The 2018 Dodge Durango SRT truly is a hilarious hot rod minivan, and I love me some screamin’ V8 as much as the next sunburned American. But after herding this 475-horsepower heifer around a race track I think, maybe, the idea of this car is a lot more fun than actually driving it.
(Full disclosure: Dodge flew me to Indianapolis, put me up in a beautiful hotel, fed me first-class food for a couple days and rented out the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Lucas Oil Raceway for myself and other journalists to drive the Durango SRT, Challenger Hellcat Widebody and Challenger Demon. It was extremely wet, and we took the Durango through puddles I would absolutely not have pushed my own car through.)
The Dodge Durango its in its third generation now, and has been with us in its current iteration since 2011. That makes it pretty tired by automotive design standards, and if you follow this industry, you already know “why” the Durango SRT was really born. Dodge needed a little flash in the pan to remind the world that the Durango exists, and even if you can’t afford this $64,000 HEMI-powered human-hauling missile, perhaps you could be enticed into 48 months of payments on a base model V6?
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Besides the obvious halo car effect, I must concede that somebody with decision-making power at Dodge’s parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles clearly has a sense of humor. God bless ’em and god bless America.
As a car enthusiast, of course, it’s great and inspiring and cool to see that FCA lets its engineers indulge themselves in wacky skunkworks projects like this Durango SRT, the 707-horsepower Hellcats, the 840-horsepower Demon, Fiat Abarths and Jeep’s annual off-road design spectacle in Moab.
But as a consumer seriously considering spending fully-loaded Volvo XC90 money on Dodge’s automotive experience, know that the joke of this overclocked SUV gets old fast.
What Is It?
The Durango SRT is the family truckster on steroids. An SUV with sports car suspension and muscle car... uh, muscle. It’s a monolithic multi-tool you can use to tow your race car on Sunday, take your kids to school with on Monday, then vent your anger from sitting in that godforsaken school drop-off line by assaulting back roads on Monday afternoon. At least, I think that’s what it says on the box.
Maybe in somebody’s imagination, dad wanted a Challenger, mom wanted a Pacifica, and they bumped heads and fell in love all over again when they walked by this thing posted up at their local Dodge dealer.
Actually, that’d be a pretty cool family to grow up in. Damn it dad, why’d I have to get stuck with a Honda family?
The Specs That Matter
All ears on the engine: it’s a 475-horsepower 392 HEMI V8. It sounds mean, puts power down clean, it’s a generous offering on the alter of cubic inches. All that horsepower plus 470 lb-ft of torque pours through an eight-speed automatic transmission and onto the ground through all four wheels with the smooth linearity of a jet airliner clearing a runway.
Dodge’s marketing material referring to the Durango SRT as simply “the most powerful three-row SUV” is false, though. The 577-horsepower Mercedes-AMG GLS63 kicks its teeth in just about every appreciable respect, except for towing capacity, where the Durango claims an impressive 8,700 pounds. That said, the Benz is also almost twice as expensive.
The Durango SRT’s performance claims shine strong too, with a bold 12.9 second-quarter mile time and a scary 0-60 time of 4.4 seconds. For your reference, Car & Driver got the Durango R/T (which has about 100 horsepower less than this SUV) to pull a still-very-fast 0-60 run of 6.2 seconds.
(The Durango SRT comes up short on shock-and-awe if you drive a Hellcat on the same day, but the exhaust note is magnificent and makes itself known with a glorious vulgarity racing up or down the speedometer.)
To keep up with all its energy, the Durango SRT has 15-inch Brembo brakes, stiffened adjustable suspension, an SRT-specific transmission calibration, multiple drive modes and fat Pirelli Scorpion tires.
Besides the aggressive grille and hood scoops up front, this version of the Durango is bedazzled with a generous treatment of carbon fiber and chrome decorations.
Everyone’s entitled to their own opinions, but there are a few universal truths that bind the bible of automotive enthusiasm: old Porsche 911s are Good, rush hour traffic is Bad, and the snap-crackle-pop of a V8 engine coming off throttle after a hard charge is why god gave us ears and blessed the world with backpressure.
Like any Durango, the SRT is comfortable and practically proportioned. It’s easy enough to maneuver, hauls plenty and is wrapped around Fiat Chrysler’s still-excellent Uconnect infotainment software. Fun frivolities like a horsepower gauge and g meter are also baked in there now, too.
And while the Durango SRT never truly escapes a sensation of significant momentum due to its 5,500 pound(!) curb weight, you can whip it around corners in wet weather with remarkably little understeer. The stakes get high when you take this much mass to its limit, though. Once a car this size breaks traction, you better hope all those airbags aren’t loaded with shrapnel.
No particular piece of the Durango SRT feels frustratingly inadequate, except perhaps for the wheel speed sensor we drowned getting this photograph which killed the car’s ABS and traction control for a few miles.
But at $64,000, this vehicle is a bit of a bastard. It’s too brash to be a sleeper, too soft to be a racer, and most importantly, still too high and heavy to really feel satisfying connecting corners chasing the limits of your talent. So, like, what are you actually doing with this thing... stomping on the gas and making sweet music on on-ramps?
There’s a better answer for that too: the 360-horsepower Durango R/T.
The 360-horsepower R/T has more merging-power than your fathers’s family taxi could have dreamed of, handles sufficiently well for overcooked exit ramps, and its exhaust note is distinctive enough to put a smile on your face without rolling anybody’s eyes.
All either of these vehicles ever need to do in the real world is cruise a little bit over the highway speed limit and exit parking lots like an asshole. Save yourself $20,000 and get the old “performance” Durango that’s racking up incentives on your local dealer’s lot.
First Drive Verdict
The more you drive it, the more the case for the Durango SRT starts to crumble. It’s a fun idea, but the reality of this car isn’t as cool as the concept sounds. The power is excessive for regular driving, the chassis is suboptimal for canyon carving. After the novelty of the noise wore off and I realized I was still in a six-seat mean-looking minivan, I didn’t really feel “cool” so much as “desperate for attention.”
Sure, the Durango SRT is a capable family car, but aren’t you going to feel a little idiotic thundering out of your kid’s elementary school parking lot, using your 475-horsepower to be a responsible parent?
Or say you roll up to a race track in this thing, without a race car on the trailer hitch. Would you take you seriously?
I completely understand the appeal of a practical passenger vehicle with a little extra burble, which is why I really dig the $44,000 Durango R/T. It couldn’t catch the SRT around a race track, but it would leave you with a nice-sounding practical SUV and enough money left over to buy a real muscle car. So why compromise?