Both are assembled in Detroit, share the same basic underpinnings and are new this year. But the Durango has a third row and it offers a more comfortable ride, particularly on a rough road, which these days seems to be all roads.
The least expensive Durango is a rear-wheel drive Express with a 3.6-liter V-6. It is $29,195, excluding the destination charge. All-wheel drive costs another $2,000.
The most expensive model is loftily called Citadel and in all-wheel drive with the 5.7-liter V-8 it is$45,690.
The model I tried for a week was the Crew, a mid-level with all-wheel drive and a 290-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6. It was $33,195. But a bunch of options, including a 5.7-liter V-8, navigation system, DVD player and sunroof cranked the price up to $41,505.
Once built on a truck frame, the Durango has now crossed over to a car-based unibody construction for a more comfortable ride and better handling. With an overall length of 199.8 inches it is 10 inches longer than the Grand Cherokee.
Most of that extra length has gone for the third row. Dodge says the Durango is a seven passenger but really only six people could be carried in reasonable comfort assuming that the third row is occupied by small children. One quibble with the second row is that the bottom seat cushion seems short and close to the floor.
All models have the necessary safety gear, ranging from side-impact protection air bags to electronic stability control. In addition the basic controls are logically located and there's plenty of storage.
What's most impressive about the Durango — with its fully independent suspension — is the driving. For a large vehicle it handles well and, even on a bad road, the ride remains relatively comfortable, with the sharpest impacts nicely blunted. In addition, there isn't the side-to-side rocking motion (known as "head toss") that troubles the Grand Cherokee on some roads.
The reason for the Durango's superior pavement performance is that with Jeep the engineers had to worry about off-road performance since that's a key part of the Jeep heritage. That was not a concern for the Durango so its performance could be geared to the pavement.
To handle deep snow or mud the Durango has about eight inches of ground clearance. The all-wheel drive versions include a full-time system on which the driver just drives and a low-range selection designed for more demanding low-speed work, which could include off road or simply pulling a boat up a launch ramp.
I found the all-wheel drive system with standard tires worked well climbing steep, snowy roads. But the performance wasn't as good braking. A moderate application of the brakes caused the Durango to slide a bit. Stopping and turning is as important as moving forward and if I planned on routinely driving on snowy roads I'd seriously consider four, good winter tires.
The standard engine is a 290-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6. But the model I tried had the 360-horsepower 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, which is a $1,895 option. Each comes with a five-speed automatic transmission. Despite the 360 horsepower, the Crew model has a curb weight of just over 5,300 pounds. So, acceleration is acceptable but far from frisky.
The towing capacity of the all-wheel drive with the 5.7-liter is 7,200 pounds, according to Dodge. That's the same as the Grand Cherokee with the V-8.
Not surprisingly with a big, heavy vehicle there is no free ride when it comes to fuel economy. The model I tried was rated at 13 mpg city and 20 mpg highway. Opt for the V-6 and the fuel economy is 16 city and 22 highway.
If one doesn't need to tow or the ground clearance and doesn't suffer from mini aversion, vehicles such as the 2011 Honda Odyssey carry as much and offer better fuel economy.
But overall the Durango has made a terrific if somewhat tardy transition from a truck to a thoroughly likeable, modern family vehicle.