At first glance, you might expect the Durango to be just another big, clumsy SUV with its now-three-row body stretched over a pickup truck like the old Durango was. But youd be so wrong. When this third generation of Dodges covered wagon appeared, in 2011, it shocked everyone with its post-grad drivetrain and suspension and its uptown manners. Now, for 2014, the Durango is a bit more polished yet. Still, it hasnt traded its American citizenship for a EuroZone passport; under the burly sheet metal this Durango is part Jeep Grand Cherokee, part Mercedes-Benz GL and all Dodge.

The No. 1 upgrade this year is an electronic eight-speed automatic transmission that looks after itself quite well, and that also responds to finger paddles on the steering wheel. (Yes, its brought in from Germany and the Hemi engine is Mexican, and Dodge belongs to Fiat, in Italy but the Durango itself is imported from Detroit.) The extra two cogs in the transmission smooth out the Durangos acceleration and braking and, with the overdrive top gear, improve fuel economy slightly.

A V-6 Durango with 295 horsepower is now rated for 18 city and 25 highway mpg. With the 360-horsepower, 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 under the hood, efficiency sags a bit, to 14/22 city/highway. (We hit 18 overall.) With the 24.6-gallon tank, you might squeeze out 500 miles between potty stops, but lets not talk about the CO2 output.

Dodge can get us into a new Durango for as little as $31,000, but thats for a basic SXT model with the six-cylinder engine and rear-wheel drive. From there to the lofty $53,365 sticker of our Citadel AWD may seem like several bridges too far, but the difference between the two models is largely one of extra equipment and upgrades, not in basic goodness. The standard Six, for example, is more than adequate unless you need to tow three or four tons of something.

(If this sort of order-book price mayhem seems like a German sales tactic try costing out a BMW or Porsche, for example, without getting heartburn the truth is, the Germans learned the trick from Detroit long ago.)

Speaking of equipment, a Durango has, or can have, everything but a cigar bar. On top of the Citadels already well-padded CV (three-zone automatic climate control, Xenon headlights, backup camera and sensors, self-adjusting wipers, leather & power everything), ours came with eight grand worth of topping-up: a heavy-duty trailering package; second-row captains chairs with their own DVD screens; front-collision, blind-spot and rear-crossing monitors; braking assistance; and the smoothest and best-calibrated adaptive cruise control Ive yet encountered. Nothing disappoints, not even the Uconnect infotainment system.

Theres just one area where the big ol traditional truck-based SUVs like the Suburban and Escalade beat the new Durango, and thats in, well, area cargo space. With the third pair of seats deployed and the family aboard for a road trip, youll need a roof pod to stow the luggage. The space between the tailgate and the back, back seats is only big enough to hold a weeks worth of grocery bags upright.

Flop the second- and third-row seatbacks down (they wont go absolutely flat) and its a different story. But there still isnt quite as much room back there for people as there is in, say, a Lexus GX 460, much less a Suburban. Dont get the idea that the Durango is cramped, however.

The new Durango is comfortable and luxurious but doesnt leave the driver feeling isolated from the road. It also makes just enough noises, and asks for just enough driver effort, to feel properly mechanical without being too truck-like. Somehow it finds a sweet spot between crossover and true ute, white and blue collar, Sam Adams and Chardonnay.

Silvio Calabi reviews the latest from Detroit, Munich, Yokohama, Gothenburg, Crewe, Seoul and wherever else interesting cars are born. Silvio is a member of the International Motor Press Association whose automotive reviews date back to the Reagan administration. He is the former publisher of Speedway Illustrated magazine and an author. Contact him at