In a bid to keep their rowdy populations distracted from the crushing grind of their daily lives, the ancient Romans held enormous gladiatorial circuses designed to stir the blood and fan the flames of passion in a decidedly non-revolutionary direction.
Engine: 6.4L V8
Output: 475 hp, 470 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
US Fuel Economy (mpg): 13 city, 19 hwy, 15 combined
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): TBA
US Price: Starts at $64,095
CAN Price: Starts at $74,290
(All pricing includes destination)
With the 2018 Dodge Durango SRT, it’s clear that FCA is employing similar tactics to get in touch with the rebel lurking within the hearts of crossover-bound commuters, offering them an eminently practical three-row SUV whose ridiculously powerful V8 engine screams “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?” in stereo from each of its twin tailpipes.
While the Durango SRT’s spiritual lineage may arch back over thousands of years of history, its oily bits are a good deal more recent. The sport-utility rides on a stretched version of the same platform that underpins the very successful Jeep Grand Cherokee, which means when the SRT team came calling, it was a relatively simple matter to swap over the Grand Cherokee SRT’s drivetrain into the Durango’s welcoming chassis.
It’s this Jeep connection that goes a long way towards explaining why Dodge has me sitting on the pit lane at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, ready to tackle an abbreviated version of the famous race venue’s infield GP course from behind the wheel of 5,500-plus pounds of people mover. I’d be nervous, had I not already experienced first-hand just how amazingly capable the Durango SRT’s Grand Cherokee sibling felt on the similarly world class Circuit of the America’s Formula One configuration several years previous.
Also reassuring is the Dodge Durango SRT’s on-paper persona, as described by its spec sheet. With a 6.4-liter V8 engine churning out 475 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque, matched with an eight-speed automatic transmission and full-time AWD, the Durango SRT has the skills to lay down a quarter mile pass of 12.9 seconds, with a 4.4-second sprint to 60 mph wedged in there, too. More germane to my immediate situation, however, is the SUV’s upgraded suspension system, which relies primarily on its adaptive dampers linked to the vehicle’s various drive modes as well as the enormous 295/45R-20 Pirelli P-Zero tires fitted at each corner. Together with the all-wheel drive system’s ability to actively manage torque distribution, it’s these improvements that give the truck a fighting chance to slip the surly bounds of Earth and at the very least mimic the grace of a sport sedan.
CHECK THIS OUT: 10 Interesting Cars the Dodge Durango SRT is Quicker Than
Leaving the pits in rapid-fire succession of barks from the 2.75-inch exhaust reveals immediately that the transmission’s reprogramming has dramatically shortened shift times, with SRT claiming a 50 percent reduction in Track mode versus Auto (and a 23 percent improvement when set to Sport). In fact, the SUV’s gearbox is so adept at selecting the appropriate forward ratio that I made no attempt to correct it via the provided paddle shifters, preferring instead to concentrate on steering the bulky bruiser. It was here that I made my second surprising discovery of the day: regardless of how heftily the Durango SRT might tip the scales, it demonstrated remarkably little understeer when asked to change direction, a tribute in part to the 52/48 weight balance made possible by its longer wheelbase and third-row seat. Even braking from 105 mph (168 km/h) at the end of Indy’s ultra-long front straight was drama free thanks to the efforts of the Dodge’s massive 15-inch six-piston front and 13.8-inch four-piston rear Brembo brakes.
The Dodge Durango SRT’s ability to almost casually handle the twists and turns at Indy demonstrates just how far both tire technology and chassis tuning have come over the past five years. As fast and competent as the SUV might be though, and despite SRT’s intention to erase the 200 lbs of weight difference between the Durango and the Grand Cherokee by introducing a third-row/towing package delete, there’s still more novelty than engagement on offer when lapping a road course. I’d be more likely to keep the Durango SRT as-is and use its whopping 8,700 lbs of towing capacity to cart my own car to the track than to deputize the seven-seater through the esses.
The Dodge’s fantastic acceleration and passing power on the street are underscored by the surprisingly civilized nature of its daily drive. With its tow rating untouched as compared to the standard Durango, and its springs and rear swaybar only marginally stiffer than the 5.7-liter edition of the truck, the only sacrifice you’ll be making is whenever you have to fill up its undoubtedly thirsty fuel tank. Official figures place the Durango SRT at a similar-to-GC-SRT 15 mpg (15.7 L/100 km) combined.
And, of course, there’s also the pain induced by the Durango SRT’s purchase price. This is a truck that starts at $63,000 ($72,495 in Canada) but is more realistically price closer to $70k once you’ve optioned it how you’d want it. This puts it head-and-shoulders above its domestic brethren when cross-shopping similarly comfortable and useful three-row rivals. Besides the performance upgrades, the only other difference is cosmetic stuff, which makes it even harder to justify that price. While nothing in its class can compare in a straight line (you’ll have to seek out AMG or Range Rover-badged fare for a true drag strip challenge to the SRT), you have to really want a muscle car-shaming behemoth to be comfortable paying premium coin for a Dodge. Jeep, with its more upscale market position, doesn’t have quite the same issue with its own hotted-up SUV.
The Verdict: 2018 Dodge Durango SRT Review
Then again, are there really any casual SRT buyers out there? I’d venture that the answer to that question is no. The 2018 Dodge Durango SRT was built to satisfy a pre-existing audience of high-horsepower fans seeking for a tow vehicle that can least pretend to keep up with the Hellcat already in the garage. It’s the perfect lifestyle accessory for the SRT completist, and it makes all the right noises required to intimidate the more frugal crossover parked next to you at the mall.
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