* Model: 2014 Dodge Durango Limited
* Exterior color: Bright White
* Interior color: Black/Light Frost
* Engine: 3.6-liter, V-6
* Horsepower: 290
* Transmission: 8-speed automatic
* Fuel economy: 25 mpg highway, 18 mpg city
* Dealer: Moss Motor Company, South Pittsburg
* Price (as tested): $43,445 (before discounts)
It took "Anchorman" character Ron Burgundy (aka comedian Will Ferrell) to call America's attention to the Dodge Durango.
In a series of television commercials, Burgundy, a blow-hard TV anchorman, gushes about how the Durango's glove box "comes standard" (wow!) and the roomy storage compartment, with the second- and third-row seats folded flat, is "perfect for sax." A saxophone player, that is.
We would add that the under-appreciated Durango is powerful, refined and embodies an SUV segment all its own. It's larger than most midsize SUVs but smaller than full-size, truck-based vehicles such as the Chevy Tahoe.
Durango buyers can choose between a standard 3.6-liter, V-6 engine (making 290 horsepower) or a Hemi V-8 that makes 360 horsepower and tows up to 7,400 pounds. Rear-wheel-drive is standard, but all-wheel-drive is an available option.
The Detroit-made Durango consistently scores at or near the top in comparison tests in automotive magazines. Motor Trend, for example, recently rated the Durango No. 1 in a group test alongside the Toyota Highlander, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder and Honda Pilot.
Dale Swafford, sales manager at Moss Motor Co. in South Pittsburg, provided this week's tester, a Bright White Durango in Limited trim, the middle rung in a five-step trim ladder that ranges in base price from $29,795 to $43,395. Our test vehicle stickers for $43,445 before discounts.
STYLING AND FEATURES
The Durango has a clean, muscular exterior design and one of the most comfortable interiors in its class. The grille stands out with Dodge's trademark floating split-cross-hair design; and our tester is gussied up with 20-inch, polished-aluminum wheels. The flashy wheels are part of a "preferred options package" ($2,495) that also includes a power sun-roof, navigation system, power liftgate and HD radio.
The Durango has the exterior dimensions of a full-size, truck-based SUV along with the slick handling and composed ride of a car-based crossover. I think our tester's color combination -- Bright White on the outside with cream-colored leather seats -- suits the vehicle's personality. Incidentally, white is the best color for boosting truck/SUV resale value.
Inside, the Durango is exceptionally well furnished. The seats are wide and supportive, with deep cushioning and high-quality stitching. Our Durango Limited comes with two, second-row captain's chairs separated by a center console that has an ample arm-rest an embedded storage cubby. If you have energetic kids -- like I do -- this split-seat option ($995 for the captain's chairs, and $300 for the console) would be worth the money just to keep them separated. Be aware though, the captain's chairs reduce overall passenger capacity from seven seats to six.
Other standard features on the Durango Limited include a rotary gear shifter (an upscale touch), a back-up camera, a parking-assist feature, keyless ignition, paddle shifters, heated first- and second-row seats, three-zone temperature control, an 8.4-inch infotainment touchscreen and an 8-way power driver's seat.
Our tester also comes with the tow-group option ($995) which beefs up the vehicle's cooling system to support heavier loads.
All in all, the Durango feels expensive, perhaps because it shares many platform parts with the Mercedes GL-class SUV. (Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz are former business partners). Honestly, without looking at the window sticker, you's think that the Durango costs about $10,000 more than it actually does.
Our test vehicle's 3.6-liter, V-6 engine will be the sales leader for the Durango line, and should be adequate for most drivers. On our Test Drive on Interstate I-24 between South Pittsburg and Jasper, the Durango's rear-wheel-drive setup provided a smooth ride and good maneuverability.
A new, eight-speed automatic transmission (up from the previous generation's five-speed) is a real upgrade, and contributes to a smooth, quiet ride. Even the 20-inch wheels don't noticeably interfere with the ride quality, although some reviewers have noted the standard 18-inch wheels seem to iron out pavement imperfections better.
Rearward visibility is a bit pinched, but a back-up camera and large side-mirrors help. The third-row seat is not quite minivan size, but a couple of average-sized 12-year-olds should have no problem riding there comfortably for long distances.
After our test drive, it became obvious why the Durango grades out so well in comparison tests. It combines the best attributes of two classes of SUVs -- medium and large -- at a price point that brings value into play.
I'd even go out on a limb and say our Limited test vehicle with the captain's chairs is the best configuration for most families looking for a balance between sticker price and functionality.
As Ron Burgandy might say, "Don't act like you're not impressed."
Contact Mark Kennedy at email@example.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.