The 2014 Dodge Durango throws down the gauntlet in the rapidly increasing full-size SUV and crossover marketplace. It is built on the Dodge brand's foundation of performance, style and innovation.

Making a comeback in 2011 following a hiatus, Durango combines sleek, muscular lines, comfortable three-row seating, large cargo volume, class-leading power, towing capability and overall driving pleasure unlike anything seen before in the SUV segment.

This new 2014 Dodge has taken everything that customers relish about Durango by adding the latest advancements in technology, enhancing its design, capability and functionality, while managing to maintain the 2013 starting price at $29,795.

With a new standard eight-speed automatic transmission, improved fuel economy (as much as 15 percent) and performance levels, new LED exterior lighting, two new interior touchscreens, a new programmable instrument cluster and an available high-definition dual-screen Blu-ray entertainment system, the new Durango achieves higher levels of sophistication, building on its existing attributes.

The Dodge Durango is available in five trims with two engine variants, as well as RWD and AWD drive configurations. The model range consists of: SXT; Rallye; a new for 2014 Limited; R/T; and Citadel.

Engine choices include a Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 that delivers 290 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque; and a 5.7-liter OHV HEMI V-8 that produces 360 horses along with 390 lb.-ft of torque -- good for towing up to 7,400 pounds.

Both engines deliver motive force to either the rear wheels (RWD) or to all four (AWD) via the 8-speed automatic overdrive transmission. The AWD versions use two specific Transfer cases for each of the engines.

During the national press launch, I was assigned to test a 2014 Dodge Durango R/T model in a RWD configuration, powered by the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8. The base price was set at $38,995. The Durango R/T definitely makes no compromises, even in the RWD configuration, and if you're not intending to seriously journey off-road under challenging conditions, rear-wheel-drive is likely the way to go.

The HEMI V-8 features a new Eco mode that optimizes the new 8-speed transmission's shift schedule and throttle sensitivity, as well as employs Fuel Saver Technology with cylinder deactivation. The Technology also manages interactive deceleration fuel shut-off when coasting.

The rotary knob shifter, in addition to being unique, is easy and intuitive to use. Acceleration is brisk on demand when nailing the throttle, while smooth and refined when in cylinder deactivation -- operation is seamless.

The ride quality is civilized and quite comfortable, and the handling through the rack-and-pinion steering is spot on. The new Durango holds the road well with surprising stability, considering its overall mass. The tester had a base curb weight of 5,133 pounds.

The new Dodge Durango displays a most stylish look with an aggressive stance. It is now considerably more attractive than ever before, especially with its new grille and taillamp designs. Safety and security features abound, with more than 60 devices delivering confidence and peace of mind. With all of its build combinations, Durango seems to have something for everyone shopping for a full-size SUV with three seating rows.

The goal of the design team was to create a new exterior that conveyed the advancement of the Durango, while maintaining the muscular body expected from Dodge customers. The Durango's face is distinctly Dodge, but features a new, slimmer "split crosshair" grille with mesh textures unique to each trim level. Combined with the redesigned projector-beam headlamps and a raised front bumper, the Durango has an even more sinister look than previous models.

The 2014 Dodge Durango receives all-new 18- and 20-inch aluminum wheel designs for every trim level, featuring finishes ranging from silver painted to polished aluminum to class-exclusive Hyper Black.

The Chrysler Group's Uconnect Access, easy-to-use touchscreen technologies and the Dodge brand's signature racetrack LED taillamps all contribute to the satisfaction of driving enthusiasts in the market for a three-row family performance SUV.

SPECIFICATIONS

2014 DODGE DURANGO R/T

VEHICLE TYPE_________________ 7-passenger large RWD SUV

BASE PRICE___________________ $38,995 (as tested: $46,065)

MOTOR TYPE___________________OHV Hemi V-8

DISPLACEMENT________________ 5.7-liter

HORSEPOWER (net)_____________ 360 at 5150 rpm

TORQUE (lb.-ft.)_________________ 390 at 4250 rpm

TRANSMISSION_________________ 8-speed automatic

OVERALL LENGTH_______________ 201.2 in.

TURNING CIRCLE (curb-to-curb) ___37.1 ft.

CURB WEIGHT__________________ 5,133 lbs.

FUEL CAPACITY________________ 24.6 gal.

EPA MILEAGE RATING___________ 14 mpg city, 23 mpg highway