits.
We were pleasantly surprised how this 5,500 lbs. truck had steering that was light enough to make it feel like a much smaller car (it’s almost as big as the Expedition and Tahoe/Yukon competition). Parking spaces were much easier than expected.
We were able to break 20 MPG in our daily use of the Durango hybrid, not bad for a Hemi SUV. We know the technology is durable because it’s not only Chrysler standing behind it, but the same system is shared with General Motors and BMW.
What we were left with was a SUV that was the best compromise we’ve seem so far. We don’t have to give up the boat and we don’t have to fork over our entire wallet at the pump.