Mountain Wheels: Dodge’s Durango SRT Hellcat is a fast-moving family machine
Given a platform to mount a 710-horsepower variant of Fiat Chrysler America’s giant-killer 6.2-liter, supercharged Hemi engine, the Dodge Durango — a three-row reinvention of the Jeep Grand Cherokee — kinda makes sense.
The size and stability of the 5,710-pound vehicle, enhanced by a widened track, menacing up-front aerodynamics and 20-inch race tires (more on those in a minute), creates a bit of a sleeper effect for a vehicle that normally starts at $31,765.
Yes, the Durango SRT Hellcat I drove will indeed go 180 mph, and 0-60 times in 3.5 seconds, but it starts at $80,995 and was $93,180 in my highly optioned-out build. That’s a pretty serious jump in price.
As the Hellcat, Durango is an unbelievably terrifying machine, occasionally more intense than the gigantic Ram TRX I recently drove because its power is so absolute. On dry roads, with very little effort, it seems like about double the speed limit is where the vehicle is just getting started. Plus, it already looks like a police vehicle, especially in the Billet Silver paint job mine had, so maybe people will just move out of your way as you approach the speed of light.
The performance benchmark here was already pretty high for a sizeable, family-styled SUV; the actual Durango Pursuit edition, favored by many law enforcement departments, is available as an all-wheel-drive version with a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 putting out 360 horsepower — plus the requisite cop shocks, cop brakes, stabilizer bars and electronics upgrades.
Among the six Durango models available to civilians, you can opt for a couple of versions of that powertrain configuration, including the R/T all-wheel drive edition and upscale rear-wheel drive Citadel edition (all of the “lower” models can be ordered in either AWD or RWD). Or, in between, there’s the Durango 392, which gets a 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 with 475-horsepower. So many vehicles, so many engines; check out the website to see what’s right for you.
I would say, just save up that holiday cash and go for the gusto with the SRT Hellcat, which is being built for the 2021 model year only. Again, it’s not visibly that different from an entry-level Durango model, minus the prominent hood scoop and a few race-worthy bits; inside, while I did get a $1,595 upgrade to leather race seats and flashy red seat belts throughout the cabin, it’s still very much Durango in feel and application.
Underneath, totally different, however. Pop the hood and you’ll see that very expensive optional engine, looking like it should be mounted on a P-51 Mustang or a cigarette boat. All the suspension has been upgraded to aluminum parts, plus Bilstein adaptive damping and shock absorbers, as well as a wider track. Ride is quite robust, to say the least.
Major kudos go to the eight-speed TorqueFlite transmission, which is able to handle 645 pound-feet of torque and the relentless energetic explosions of acceleration.
Somewhat surprisingly, the SRT Hellcat also can be driven quite civilly as the three-row family hauler it is underneath, and I ended up doing quite a bit of that, as race tracks and drag strips are few and far between at this time of year.
I also spent a grand total of three miles on any curving roads on the Front Range as the Durango came fresh from recent press events with summertime Scorpion Zero tires, and it was not ready for snow and ice at all. The improved handling dynamics seemed pretty robust during that short stint; it’s got full all-wheel drive, so it’s entirely winter-ready if equipped with expensive winter tires.
Another nice upgrade is FCA’s Uconnect 5 system, the much-improved, 10.1-inch widescreen infotainment system. Maps are vastly improved, and if you press the discrete SRT button underneath the AC controls, you get an almost German-styled array of seven different driving modes (snow included) and six switchable variables of throttle and transmission response.
The system hilariously defers to an “eco” mode for a few of those hoping to maybe get more than the 13 mpg I got on all of my drives; my advice is to quickly set it to give you everything it’s got, and let those massive Brembo brakes rein it in, over and over again.
Again, it’s clearly not for everyone, but it does seem like the most civilized way to experience nearly the full brunt of current automotive/horsepower supremacy. Load in the family, or flatten the rear seats, and it’s also versatile. And unbelievably fast.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. Contact him at email@example.com.
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