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2014 Dodge Durango shines at times vs. Toyota Highlander, Nissan Pathfinder

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(Read caption) Reid Bigland, president and CEO of the Dodge brand, introduces the new 2014 Dodge Durango at the New York International Auto Show March 28, 2013. Durango adds a new standard 8-speed transmission, delivering up to a 10 percent improvement in fuel economy, and is built for those who have a passion for driving.

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In the old days, SUVs were crude, truck-derived vehicles, purchased by those with a need to go where the busses don’t run, or a need to get from point A to point B regardless of weather. Families bought station wagons, or later, minivans.

Then the SUV and crossover craze hit, and suddenly off-road vehicles became more civilized (often losing some of their off-road prowess in the transition). Today, SUVs and crossovers are the hottest segments of the auto industry (in the U.S., anyway), and buyers are demanding more and more amenities with each passing year.

It’s no longer enough that an SUV includes cavernous cargo space, all-weather peace of mind or seating for up to seven passengers. Shoppers today want fuel economy, advanced safety features and sedan-like comfort, too.

For 2014, there are a crop of revised SUVs and crossovers hitting the market, including the 2014 Dodge Durango, the 2014 Toyota Highlander and the 2014 Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid. Which one is right for your needs and your family depends a lot on your requirements and expectations.

If driving is a passion for you, or if you need the capability of towing up to 7,400 pounds, the restyled 2014 Dodge Durango may be just what you’re looking for. While its standard 3.6-liter V-6 delivers 290 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, an available 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 pumps out 360 hp and 390 pound-feet of torque (delivering the aforementioned towing capacity).

In R/T trim it’s a remarkably entertaining SUV, too, though to be fair the Durango wouldn’t be out first choice for serious off-roading or for the best possible fuel economy. If you can live with those compromises, the 2014 Dodge Durango deserves a spot on your shopping list.

The vast majority of SUV drivers don’t feel their pulse race on a canyon road, though, and getting from one place to another with as little drama as possible is their top priority. For this type of SUV shopper, the all-new 2014 Toyota Highlander serves up plenty of capability and ups the ante for 2014 with more aggressive, off-road styling.

If we were serious about exploring, however, we’d still opt for the brand’s 4Runner over the Highlander, which is still best suited for navigating the wilds of suburbia. Compared to the Dodge Durango, expect the Highlander to serve up better fuel economy (especially with the available 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine), at the expense of towing and hauling capacity.

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Let’s say you want even better fuel economy, but you don’t like the 2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid. In that case, you may want to check out the all-new 2014 Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid, which comes with a combined output of 250 horsepower and a fuel economy rating of 26 mpg combined (25 mpg city, 27 mpg highway).

The 2014 Pathfinder Hybrid can also tow up to 3,500 pounds when properly equipped, meaning you can still haul your (reasonably sized) boat to the lake without buying a second truck. Available option packages can equip the 2014 Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid to near-luxury levels, influenced by Nissan’s luxury division, Infiniti.

There are plenty of carry-over models to choose from, too, meaning that shopping for an SUV or crossover isn’t getting any easier in 2013 than it was in 2012. Given the range of superb choices on the market today (including the three mentioned here), we’d say there’s never been a better time to shop for an SUV.

 

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