Is the 2017 Dodge Durango Citadel Too Luxurious?

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Dodge Durango Citadel is so Luxurious, it Should Be Part of New Brand

With Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles emerging from years of transition as well as CEO Sergio Marchionne’s five-year plan coming to an end in 2018, the time is ripe for a new brand to emerge. A luxury brand. The 2017 Dodge Durango Citadel should be its first model.

Dodge offers the Durango in a dizzying array of different trim levels: everything from base trims with cloth seats and performance trims meant to shock your neighbors to luxury-filled trims like the Citadel. These different trim lines under one model allow Dodge to offer one vehicle for a variety of buyers, which is cheaper than producing multiple models for specific audiences. Yet, there is a limit to this.

Korean automaker Hyundai learned this lesson by pushing off the need for a luxury brand for years. The reasoning was they were saving money on vehicle development and marketing. Hyundai executives argued customers would opt for the higher-trim models, and not worry about a luxury badge on the front. After years of bucking the market, executives gave in and launched the Genesis brand. Like other manufacturers, they finally saw the light of luxury customers wanting the name and a better shopping experience with upscale dealerships.

 

Trying to understand the marketing reasoning behind how the Citadel is in the same brand as the Hellcat is similar to watching oil poured into water. They don’t mix.

 

FCA is in a similar boat these days. They are leaving profits on the table, and are causing confusion around the Dodge brand. These days, Dodge is becoming known for performance muscle cars led by models with names like Hellcat and Demon. Going 0-60 mph in a muscle car presents a different image than an SUV filled with luxury trim features like the Citadel. Trying to understand the marketing reasoning behind how the Citadel is in the same brand as the Hellcat is similar to watching oil poured into water. They don’t mix.

The truth is, Citadel is more closely relatable to a GMC Denali trim level than anything else FCA offers. Outside, the subtle use of chrome is close to how the Denali trim is accented on GMC SUVs. The resemblance is even more striking inside the cabin with the Citadel name stitched on the top of the headrests, the soft-touch materials throughout, and the dressed-up center stack. In fact, if Dodge were to adorn the dash with luxury materials, they could convince unaware consumers the Citadel is just a different version of a Denali SUV.

Plus, its smooth powertrain with the 3.6-liter V6 and 8-speed transmission rivals the powertrain outputs of luxury models like GMC Denali SUVs. This means very little would have to be done performance-wise to compete in the luxury SUV segment.

Our test model came with several packages pushing the final MSRP to $53,560 including the Premium Entertainment Group ($2,490) with Beats Premium Audio, Blu-Ray rear DVD system, and second-row captain’s chairs ($995) giving easy access to the third-row. The Beats audio is similar to the great systems found in other luxury products.

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For those long-time FCA fans, they will remember the short-lived Chrysler Aspen, a luxury SUV model produced from 2007-2009. This ill-fated vehicle, like the Citadel, didn’t gain traction among consumers for many reasons, including the recession, and the fact its Chrysler badge, known for vans and sedans, didn’t make sense to consumers.

As someone who has test driven the Citadel each year for the past three model years, along with every SUV produced by Lexus, Cadillac and GMC, I can honestly say I find little difference between them. The Citadel is filled with so many luxury features, it’s like the odd man out among the Durango lineup. I’m consistently impressed by the seat comfort, interior layout, exterior styling and driving performance. And I’m constantly confused with how it still carries the Durango badge.

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When you look at Dodge’s approach to multiple versions of each of their products, like with the Charger and Challenger, they simply apply performance or small styling differences. The Citadel, however, is such a leap beyond those kinds of changes that it deserves its own attention.

Ultimately, with the changes in the marketplace skewed to SUVs and the recession behind us, it’s time for either FCA to create a new luxury brand, or the Citadel to drop the Durango part of its name. It really is so much different than the stock Durango that it deserves its own spot in the lineup.

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Words and Photos [Tim Esterdahl]

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