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MUSCLE WAGON: 2014 Dodge Durango R/T is no performance poseur

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It doesn’t happen very often, and it’s especially unexpected with a big, American SUV.

At a red light, a guy in an older Nissan Xterra checks out our 2014 Dodge Durango R/T, signals for us to roll down a window, and shouts at us, “Man, that is one gorgeous vehicle!”

And that was just the exterior. The interior is equally impressive.

After years of so-so designs, Chrysler is rapidly becoming a leader among American car companies for its interiors. The Durango’s 2014 redo is just the latest success.

The reimagined cabin features luxury-grade materials that are definitely a step or two above the usual for this class of vehicle. It’s a handsome, comfortable space, awash in soft-touch surfaces on both dash and doors.

The stylish, sporty gauges are a combination of actual meters flanking a large, programmable electroluminescent speedometer with a small info display in the center. A large touchscreen dominates the dash’s center, with easy-to-read graphics and easily understood operation for audio, HVAC, nav, systems settings and the like.

The R/T’s front buckets are oh-so-comfortable, with an added luxe touch of upgraded Nappa hides thanks to an optional Premium Leather Group that also includes a power tilt-telescoping steering wheel; ventilated power front seats for driver and front passenger; and even leather-wrapped door panels.

2014 Dodge Durango R/TThe R/T gets an additional shot of agility with a lowered, sport-tuned suspension and low-profile 20-inch tires on snazzy alloys. While a 5,300-pound SUV will never be mistaken for a sports car, the R/T is one of the best-handling full-size SUVs available.

The optional Hemi V-8, with its 360 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque, buttresses the performance portfolio with the added benefit of making cool muscle-car sounds. It also gives the Durango a generous 7,400-pound towing capability.

Paired with a new eight-speed automatic, Durango’s fuel economy has improved for 2014, but even with the Hemi’s cylinder-deactivation technology, it’s still nothing to brag about at 14 mpg in town and 22 on the open road.

Still, with its luxury-car ambiance, handsomely aggressive styling and excellent road manners, the Durango R/T has become of Chrysler’s most alluring products.