I learned a very powerful lesson during my weeklong evaluation of the 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat. Was it that this 2021-model-year-exclusive, 710hp SUV can knock off a sub-4-second 0-60mph run with zero effort? Nah, that was a given. Perhaps it was that this beast carries its weight well, maneuvering its roughly 5,700lb heft around town with a cheeky grin? While it’s true, that wasn’t it either. It wasn’t even that this variant of the Hellcat has a better-sounding exhaust than the Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye Widebody I tested not too long ago.
No, it turns out the lesson I learned is that 710hp and 645lb-ft of torque or not, the three-row Dodge Durango is actually a fantastic family SUV.
A friend of mine told me to check out the infotainment system — something I rarely dive into. Truth be told, I’m a bit of a traditional terrestrial radio listener, leaning upon Android Auto whenever nav is necessary. Plus, the fact is that most infotainment systems are more than adequate these days. Yet even I noticed how slick the updated Uconnect 5 system was, with the gorgeous touchscreen being responsive and every feature being placed where it should logically be, transitioning smoothly from one menu to the next.
That said, while I believe access through the screen is possible, HVAC and stereo volume controls were also presented in physical form underneath the 10.1-inch display. You know, the way it should be.
Unlike the Charger Hellcat I previously tested, traction in the Durango is a non-issue since it uses a quite effective all-wheel-drive system. Beyond that, SRT also stuffed 295/45-20 Pirelli Verde Zero tires on 10-inch-wide wheels at all four corners. And if you’ve ever wondered how wide of a tire the Durango can handle, it’s 295mm. Poking my head under the car to check out the remote-reservoir Bilstein dampers, it’s hard not to notice the tight clearance from the front tire to the upper suspension arms. 295s won’t rub, but 305s might.
The Durango has multiple performance modes, from Auto with Eco mode to Tow to Race and more, all accessed through the touchscreen. You can also easily customize launch control before turning the SUV into a veritable rocket. The system is then so kind as to record, among other things, acceleration and braking results.
The best Dodge’s system logged for me was 3.7 seconds from one of the few 0-60mph impromptu standing-start launches onto the freeway I did. And in first gear, this Durango Hellcat is a hoot.
Launching the Durango reveals a couple of interesting traits. One is that you can feel the tires spinning ever so slightly while clicking off a roughly 4-second 0-60mph run on an unprepared surface. The other is that once the 8HP95 eight-speed transmission jumps into second gear, the sensation of unadulterated, whimsically rapid acceleration fades. That’s not to say second gear is a quaint tea party; it’s just that the SUV pulls so hard in first that second gear doesn’t make you smile quite as much. The grin isn’t gone, though.
But once you know the supercharged 6.2-liter V8 produces in excess of 700hp, mad acceleration is a given. And, it turns out, while fun, the power is largely unnecessary, because what surprised me most about my week in the Durango was how enjoyable the SUV is as a legitimate family hauler.
I didn’t just sit in the second-row captain’s chairs and third row seats, I put them to work. The week I spent with this Hellcat involved a trip to In-N-Out for burgers with my three kids and spouse, along with a handful of visits to local parks, taking the kids out for their afternoon exercise. The two children in booster seats in the third row had zero issue clicking their belts into place themselves – something that can’t be said for all vehicles I’ve tested. And the kid seat I’d affixed via the second-row LATCH system installed easily and didn’t impede children rushing in or out of the vehicle.
This is far from a fair comparison, but hear me out: My personal family vehicle is a second-gen GMC Yukon XL Denali, purchased for its second row captain’s chairs (so the kids can’t poke each other), ample third-row seating, and tow rating. For my family of three children ages 8 and under, I felt the functionality of all three rows in the Durango was comparable to that of my Yukon XL. In fact, I could go so far as to argue that while the Durango’s third row was not as wide, it was ergonomically superior for kids and adults.
Where the Durango’s third-row seating falls down is in its comparative elimination of the trunk. There was enough room for various child paraphernalia, but filling the Durango to the brim with family and attempting an overnight journey could prove challenging. That said, there is a nifty fake-floor storage compartment hidden in the trunk for knickknacks.
Still, it’s hard to ding the Durango for trunk space while utilizing the third row. In fact, it’s such a minimal issue that now that I’m no longer having to carry large baby accessories (like a travel crib, stroller, and the like), I was left pondering whether it’s time to “downgrade” from the Yukon XL to something less enormous.
And while we’re not dinging the Durango Hellcat for the unavoidable, I’ll mention fuel economy. The Durango Hellcat is rated at 13mpg city and 17mpg highway. My week-long average came just shy of 7mpg. The blame for this poor showing lands firmly on my right foot.
Another fail on my part is that given the Hellcat has an 8,700lb tow rating, I intended to connect it to a 6,500lb enclosed trailer to see how it would handle the load, both from a power and wheelbase standpoint. Sadly, this test vehicle was not equipped with the optional $1,195 tow package.
With my towing excursion cancelled, it was back to the park with the kids.
At the park, I met a fellow father and his young son. When we left, we all walked to the parking lot to load up, he to his Toyota 4Runner and me to the Durango. I popped the door, and as two of my kids scampered into the depths of the third row, the other father exclaimed in an extraordinarily confused manner, “This has a third row?” His head was soon in the door, staring in disbelief.
I don’t think he even noticed this was a limited-production Hellcat, despite the SRT logos not-so-subtly embroidered onto the seats and a screaming cat on the fenders.
When the 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat AWD landed on my driveway for review, I knew the power would be a giggle. What I wasn’t expecting is how much I enjoyed the Durango as a bona fide SUV. And when my week-long evaluation came to a close, I found myself clicking away on Dodge’s online configurator. In that process, what surprised me most was that I kept selecting the 295hp 3.6L Pentastar V6 over the 360hp 5.7L Hemi and 475hp 392 Hemi found in the SRT iteration. Sure, power is nice, but that’s not what I enjoyed most about the Durango.
The price of a Pentastar-equipped Durango is also nice. Optioned to my liking, the Durango SXT Plus RWD of my dreams came to a very realistic $41,375 and can tow up to 6,200lbs. Optioning up a 5.7L V8 Durango R/T RWD, which has a 7,400lb tow rating, upped the total to $48,830. And a comparably equipped 475hp SRT Durango with the 6.4L V8 and an 8,700lb tow rating cost $64,010.
Comparatively, the well-optioned, all rock ’n’ roll Hellcat Durango I tested came to $88,470 with options ($80,995 base price). The Hellcat is pricey, but nobody accidentally buys a Hellcat — if you want it, it’s worth it.
The Durango SRT Hellcat is a riot, and with a limited production run it will certainly become heavily sought after. But for my needs, a nicely equipped Pentastar V6 or 5.7L V8 will do quite nicely.
Maybe I’m finally growing up.