Dodge’s SUV has a serious fight in its hands

The Ford Explorer remains one of the most popular SUVs in America, but the previous-generation model had one thing going against it: age. It entered the market in 2011, and while a 2018 facelift injected some life back to the SUV, it was only a matter of time before Ford ultimately replaced it with a next-generation model. Well, that time has come. The sixth-generation Ford Explorer made its long-awaited debut at the 2019 North American International Auto Show, and it didn’t take long for the SUV to serve notice to its rivals. The Explorer is back, baby, and it’s back with a vengeance. That should serve as a warning to Dodge and its Durango SUV. Just like the Explorer is to Ford, the Durango is one of Dodge’s biggest moneymakers. Unlike the Explorer, the current version of the Durango is toiling on the back-end of its generational cycle. The next-generation Durango is coming, but there’s no specific timetable on when it’s poised to arrive. So as the all-new Ford Explorer flexes its muscles in the segment, the current Durango has to resist the Explorer rush, at least until the cavalry arrives. Is it up to the task against the all-new Ford SUV? Let’s find out.

Exterior

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Give the Dodge Durango credit for this. Even if it is, technically, an eight-year-old model, it doesn’t look like one. That’s a nod to Dodge’s continued attempts to keep the Durango looking as fresh as can be. You’ll notice that as Dodge’s design language has evolved throughout the decade, the Durango’s design has kept pace with those changes. It started out with a cross-design front grille, but when Dodge did away with that look, it gave the Durango the cleaner-looking grille for the 2018 model. The design and layout of the headlamps haven’t changed since 2014, but the technologies included have been improved.

The 2019 Durango even has a hood scoop, which bodes well for an SUV that’s packing a lot of muscle underneath that sheet metal.

In terms of size, the Durango still fits the bill of a three-row SUV. It’s actually longer than the 2020 Ford Explorer — 201.2 inches to the Explorer’s 199.3 inches — and while it loses the battle in the width department — 75.8 inches to the Explorer’s 78.9 inches, it makes up for it by being taller, measuring 71.9 inches high compared to the Explorer’s 70.2-inch height.

Unfortunately for Dodge, the Durango’s aesthetics do look a bit outdated, at least when you compare it to the all-new Explorer. So what if the Dodge Durango is longer and taller? You’ll see later on that those advantages actually don’t matter. From a visual standpoint, it’s hard not to see the Explorer and not see it as an all-new model. Everything about its face looks fresh, from the new headlamp and front grille designs to the sporty and aggressive bumper that makes the Durango’s bumper look like a cardboard by comparison. The side and rear profiles of the Explorer also scream for attention in ways the Durango’s design doesn’t.

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Granted, not everyone is enamored with the Explorer’s new looks, but that’s not the point.

Besides, with so many customers in the SUV market, there will always be those who think that Ford should’ve done this or should’ve done that to the Explorer’s aesthetics.

The point here is that, even if the Durango looks fresh for its standards, no one’s going to mistake it for an all-new model. It looks good because Dodge did a tremendous job keeping it up-to-date. But the Explorer? You can’t look at it without thinking that this is a next-generation model. The design says it all.

It’s remarkable that the Durango can still hold its own in this regard. But if you really want fresh, the all-new, sixth-generation Ford Explorer takes this cake.

2020 Ford Explorer 2019 Dodge Durango
Wheelbase 119.1 119.8
Length 198.8 201.2
Width, mirrors folded 82.7 85.5
Height 69.9 70.9
Track, front curb 66.9 63.9
Track, rear curb 66.9 64.1

Interior

2020 Ford Explorer vs 2019 Dodge Durango
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I mentioned earlier that the Durango’s size advantage outside over the Explorer doesn’t translate in the interior of both SUVs. This is probably the Dodge’s biggest weakness against the Ford SUV. Simply put, the Explorer has more front headroom — 40.7 inches to 39.9 inches — than the Durango. It’s the same story in the second-row headroom — 40.5 inches to 39.8 inches — and the third-row headroom — 38.9 inches to 37.8 inches. The narrative remains the same in terms of shoulder room.

The Explorer has more room in every row — 61.8 inches to 58.5 inches in the front; 61.9 inches to 57.7 inches in the second row; 54.6 inches to 50.4 inches in the third row.

The Explorer also has more front-row legroom — 43 inches to 40.3 inches — and second-row legroom — 39 inches to 38.8 inches. The only area where the Durango edges out the Explorer is in the third-row legroom. It has 33.5 inches of space compared to 32.2 inches in the Explorer.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t get any better for Dodge’s SUV. Cargo space is another important benchmark among SUVs, specifically those that tout themselves as three-row SUVs that, in theory at least, can offer cavernous amounts of cargo area. Between the Explorer and the Durango, the Ford wipes out its rival, and it’s not even close. When all the seats are folded, the Durango offers 17.2 cubic feet of cargo space. That’s actually a lot of room, even among other three-row SUVs.

But the all-new Ford Explorer showed up, and just like that, it brushed the Durango off to the side, thanks to a cargo area of 18.3 cubic feet.

Lower the third-row seats, and it doesn’t get any better for the Durango as its 43.3 cubic feet of cargo area is dwarfed by the Explorer’s 47.9 cubic feet of storage space. Lower the third-row and second-row seats and, well, the ending’s going to be the same. The Durango’s 85.1 cubic feet of cargo storage falls behind the Explorer’s 87.8 cubic feet of cargo room.

At this point, the Durango should just throw in the towel, right? Give credit to the Dodge SUV for persevering because it’s not about to give up without a fight. On the tech side of the interior, the Durango boasts a seven-inch touch screen, a six-speaker stereo, a pair of USB ports, Bluetooth compatibility, and the Uconnect infotainment system that features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Open up the catalog for extra options and you can upgrade to a larger 8.4-inch touchscreen, a 19-speaker Harman Kardon premium sound system, a Blu-ray/DVD entertainment system, and a suite of other advanced safety features.

2020 Ford Explorer vs 2019 Dodge Durango
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The Durango comes with a solid menu of features and options. But, at the end of the day, the Durango is, at its most recent, a facelifted version of a model that’s eight years old. The Explorer, on the other hand, is minty fresh. You only need to take one look at the cabin to realize that it’s a lot cleaner and more sophisticated than the interior of the previous-generation model.

An eight-inch, tablet-like touchscreen comes standard, though if you’re looking to get an upgrade, you can score a monstrous 10.1-inch touchscreen in the same location.

It’s a bit distracting given that it’s set up vertically, but it’s not that big of a deal that it becomes a full-blown distraction. The touchscreen is just one item in the cabin, too. There’s also a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster that changes its background appearance based on the selected drive mode. It comes with 3D graphics, too! The Explorer is completely app-friendly, as well. Apple Car Play and Android Auto support are both available. It can also accommodate Amazon Alexa and Waze navigation, among other apps. If you’re an audiophile, you can also score a 980-watt Bang & Olufsen audio system that’s loaded with 14 state-of-the-art speakers. If you need to connect to the Internet, the Explorer also comes with standard Wi-Fi connectivity that can hook up as many as ten devices to the World Wide Web.

Maybe it’s not all that fair comparing the all-new Explorer to a facelifted, eight-year-old Dodge Durango. But the two are rivals in the segment, and until Dodge brings out the next-generation Durango, this competition isn’t as close as Dodge would like it to be, at least as far as the interior of both SUVs are concerned.

2020 Ford Explorer Dodge Durango
Seating capacity Seven Seven
First-row headroom 40.7 39.9
First-row legroom 43.0 40.3
First-row shoulder room 61.8 58.5
First-row hip room 59.2 57.0
Second-row headroom 40.5 39.8
Second-row legroom 39.0 38.6
Second-row shoulder room 61.9 57.7
Second-row hip room 59.1 55.5
Third-row headroom 38.9 37.8
Third-row legroom 32.2 33.5
Third-row shoulder room 54.6 50.4
Third-row hip room 40.9 42.4
Cargo volume behind first row 87.8 cu. ft. 85.1 cu. ft.
Cargo volume behind second row 47.9 cu. ft. 43.3 cu. ft.
Cargo volume behind third row 18.2 cu. ft. 17.2 cu. ft.

Drivetrain and Performance

2020 Ford Explorer vs 2019 Dodge Durango
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The 2019 Dodge Durango comes with impressive powertrain options that suit a variety of functions. The low-tier SXT and GT trims of the Durango are powered by a 3.6-liter V-6 engine that produces 295 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque.

The mid-level Citadel trim, on the other hand, comes with either the aforementioned 3.6-liter V-6 engine or the meatier 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 unit that spits out 360 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque.

This is the same engine you’ll get if you opt for the Durango R/T trim. If none of these engines are enough, you can go full-on barbarian and score the range-topping Durango SRT, which comes to the dance with a mammoth 6.4-liter V-8 engine that produces 475 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque.

All engine versions are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, though as you might expect, fuel mileage differs depending on the size of the engine. The 3.6-liter V-6 engine, for example, returns 19 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway with a rear-wheel drive configuration. Those figures drop a teensy bit to 18mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway with all-wheel drive. The 5.7-liter V-8 unit only comes with all-wheel drive, and by virtue of its V-8 muscles, fuel returns drop to 14 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway. Unfortunately, if you’re buying the Durango SRT, you’ll need to prepare for more frequent stops to the gas station. The 6.4-liter V-8 engine returns just 13 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway. The Durango doesn’t return the best bang for your buck as far as fuel economy is concerned. There’s no going around it; those V-8’s are gas guzzlers.

Towing capacity is another hallmark requirement among SUVs like the Durango. Fortunately, the Dodge not only holds its own against the competition; it actually has one of the highest ratings in its class.

The lower-spec SXT, GT, and Citadel trims, for example, can tow as much as 6,200 pounds, provided Dodge’s towing package is thrown in.

The poundage increases to 7,400 pounds with the R/T and V-8 Citadel trims. Then there’s the Durango SRT, which has a class-leading towing capacity of 8,700 pounds.

It’s a testament to the growing popularity of SUVs that automakers like Dodge and Ford have no issues offering multiple trim levels and engine options with their people haulers. The Durango’s three-engine lineup isn’t a rare occurrence; it’s actually become the norm. Look no further than Ford to find proof of that.

Yes, folks, the 2020 Ford Explorer comes with its own three-engine lineup, beginning with an updated version of Ford’s trusty 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine serving as the standard-spec engine on the base model, the XLT, and the Limited.

The four-cylinder unit produces a tidy 300 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque, edging out the Durango’s base V-6 unit by a hair. Opt for some V-6 lovin’ and Ford has you covered, too, with a 3.0-liter EcoBoost V-6 unit that produces 365 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque. It’s a much closer battle here with Dodge’s own HEMI V-8, but remember, Ford’s EcoBoost can produce that output with two fewer cylinders in its engine. Granted, Ford hasn’t released the fuel economy numbers of the new Explorer, but based on experience with the EcoBoost V-6, this engine should return 17 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway. It’s not the best in its class, but it’s still better than what the Durango’s HEMI V-8 returns.

2020 Ford Explorer vs 2019 Dodge Durango High Resolution Drivetrain
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In keeping with the Joneses, Ford’s also offering a performance-spec version of its SUV, dubbed the Explorer ST. You’ll recognize the “ST” nomenclature from the Focus and Fiesta hatchbacks, but it seems that the Blue Oval’s transitioning it to the Explorer as well. Alas, the Explorer ST features the same 3.0-liter EcoBoost V-6 engine, except that in this setup, the V-6 is tuned to produce an impressive 400 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque. Ok, so it’s not as powerful as the Durango SRT, but consider the engine discrepancy between the two. The fact that Ford managed to coax out 400 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque out of a V-6 engine is impressive enough on its own.

Ford’s decision to use the “ST” badge on the Explorer also opens up questions on whether an even hotter version of the SUV is in the works. Remember, the Focus ST and Fiesta ST models don’t sit at the top of their lineup. Those spots belong to the RS versions. Is it possible, then, that we could see an Explorer RS in the near future to compete against the Durang SRT? Ford does have a bigger 3.5-liter turbocharged V-6 engine that it can use on the Explorer. It’s already in place under the hood of the F-150 Raptor where it produces 450 horsepower. It’s also the same engine that powers the 647-horsepower Ford GT supercar so clearly, there’s plenty of room there for Ford to play around with.

That said, that’s a story for another time. For now, the new Explorer arrives packing a potent lineup of engines that can compete against the best the segment has to offer, including the Dodge Durango.

2020 Ford Explorer Base, XLT, Limited 2020 Ford Explorer Platinum 2019 Dodge Durango SXT, GT and Citadel 2019 Dodge Durango R/T and optional on Citadel 2019 Dodge Durango SRT
Engine 2.3-liter EcoBoost® I-4 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6 3.6-­LITER PENTASTAR V-­6 5.7-­LITER HEMI® V-­8 6.4-­LITER V-­8
Displacement 140 cu. in. 183.1 cu. in. 220 cu. in. 345 cu. in. 392 cu. in.
Compression ratio 10.0:1 9.5:1 10.2:1 10.5:1 10.9:1
Horsepower 300 365 293 hp @ 6,400 rpm 360 hp @ 5,150 rpm 475 HP @ 6,000 RPM
Torque 310 lb.-ft. 380 lb.-ft. 260 lb.-­ft. @ 4,000 rpm 390 lb.-­ft. @ 4,250 rpm 470 lb.-­ft.@ 4,300 rpm
Towing 5300 5600 6200 7400 8700

Final Thoughts

2020 Ford Explorer vs 2019 Dodge Durango
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The current-generation Dodge Durango is a capable SUV that brings a lot to the table, even if it’s been around longer than it probably should. Dodge has done an impressive job keeping the SUV fresh with regular updates in the exterior and interior of the Durango. The engine lineup is impressive, too. At the very least, there are a lot of options to choose from, and you can make a case for whatever version of the Durango you end up buying. More than any of that, the 2019 Durango is reasonably priced for an SUV of its size. Prices start at less than $30,000 for the base Durango SXT trim and goes all the way up to more than $60,000 for the range-topping Durango SRT. There’s a lot of room in between those price points to choose a particular trim so you’re not getting boxed into picking a version just because it’s the only one you can afford.

But if you’re really in the market for an SUV, the 2020 Ford Explorer is really the way to go.

Everything about this SUV is new and state-of-the-art. You’re not going to have to worry about waiting for the next-generation model to arrive because this is the next-generation model. With the Durango, there’s always that concern that Dodge will roll out the next-generation version of the SUV and you’re getting stuck with what amounts to a dated model. That’s not an issue with the Explorer, and while the base model is more expensive than the base version of the Durango — prices start $32,765 — the price difference between the two is negligible enough that it shouldn’t matter. I like the 2019 Dodge Durango for what it is as an SUV. But if I’m looking towards the future, I’m picking the all-new 2020 Ford Explorer.

Further reading

2020 Ford Explorer vs 2019 Dodge Durango
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Read our full review on the 2020 Ford Explorer.

2020 Ford Explorer vs 2019 Dodge Durango
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Read our full review on the 2019 Dodge Durango.

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