Dodge targets a more premium-minded customer with its refreshed ’14 Durango SUV to be unveiled later today at the New York auto show.

Chrysler executives and dealers have expressed concern that the Durango lives in the shadow of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the auto maker’s volume fullsize SUV.

Dodge emphasizes the Durango’s third-row seating in marketing, but sales of the hauler generally fall below the Grand Cherokee, which seats only five, and smaller Journey cross/utility vehicle.

WardsAuto data shows Durango deliveries topped out at 189,840 units in 1999. Durango sales in 2012 were 42,589, down 17.6% from 2011, compared with 78,563 for Journey and 154,734 for Grand Cherokee in 2012.

At a recent backgrounder, Dodge brand president and CEO Reid Bigland notes the Durango has sold about 1.5 million units since its 1995 introduction. Its customer falls between SUV and CUV shoppers. “It’s really in the heart of the market as far as a sales perspective,” Bigland says.

The new SUV is the next in Chrysler’s stable to take an 8-speed automatic transmission supplied by ZF Friedrichshafen mated to both a V-6 and V-8, which Chrysler says improves fuel economy. A new eco-mode function also is added, which limits throttle response and enables cylinder deactivation in the V-8 model. Specific fuel-economy numbers have not been released.

The cabin steps up with softer-touch materials and functions that make it “the most technologically advanced Durango ever,” the auto maker says. Most notable is a rotary shifter first seen on the ’13 Ram 1500, a heated steering wheel and paddle shifters.

Other new options include a full-color, 7-in. (18-cm) thin-film transistor screen as part of the instrument cluster and a redesigned center stack housing either a 5-in. or 8.4-in. (12.7- or 21.3-cm) touchscreen. Carryover technology includes adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning and Chrysler’s UConnect infotainment system.

“We felt from a design perspective the vehicle was really well-received, but we wanted to pump some technology into it,” Ryan Nagode, chief-interior design, tells reporters.

The exterior is slightly modified with the most significant change coming to the rear fascia, incorporating the wraparound LED lighting seen on the Dart and Charger sedans. Designers say the Durango also has improved LED lighting integrated with the headlamp assembly.

The Limited trim used on other Dodge models also is new for the ’14 Durango. Pricing will be announced closer to the SUV’s third-quarter launch.

afoley@wardsauto.com