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The 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat is stupid. Stupid quick, stupid loud, stupid thirsty and, at times, stupid fun. I'm not going to lie, I kind of like stupid. This three-row brute will haul ass down a freeway onramp or quarter-mile track as well as it hauls your brood of young'uns to socially distanced outdoor activities. With ludicrous power and enough poise to manage that mayhem, this Dodge is the ultimate flag-waving, red-meat-eating, all-American SUV.
Aside from some pretty substantial enhancements made to the entire Durango range, for one model year only, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is dropping its famed 6.2-liter supercharged Hellcat Hemi into the prow of this aging SUV, a battle plan that to date has worked famously with the brand's Charger sedan and Challenger coupe. Providing the fireworks, a 2.4-liter blower is strapped to the top of this V8, pushing out up to 11.6 psi of boost. All that's needed is your right foot to light the fuse. And when you do, the V8 delivers an astonishing 710 horsepower and 645 pound-feet of torque. This SUV is ready to rain down fire and brimstone on even exotic cars in the next lane.
Matched to a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission, which is always on-point, delivering timely shifts both quickly and smoothly, this drivetrain can deliver 60 mph from a standstill in a supercar-rivaling 3.5 seconds. The Durango Hellcat can also annihilate your local quarter-mile dragstrip in as little as 11.5 seconds and accelerate to 180 mph, a speed Dodge claims makes the SRT the world's fastest three-row SUV. Ensuring this SUV never slips or slides (unless you want it to, of course) is a standard full-time all-wheel-drive system, which provides unflappable composure, even when executing hard launches on poor surfaces, like dirt roads. The Durango Hellcat just spins all four Pirelli Scorpion Zero all-season tires mounted on stylish 20-inch wheels until it scrabbles enough grip, then rockets ahead, straight as a laser beam, no squirming or lurching for the ditch on either side.
When it's time to slow your roll, the Durango Hellcat's Brembo brakes are more than up to the challenge. With six-piston calipers up front clamping down on 15.8-inch rotors and four-pot units out back squeezing a pair of 13.8-inch discs, they can drag this SUV down from 60 mph to a standstill in a curt 116 feet. Despite their immense power, the brake pedal itself is easy to regulate, without grabbing or feeling too soft. That stopping prowess also helps grace the Durango with an impressive tow rating. When properly equipped, it can drag up to 8,700 pounds, a figure Dodge claims is best in class.
Similarly, the Durango's steering is nicely dialed in, delivering unexpected crispness, which helps this big SUV feel far more agile than you might expect for something with three rows of seats. The steering's weighting is also easy to change by switching through various driving modes, something you can do quickly on the snazzy new-for-2021 Uconnect 5 infotainment system(more on that a little later). Damper stiffness can be adjusted, too, enabling this Dodge's ride to change on a whim from smooth to starchy.
With this SUV, you'd better be in love with V8 noises (and intoxicating supercharger whine!) because while the powertrain eagerly broadcasts an internal-combustion symphony, its exhaust also drones annoyingly at lower speeds, enough, in fact, to make the Durango's floor pans reverberate. Mercifully, the Hellcat V8 pipes down on the highway to a quiet, contented purr. A driver-selectable active exhaust system would be nice so you can have that rumble when you want it without getting a headache in rush-hour traffic.
Of course, you'd better not be afraid of pumping gas, either, and lots of it. The Durango Hellcat burns fuel like a cruise ship and it needs at least 91 octane to be happy. Official EPA figures have not yet been released, but expect them to be somewhere between atrocious and appalling. In testing, I averaged just 13.9 miles per gallon in mixed driving and I wasn't even terribly irresponsible while driving.
This supercharged SUV's secure handling and straight-line performance are certainly praiseworthy, but the novelty of 710 horsepower can absolutely wear off after a while. And once you start considering other aspects of the Durango, its appeal does fade a little.
This is an old vehicle and in some ways it feels it, from the high-effort exterior door handles to some of its unusual secondary controls. Underscoring this point is less-than-stellar small-overlap crash-test performance and an iffy headlamp rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. I remember reviewing a Durango nearly 10 years and two jobs ago and it was mostly the same as this example, which, despite its age, still sells surprisingly well. To its credit, FCA has done an admirable job keeping the Durango fresh and this 2021 model is the nicest ever. Its dashboard has been redesigned to be more driver-focused, the center console and upper portions of the doors have been improved and you can get an elegant wrapped-and-stitched instrument panel, a premium touch.
The Durango Hellcat's front seats look way overstuffed, but they're surprisingly firm and supportive. This example is fitted with cushy second-row bucket seats and an optional center console, a combination that's spacious enough for adult passengers (a skosh more legroom would be nice). As for the third-row bench, it's shockingly roomy and comfortable, with an elevated position so you can see the road ahead. As for cargo space, you get 17.2 cubic feet behind the third row, 43.3 aft of the second and 85.1 cubes all-in. These figures are comparable, if just a whisker behind what the Ford Explorer offers.
My tester's cabin is nicely built, the stitched dashboard looks and feels great and all four doors are trimmed with leather. The climate controls are solid and couldn't be simpler to use, comprised of chunky knobs and buttons. Unfortunately, all is not perfect, as the Durango's A-pillars are ginormous, hampering outward visibility, and the under-armrest storage cubby in the center console is nearly useless, mostly taken up by the available Blu-ray player. The reconfigurable screen in the instrument cluster ain't great, either. It's gritty-looking and lethargic, taking ages to cycle between screens.
Fortunately, FCA's new Uconnect 5 infotainment system is a winner. This available multimedia array is displayed on a bright and colorful 10.1-inch touchscreen that's angled slightly toward the driver. The user interface is beautiful, clean and very easy to use, plus it offers a number of highly customizable home screens. It also wirelessly supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a feature that pairs nicely with the newly added wireless charging pad. For the most part, this system is very responsive to inputs and I love some of the small SRT-specific touches designers included, like the climate-control graphics that show an image of a person wearing a racing helmet. Lower-end Durango models come standard with an 8.4-inch Uconnect system, which is still a solid arrangement.
This SUV's infotainment offerings are excellent, but its other tech falls short. Features like keyless entry with push-button start, trailer-sway control and hill-start assist are standard across the Durango range and my tester is fitted with blind-spot monitoring as well as front and rear parking sensors (the latter of which keeps giving false warnings when stopped at traffic lights), but other advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) are conspicuously absent. Features like adaptive cruise control, forward collision alert with active braking and lane-departure warning are all optional, even on this $91,455 (including $1,495 in destination fees) Hellcat.
And that, right there, is perhaps the biggest issue with this SUV. While it can be an absolute riot to drive and it's graced with a comfortable interior, the Durango does not feel like it's worth nearly six figures. Even the Hellcat's base price of around $82,500 seems a bit ridiculous. I mean, the model shown here is nearly as expensive as a base BMW X5 M, which is far nicer and nearly as potent.
Still, if you've absolutely got to have one of these red-hot kitties, you'd better act fast. Dodge is only offering the Durango Hellcat for 2021. The order books are open now and deliveries are expected to begin early in 2021.