Article Archive Details
Hendon Publishing

Dodge Durango SSV

Paraphrasing Mark Twain, “The reports of the Durango’s death have been greatly exaggerated.” The production of the Durango exactly as we currently know it will continue for the foreseeable future.

Since neither the Michigan State Police nor the Los Angeles County Sheriff test Special Service Vehicles (SSV), capable vehicles like the Dodge Durango SSV may be overlooked. The Durango SSV is slightly larger and about the same price as the Ford PI Utility. The Durango SSV is about as cargo-capable but less expensive than the Tahoe, and is currently more readily available.

The best way to think of a Durango is as a Grand Cherokee with a 5-inch longer wheelbase and a 10-inch longer body. The Grand Cherokee is a five-passenger, two-seat SUV, while the Durango is a seven-passenger, three-seat SUV. Durability-wise, both the Durango and the Grand Cherokee are built off the Mercedes-developed WK2 platform. Part of the improved ride and handling with the Third Gen Durango is the upgrade to a fully independent rear suspension (IRS).



The Durango SSV is available as either a Rear-Wheel Drive (RWD) or All-Wheel Drive (AWD).The Durango SSV is powered by either a 290 hp, 3.6L Pentastar V6 or a 360 hp, 5.7L Hemi V8. The 3.6L Pentastar V6 is E85-ethanol FlexFuel capable. Durango uses two different AWD systems, one for the 3.6L V6 and one for the 5.7L V8. The Durango is built at the Jefferson Avenue Assembly Plant in Detroit. The Pentastar V6 comes from the Trenton South Engine Plant just outside Detroit. This V6 has been on the Ward’s 10 Best Engines list three years in a row.


Both versions of the Durango SSV come with the ZF 8-speed, made at the FCA plant in Kokomo, Ind. We can’t say enough good things about this ZF 8-speed. It is designed to handle the torque. The 8-speed has already been proven in both the Durango (retail and SSV) and the RAM 1500 pickup (retail and SSV). Gear ratio-wise, 6th gear is direct drive while 7th and 8th speeds are overdrives. This ZF 8-speed can get 11 percent better mileage than the ZF-6 speed transmission and 15 percent better than a modern 5-speed transmission.

The 8-speed greatly improves both fuel economy and acceleration. In fact, the 8-speed gets the Durango to 60 mph more than a second faster than the previous 5-speed. With the 3.6L V6 and AWD, the full-size Durango SSV hits 60 mph in 8.0 seconds. This compares to 8.2 seconds for the 5.3L V8 Tahoe 4WD and 8.3 seconds for the 3.7L V6 Ford PI Utility AWD.

With less of a gear ratio gap between the different transmission gears, the 8-speed also has a lot smoother acceleration, and the engine stays closer to the peak torque and peak horsepower during both Wide Open Throttle and down-shifting to pass on a two-lane road.



Special Service Package

The Special Service package for the Durango is much more of a police package than a retail-delete package. For the typical SSV, automakers used to start with the lowest trim level vehicle, and then deleted features. Seldom, if ever, did Special Service package mean adding police-specific or even police-oriented features. To the contrary, the Durango SSV is not a rebadged or content-deleted retail SUV.

The Durango SSV starts with the lower, SXT-trim level but then police-only parts are added to make the Special Service package. Instead of the standard 160 amp alternator, the Special Service version uses a 220 amp alternator. The battery is also upgraded from 700 CCA to 800 CCA. The Durango SSV package includes an engine with an auxiliary engine oil cooler and specialized water pump, on both the V6 and V8.

A police-oriented SUV, this Durango has a unique, police-specific headliner and dome light and rear HVAC for K9 operations. Spotlight wiring prep is standard equipment. Also unique to the Special Service package Durango is a liftgate key lock cylinder not found on the retail SUV.

For the best ergonomics, the Durango has an eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat and a tilt and telescoping steering wheel. Instead of adjustable pedals, the Durango has a greater steering column stroke and fore-aft adjustment and it has a greater seat fore-aft/up-down travel to allow the driver to locate to the proper position. The 2016 Durango uses projector beam headlights.

There are three must-have options. First, the 4-skid plate group, which includes front tow hooks, protects the fuel tank, transfer case, front suspension and underbody. Second, the trailer tow group, which includes a Class IV receiver, 4-pin/7-pin wiring harness, load-leveling suspension and (most importantly) a full-size spare tire. The trailer tow package used to be the secret way to get a more police-oriented, stiffer suspension. The third must-have option is a ParkView® rear backup camera.


Performance Brakes

The best proof that the Special Service package Durango is not just a rebadged retail Durango are the upgraded front brakes. Dodge Fleet ran the Durango on the race courses at Pomona (Los Angeles County Sheriff) and Grattan (Michigan State Police).

As a result of this track time, the Special Service Durango comes with higher performance, ‘export’ brake pads. This is essentially an upgrade from non-asbestos organic (retail) pads to semi-metallic (police) pads. That said, like all SSVs, the Special Service package Durango is “not designed nor intended for high-speed emergency or pursuit driving” according the Chrysler Fleet.

During our time with the Durango, we worked the brakes pretty hard. We conducted a long series of 0 to 100 mph runs, followed by hard braking to make a U-turn at a median crossover, then more acceleration and more braking. The Durango SSV has plenty of brakes.


Rotary Gear Selector

For those new to the Durango, there is a major unknown that has been around for a few years, and a minor unknown that is new for 2016. The major unknown with the late-model Durango SSV is the center console-mounted rotary gear selector. Unless you have driven an FCA truck or SUV with the 8-speed, the rotary gear selector is probably new. This is very different from a column-mounted or instrument panel-mounted shifter, but it doesn’t take long to get used to.

The rotary shifter has a rubberized, high-friction, knurled surface for easy grasping. It has a very tactile feel, no finger slip at all. The rotary selector has clear and obvious detents to indicate each gear position. Yet it is easy to move back and forth between Park, Reverse and Drive without looking. In a hurry, the knob can be flipped back and forth between Drive and Reverse with just a quick twist. The driver does not have to fight any steps or notches, or press/pull the rotary shifter to change gears.

Halfway into the first patrol shift, the rotary shifter was second nature, not to mention in a more ergonomic location than most lever shift arms. While clearly different from a big shift lever, the rotary selector is no big deal and easy to get used to, even driving under the stress of an emergency response or pursuit.


Engine Stop-Start Technology

For those already familiar with the rotary shifter, the minor change for the 2016 Durango SSV is the Engine Stop-Start (ESS) technology. New for 2016, the Durango with the 3.6L Pentastar V6 will have this fuel economy assist. Stop-Start is not available with the 5.7L V8 engine.

With Engine Stop-Start technology, the engine shuts off as the vehicle comes to a stop, then instantly restarts as the brake pedal is released. Taking less than a half-second to start, the engine has started and is ready to accelerate by the time the foot reaches the gas pedal. Stop-start is activated automatically and requires no input from the driver.

ESS technology increases fuel efficiency by shutting the engine off when the vehicle comes to a complete stop. The radio, gauges, heating/air conditioning all continue to operate, making the operation transparent to the driver. The engine restarts automatically when the driver releases the brake, allowing seamless acceleration. Stop-Start only works with the transmission in Drive. The engine remains running when the gear selection is in all the other positions, i.e., Stop-Start does not shut off an engine idling in Park.

Starter and battery systems have been upgraded to complement the ESS technology for heavy-duty operation on models equipped with the feature. This includes a high-durability starter housed in a stronger case, heavy-duty flywheel teeth, and a more robust starter solenoid. During testing, the new starter was subjected to durability testing cycles more than 2.5 times that of a non-Stop-Start vehicle, which was more than 300,000 on/off cycles.

The new battery uses absorbed glass mat (AGM) technology. System voltage is continually monitored through a battery sensor. If the battery’s charge is reduced, the vehicle will discontinue stop-start until the battery is recharged to an acceptable level.

Heads-up: The engine shuts off every time the vehicle comes to a stop, which is the whole point. The Stop-Start feature is totally transparent when driving in traffic with stop-and-go lights. However, the Stop-Start also shuts the engine off at every stop sign, and every time the vehicle stops to make a turn at an intersection—no matter how brief the stop is. As such, the Stop-Start function may be deactivated using a switch on the instrument panel. Once deactivated, it will remain OFF until the next key-ON cycle.


Driving Impressions

The Durango is very roomy. It has plenty of head, shoulder, hip, and leg room even wearing body armor with full duty belt. The Durango SSV is a full-size SUV and has the driver room you expect. Seating position has driver sitting up high, as high as an SUV and higher than a crossover. The SSV seats are a great blend of firmness and cushioned support. We did both frequent entry-exit tours of duty and some three-hour continuous runs and found the Durango SSV extremely comfortable.

Extremely easy to enter and exit, even wearing body armor and a full duty belt. Simply step in and step out. No head ducking. No scraping the steering wheel or B-pillar with your duty gear as you enter. No stepping up to get in or stepping down to get out. The Durango has excellent visibility 360 degrees. To the rear, there is no sensation of looking down a tunnel.

Independent rear suspension allows combination of comfortable ride and good handling. The shock and spring rates seem just right. Not the stiff ride, harsh ride of some police-oriented crossover/SUVs. SSV has a ‘heavy-duty’ suspension. Some police-oriented crossover/SUVs have a very stiff suspension and a very harsh ride.


Vehicle Performance

The V6 and 8-speed powered Durango SSV is fast enough for nearly all patrol and most special duties. The 8-speed trans makes the big SUV a lot more throttle responsive than the same vehicle with a 5-speed we put 750 miles on a few years ago. The low-speed maneuvering bordered on nimble for a 120-inch wheelbase SUV. Its maneuverability and handling at both urban and rural speeds are outstanding.

Steering is the typical high-effort, police-spec steering feel. In fact, it was heavier than expected for urban use but just right for rural use. The high-speed handling was firm, predictable, and confidence-inspiring with minimal and controlled body roll. The recovery from bounce and jounce was rapid. The Durango has a perfect 50/50 weight distribution. The benefits of the fully independent suspension over a solid rear axle could definitely be felt on washboard and unimproved county roads and crossing railroad tracks at an angle.

All SSVs, crossover/SUVs, and pickups are speed-limited to between 98 mph and 106 mph. The Durango SSV reached a top speed of 111 mph. This is slower than all the police package vehicles but faster than all the other SSV package vehicles.


Fuel Economy Improvements

The 2016 Dodge Durango also features an Eco Mode that contributes to its improved fuel economy. Eco Mode optimizes the transmission’s shift schedule, as well as throttle sensitivity, to maximize fuel economy. Another fuel economy measure is the use of all-electric assist power steering. No hoses to leak. No hydraulic pump for the engine to drive. Finally, the Durango has had a nine-pound to 68-pound weight reduction, depending on drivetrain and trim level.

For fuel economy, the 2016 Durango picks up 1 mpg City and 2 mpg Highway (RWD) or 1 mpg Highway (AWD). With the 3.6L V6 AWD version, the EPA estimates are 17 mpg City, 24 mpg Highway, and 19 mpg Combined.

Based on the famous Los Angeles Sheriff Department 100-mile driving loop, the Tahoe 4WD averages 12 mpg and the Ford PI Utility averages 17 mpg. In trying to duplicate that same combination of urban, suburban and highway driving, and with very little cargo most of the time, we averaged exactly 19 mpg.

We had the Durango SSV for two weeks and put 1500

miles on it during calls-for-service. The duties were mostly rural and suburban calls for service, a little traffic enforcement, very little idling, and some interstate driving. Our 19 mpg average is 1 mpg (actual) better than the most recent Durango 3.6L V6 and 4 mpg better than an upfitted, in-service, 4.7L V8 Durango doing similar duties. If you opt for the 5.7L V8 in the Durango SSV, expect a best of 16 mpg.

In the past few years, crossover/SUVs have come to dominate police fleets. More than just SWAT, SCUBA, K9 and patrol supervisors, the crossover/SUV is being used for uniformed patrol. Simply put, these crossover/SUVs have more interior room, and can haul more gear than a sedan. The 3.6L V6 Durango SSV can tow up to 6,200 pounds. The 2016 Durango goes into production in February 2016. For budgetary purposes, expect to pay about $27,600 for the base 3.6L V6/AWD version. Expect the 5.7L V8 to be a $2,650 upgrade.

Every automaker wants you to test drive their police package and special-service package vehicles. Every FCA Fleet Government Account Manager (GAM) has a Durango SSV in their pool of loaner vehicles, or they can put you in touch with a nearby dealer who has one in their demo pool. Experience how Dodge does a police-oriented SUV.

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Nov/Dec 2015

Rating : 10.0

Related Products




Posted on : Apr 10 at 2:59 PM By P. Kranz

Stop/Start began on the 3.6 engine in both the Durango and Grand Cherokee in 2016. The 2015 models do not have stop/start. This change occurred concurrent with the introduction of an improved 3.6 V-6 engine in 2016.

Update to last post.

Posted on : Jul 7 at 5:30 PM By Steve Klonsky

Correction. SmartStop Start applies to '15 and later Durangos with the 3.6L V6.

Disabling Stop Start

Posted on : Jul 7 at 5:28 PM By Steve Klonsky

Many in law enforcement are not fond of the Engine Stop-Start (ESS) technology in the '16 and later Durangos. This can be easily disabled with the device on this website: Contact us for volume discounts.

Center console

Posted on : Feb 5 at 7:02 AM By Joe Madzelan

The FCA literature references a full-length center console. Is this the same as the retail console? The few pictures I have seen from FCA show a console by Havis.

Related Companies

Article Images

Click to enlarge images.

Close ...