For many families needing to haul lots of people and cargo, the size, comfort and versatility of an SUV often is the perfect solution. An appealing new entry to the field, which is really a re-entry after a short absence, is the Dodge Durango. Sporting a modern, attractive exterior and tons of interior room and conveniences, the Durango, especially in its top-of-the-line Citadel trim, seems to have it all.

The first impression of the Durango is that it’s big: There’s plenty of passenger room up front, in the second row, and even decent room in the third row seats. Cargo room is a bit small with the third seat up, but with it folded there’s plenty of space to haul mass quantities of stuff.

The Durango Citadel has automatic everything, including an electric tailgate, power-heated and ventilated leather seats, tilt and telescopic heated steering wheel, dual automatic climate control with separate rear seat control, keyless entry and start, blind spot monitoring, and even power third-row headrests that fold down to improve visibility when the third-row seats are unoccupied. The audio and other systems are controlled by a touch screen in the center of the dash that is easy enough to use. A rear entertainment system with a DVD player and satellite TV is an attractive option, especially for little ones on long trips. A back-up camera is a welcome safety feature on a vehicle this large.

A five-speed automatic transmission channels power from the 5.7 liter 360 horsepower V-8 Hemi engine to all or just the rear wheels, depending on which model you choose. Mileage is 13 city, 20 highway with the V-8 all-wheel-drive, which offers a ‘low’ setting for off-roading.

A high-riding position gives you a commanding view of the road. The ride is comfortable; the handling, good. Power is adequate to get the job done, but under hard acceleration, you’re reminded of how much vehicle the engine is being asked to move. Similarly, the brakes are OK, but feel like they’re doing a lot of work under heavy braking.

Tony Cancila of Marty Cancila Chrysler says, “The Durango Citadel is luxurious and beautiful to look at, but is as capable as it is ‘pretty.’ ”

Pricing for the Durango starts at approximately $30,000, and can approach $50,000 for the Citadel all-wheel-drive with lots of options.

Another attractive SUV choice is the BMW X3, which offers plenty of interior room, attractive styling, and best of all, good handling that makes it fun to drive—for an SUV.

The new X3 has grown to the point where there’s almost as much interior room as in the old X5. Front seats are well bolstered, heated and covered in rich leather. Dual automatic climate control and a sound system, including satellite radio, ensure cabin comfort and entertainment. Two huge sunroofs cover the front and rear passengers and the one over the front seat opens for ventilation and open-top motoring. Room in the rear seat is most generous, with a surprising amount of leg room. Rear seat passengers even get their own air vents and the ability to control the temperature of the air they’re receiving. Behind the rear seats is a large cargo area with a tonneau cover that becomes cavernous with the rear seat folded.

I’m still not a big fan of the I-drive system, with a screen interface and console mounted controller, but with hard buttons for the ventilation controls and radio functions, and steering wheel-mounted audio controls, most of the things you most frequently adjust don’t require the distraction of going through menus on a screen. A back-up camera and cameras on the sides really help with tight parking maneuvers.

The steering and suspension are nice and tight, providing good handling, which combined with the excellent acceleration from the 6- cylinder turbo engine, make for an enjoyable vehicle to drive, albeit with a higher center of gravity than a sedan or wagon. Brakes are also top notch, raising the performance quotient even higher.

Mileage with the turbo 3.0 liter inline 6 cylinder engine is 19 city, 26 highway; pretty good mileage for a two-ton vehicle with 300 horsepower and exhilarating acceleration, thanks in large part to its 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, direct fuel injection and brake energy regeneration. A manual transmission is not available in the U.S. The all-wheel-drive system, combined with stability control, gives the X3 superior traction in all weather conditions. It even has hill descent control for going down steep offroad hills.

Gerd Petermann of Autohaus BMW says of the X3, “The best thing about the X3 is its phenomenal handling. Its 50/50 weight distribution contributes to good car control, especially in emergency maneuvers.” The X3 xdrive non-turbo starts at about $37,500; the turbo, $42,000.

Robert Paster ( also is an attorney in private practice, concentrating in estate planning and probate.