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In theory, there isn't much that's actually new in the Detroit-built Dodge Durango. Barring a mild face-lift inside and out, the second refresh in this SUV's third generation, the 2021 model is a continuation of the one that's been kicking around since 2011. The 6.4-liter Hemi V8 that carries the 392 designation has been in Chargers and Challengers since 2015. Yet, in combining the two, Dodge has created its own unique beast, one offering fast, family-friendly functionality. What's more, some recent quality-of-life updates make this a surprisingly well-rounded and very compelling three-row SUV.
The Durango's shape should be quite familiar, given its age. But for the 2021 model year, there are a few new aesthetic tricks up this model's sleeve. The headlights are a bit more aggressive thanks to a rejiggering and the SRT 392 picks up a chin spoiler for a little extra sporting disposition. Whether you opt for the Durango's standard V6 or something a little spicier, this SUV looks big and tough, its proportions not too far off from the burly Charger sedan.
2021 also graced the Dodge Durango with a sharp new interior. Most of its oldest-looking bits are gone, with a new dashboard that better integrates its infotainment screen. Even though there's full climate-control functionality built into the display, I really appreciate the full complement of physical buttons just beneath the screen, providing easy access to HVAC settings as well as the heated seats and steering wheel. My tester feels just a bit fancier thanks to cushy and supportive Laguna leather seats ($1,595) and the Premium Interior Group package ($2,495), which adds a suede headliner, fancier materials on the instrument panel and some cool-looking carbon interior accents. The revised center console is swell, too, with more space for a wireless device charger, a decently sized under-armrest cubby and four USB ports (two USB-A, two USB-C).
The beltline is a little on the high side, so the 2021 Durango can occasionally feel a bit visually constricting, but there's actually loads of space inside. Sitting in the second-row captain's chairs, I'm not left wanting for headroom or legroom, and the $595 second-row console option adds some nice creature comforts including illuminated cup holders and an extra USB charging port, in addition to the pair provided standard. If two rows isn't enough, a quick lift of a side handle vaults the middle row forward, offering access to a third row that's surprisingly roomy for a 6-foot-tall adult, even with a slightly raised floor. That optional console has a reverse hinge that allows way-back occupants to access what's inside, which is a properly clever touch. No matter the row, every seat is comfortable enough to soak up many, many miles.
That's a good thing, because the 2021 Dodge Durango SRT is built for cruising. Just pick a direction, wrangle this sufficiently large brute onto any local on-ramp and sit back and relax. The Durango eats up miles and returns comfort in spades, thanks in part to an adaptive suspension that, in its most comfortable Auto mode, more or less eliminates any nastiness underfoot. The steering is just direct enough for a light touch to maintain heading, although in blustery conditions, this slab-sided machine may require a few more minor course corrections. The gas pedal is entirely too touchy, even at its most muted, sending heads bobbing a bit more than I'd like in around-town driving, but the brake pedal is fantastic in its modulation. For an extra $1,295, you can slap on some SRT performance front brakes with two-piece rotors that will scrub speed at an impressive rate, which can spell the difference between overcooking a corner and coming out the other side all squeaky-clean like.
Normally, I wouldn't so much as mention corner-carving in a three-row family hauler review, but this is no pedestrian sport-ute. The 2021 Durango SRT's 6.4-liter Hemi V8 produces 475 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque, which is sent to all four wheels by way of a smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission. That's a little less than what the engine makes in the Challenger and Charger varieties of the same name, but make no mistake, this is plenty of motive force. Cold starts will probably irk the neighbors. The sound that permeates the cabin is addictive; it's enough to make you want to goose the throttle at every opportunity, and the sound and fury that results only reinforces that decision as the right one. If, for some reason, this is not enough power to sate your desires, there's a limited-edition 710-hp Hellcat variant, too. But the joke's on you, because that one's already sold out.
With the SRT mode switch set to Sport, body roll diminishes while steering and suspension stiffen, and the throttle response gets even more sensitive. When I'm deep in forest roads, it feels just as comfortable to manhandle as a similarly equipped Charger -- just, you know, a little taller. There's a Track mode, too, but it turns off the traction control, which probably isn't the greatest idea when it's 32 degrees Fahrenheit and the vehicle is wearing 295/45ZR20 Pirelli Scorpion Zero all-season tires. It'll also tow 8,700 pounds right out of the box, which is, frankly, nuts. That's enough for some larger travel trailers, a decently sized horse trailer -- or, hell, another Durango SRT.
Of course, there's always a drawback -- beyond the $64,490 window sticker -- and in this case, it's fuel economy. The 5,378-pound Durango SRT 392 is a thirsty fellow, achieving a paltry EPA-estimated 13 miles per gallon city and 19 mpg highway. If you have even a remote enjoyment of what the gas pedal does, and you're not constantly swapping over to Eco mode, good luck ever reaching those figures. My city economy in end-stage winter is pushing closer to single digits, with highway mileage pegged out around 17ish. Even with its 24.6-gallon fuel tank (with a theoretical max range of about 465 miles if you never leave the highway), you'll watch the Durango's needle move in near real time if you're not delicate on the go-pedal.
The 2021 Dodge Durango also picks up some welcome cabin-tech upgrades. At its heart is the Uconnect 5 infotainment system, Stellantis' latest. In addition to slick graphics and eager responses, the display (reaching up to 10.1 inches on higher models like this one) is loaded with features, including standard wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with satellite radio, over-the-air updates, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and Alexa integration. Uconnect has always been a good system, and its freshest iteration only gets better. Six USB ports are standard between the first two rows, with a seventh on offer if you opt for the second-row center console upgrade.
On the safety front, things are a little sparse to start with: The Durango 392's standard safety kit just consists of the federally mandated backup camera plus front and rear parking sensors with automatic low-speed emergency braking. For $495 you can add blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, while another $2,395 brings the rest of the available features, including advanced automatic emergency braking, full-speed adaptive cruise control and lane-departure warning.
While the greater Durango family has plenty of competitors, none can quite match what the SRT brings to the table. The Ford Explorer ST is quite the hustler, but it only ("only") makes 400 hp and 415 lb-ft -- then again, its starting price is some $10,000 lower, too. The Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride lack performance variants, but they can pile on the style and luxury a bit more than the Dodge does. The current-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee has its own SRT variant, but it's only two rows, and with a newer and way more advanced generation on the horizon, I'd say it's worth holding out to see how the 2021 model stacks up. If you want more space than the Durango SRT provides, the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon exist, but they don't have street-performance-oriented models.
The 2021 Dodge Durango, then, is in quite a sweet spot. Throwing a potent V8 into an already solid three-row family SUV creates a special kind of machine that is just flat-out fun all the time, full stop. You'll love it and your kids will love it, but your poorly packed groceries now scattered all over the trunk might have a different opinion.