How many of you have faced this problem: “Honey, it’s time to get an SUV. Strapping a baby seat in the C6 just seems wrong.”
Yes, it does. So allow us to offer a possible solution: Three rows of seats, lots of cupholders, plenty of plug-ins, an optional entertainment system, and 710 horsepower. A 180-mph top speed. Tows 8,700 pounds. Gets rubber in second gear with an automatic. 0 to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds. And it’s very easy to strap in baby seats.
If this makes your head spin just a little—an actual, usable all-wheel-drive SUV with more horsepower than a Chevrolet Corvette C7 (495) or a Mercedes-Benz S-Class V-12 turbo (621—it should. The current cover story in Car and Driver touts the Audi RS6 Avant, and it’s “demonic” 591-horsepower V-8. Nice! Well, see you in the rear view mirror of the Durango.
Let’s back up a bit and see how we got here. Dodge has this wonderful, proven Hellcat engine that gets attention everywhere you go. What Dodge doesn’t have is a lot of money to design from-the-ground-up new products. That money goes to Ram and Jeep. Leaving Dodge with some seriously aging platforms like the Charger, the Challenger, and well, the Durango.
Which, thankfully, are pretty solid bases. Dodge has been tweaking on the Charger since 2007, and every year, it improves a little. Same with the Durango and Challenger. Having a chance to perfect a product as it lives out its cycle is a luxury many engineers don’t have.
2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat, By The Numbers
- Base price $82,490
- Powertrain: 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 | 8-speed automatic transmission | all-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 710 at 6,100 rpm
- Torque: 640 lb-ft at 4,300 rpm
- EPA Fuel Economy: 11 mpg city | 17 highway | 13 combined
- Cargo Space: 17 cubic feet
- Curb Weight: 5,700 pounds
- Quick Take: The family SUV that will pass anything but a gas station.
More Than an Engine Swap
On the surface, it seems natural to plop the Hellcat engine into anything that will hold it, immediately creating a halo vehicle for all its V-6 brethren. And that’s kind of what Chrysler has been doing. But be aware that there’s a lot more to it—there’s a whole cadre of engineers who work with the powertrain people to make sure the suspension, brakes, steering, handling and everything else that makes the Hellcat a Hellcat is present.
Automakers hate it when you call stuff easy, because really, few things are harder than successfully launching a new car. But it’s true that the task of Hellcat-ifying a vehicle is a lot more straightforward when you’re talking about a coupe or sedan, not a three-row, nearly three-ton SUV. Frankly I’m more impressed with the 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat than I am with the 2021 Charger Hellcat Redeye, and that car impresses the hell out of me. But there were baseline expectations for the Charger, what with its many flavors of stokin’ V8 performance—yes, we have the Durango SRT 392 with 475 hp, and it works, but not as well as the 710-hp Durango Hellcat, which is something of a revelation.
It isn’t because they were able to take any weight out of it — they tried at first, the engineers said, but they didn’t want to compromise durability. So they just overbuilt it, and cranked up the supercharger to make up for it. Externally, the front end’s been redone to optimize airflow, cooling and aerodynamics, the latter improvements balancing the body out and boosting rear downforce to a whopping 140 pounds at 180 mph. Yeah, not exactly a Senna. That said, 5,700 pounds has never felt this light on its feet, and to prove it Dodge actually put me on a track.
Driving the Durango Hellcat at Caroline Motorsport Park, a nice, flowing circuit, the big SUV flowed right along with it. There’s none of the sideways head-snap you tend to get in larger rides. The Brembo brakes, 15.7-inchers up front, unusually large 13.8-inchers in the back, are progressive and predictable, but its the way the Durango carves through the corners that had everyone talking.
While you can use the paddle shifters, we found them unnecessary as the eight-speed transmission downshifts on its own so precisely. The Durango uses a single-speed Magna MP3010 all-wheel-drive transfer case. The automatic drive mode splits torque 40:60 front-to-rear, changing to 50:50 in Snow mode, 35:65 in Sport, and 30:70 in Track mode. The all-wheel-drive, aided by the fat 295/45ZR20 Pirelli P-Zero tires, which were quiet on the road, and profoundly capable on the highway and track, is appropriately invisible. It takes a lot of throttle to get this SUV to drift, so don’t expect many smoky sideways photographs.
Big Outside, Big Inside
Inside, the cockpit has been redesigned, and all the instruments and controls are accessible and intuitive — no need to refer to the owner’s manual to turn up the stereo. Then again, you won’t mind digging through the menus on the standard 10.1-inch touchscreen, as it’s running the latest generation of UConnect which remains one of the best infotainment OSs out there, snappy and intuitive.
Front seats are comfortable and supportive. Middle-row seats can hold six-footers, and the rear seats — well, kids will fit. With seats in place, there’s still 17 cubic feet of cargo space in the back.
At a base price of $82,490, the biggest problem Dodge dealers will have is offering test drives that genuinely show what the Durango will do, and short of showing up on local track days, I’m not sure how you do that. Silly as it sounds, real buyers would do well to hit up an open track day to get a real feel for it—the first time to hammer the accelerator should not be in heavy traffic. In fact, Dodge offers a free one-day class at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving, which I highly recommend.
And the elephant in the room may be fuel mileage. Yes, gas may be cheap now, but with 11 mpg city, 17 highway and 13 overall, another buck or two a gallon and we’re talking real money to fill up the tank. And then fill it up again.
Bottom line, and I never expected to say this, is that what impressed me most about the Durango Hellcat is its gracefulness. Like a good leader, it wields its massive power gently. Until the big whip comes out.
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