THE RIDE: Four-door, eight-passenger 2009 Dodge Durango hybrid Limited 4X4 full-size SUV.
DOWN THE ROAD: All new for 2009, the full-size SUV shows off incredible power from a Hemi V-8 backed by two electric motors. Factor in a standard all-wheel-drive system and the result is a remarkable first-rate ride with outstanding balance and handling capabilities. Did we mention an improved fuel economy, and generous cargo and passenger space?
TECH & PERFORMANCE: A 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 engine cranks out 385 horsepower at 5400 rpm and 380 pounds-feet of torque at 4200 rpm. Mated to an electrically variable transmission, the Durango hybrid is equipped with an independent front suspension consisting of a torsion bar and five-link coil springs with Watt's link (which nixes side-to-side movement of axle) in the rear. Here's how the two-mode hybrid system works. In first mode, the SUV can operate in electric power only, engine power or a combination of both. At a low speed of about 25 mph or under, the gas-powered engine shuts off with the vehicle operating solely on electric. Thus, there is a tremendous fuel saving in heavy stop-and-go traffic. In second mode, which is at highway speed, the Hemi engine gets to work with electric assist also. The two-mode system integrates GM's Multi-Displacement System, which shuts off four of eight cylinders at low speed. During regenerative braking, the batteries for the electric power are recharged by energy that is captured as the driver brakes or slows down.
LOOK & FEEL: Riding on 18-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels is the traditional Dodge crosshair grille with outsized rectangular headlights and dual-halogen bulbs around fender corners. The rear sports 'after-burner' taillights and a centered chrome appliqué on the lift gate. Step inside and the first thing that will grab your attention on the instrument cluster is the electric/hybrid/gas gauge with its red needle to the right of the round speedometer, fuel and temperature gauges. Also showing how the two-mode hybrid system works is a Hybrid Energy Center with readings for instant mpg, battery level and the Hemi engine.
SAFETY FIRST: Standard features include dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag for all three rows, four-wheel antilock brakes, Electronic Stability Program, Electronic Roll Mitigation, Trailer Sway Control, rear-park assist, tire pressure monitoring system and a rear backup camera.
OUT THE DOOR: $45,340, plus tax, tag, delivery and destination charges.
BY THE NUMBERS: Tires, P265/60R18; wheelbase, 119.2 inches; length, 202.1 inches; weight, 5,609 pounds; fuel capacity, 27 gallons; highway, 20 mpg; city, 19 mpg.
WHY DIG IT: We averaged nearly 19 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving, which is admirable considering that the Durango hybrid is equipped with a Hemi engine and two electric motors that pack a punch, and gobs of cargo storage area and passenger room. The "green environment" advantages further enhance the vehicle's appeal.