There’s something absurd about hucking three tons of three-row SUV at an apex curb.
Engine: 6.2L V8 Supercharged
Output: 710 hp, 645 lb-ft
Transmission: 8AT, AWD
US fuel economy (MPG): N/A
CAN fuel economy (L/100KM): N/A
Starting Price (USD): $82,490 (inc. dest.)
Starting Price (CAD): $116,340 (inc. dest.)
To be fair, Dodge lists the curb weight of the 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat at 5,710 pounds—but it’s insisted that we have a professional driver riding shotgun as we hustle around the fourteen turns of Carolina Motorsports Park. Once you add the brave and/or stupid passenger to the bulk of yours truly, that’s three tons of mass ready to put a hurting on some Armco should things go seriously wrong.
They didn’t, of course. The internet would have been ablaze with forum posts and tweets castigating some idiot journalist who couldn’t handle the silly power this family hauler can produce. That, and SRT engineers (and I’m sure some well-paid actuaries) further insisted on keeping the stability control in the less-aggressive “sport” mode versus the hell-raising Track mode.
Goodness knows that the track time was fun – it opened my eyes to the wonders of amortizing engineering costs across as many platforms as possible, for one. But I’m left wondering exactly who will be buying a three-row SUV that can turn elevens. Theoretically, as a dad with a well-paying day job and a couple of kids who need plenty of chauffeuring, I’m somewhere in that target market. Maybe I’m too rational. Maybe I should try a four-wheel burnout next time I pick the kid up from softball practice.
(Disclosure: Dodge flew journalists to Charlotte, North Carolina to sample several vehicles, including this Durango SRT Hellcat. Meals and hotel stays were provided.)
A Touch of Style Inside and Out
2021 brings a lightly refreshed style to the exterior of every Durango – of course, the Durango Hellcat takes the new look to the extreme with a deep front splitter, rear spoiler, and a huge, functional hood scoop. The Durango Hellcat doesn’t come with the foglamps of lesser models – that room has been opened up to feed air to the intake and to an oil cooler.
After all, 710 horsepower and 645 lb-ft of torque need plenty of air. This 6.2-liter supercharged V8 is the dominant presence in any Hellcat. While the sound insulation for the occupants is quite good, nothing can deaden the thunder of a supercharged Hemi under load. You’re always aware of that engine – a Hellcat Durango will not supplant the Escalade as a for-hire black car, I’m afraid.
Pixels and Megabytes
If you can live with the ever-present grumbling from beneath the floor, the Durango Hellcat is a nice place to spend a day of driving. Seats are all-day supportive, with just enough bolstering for aggressive driving. I love the available red (Dodge calls it, of course, Demonic Red) leather—it makes me long for the Eighties when a variety of colors that weren’t black or beige were readily available on family cars. A new dash better serves the driver by canting the touchscreen display towards them.
That touchscreen is all-new, measuring 10.1 inches diagonally and powered by Chrysler’s new Uconnect 5 system. I’ve long been a fan of the Uconnect interface, but this new version is superb. Amazon Alexa is built in, so if you’ve invited Jeff Bezos into your home you should be quite comfortable with the built-in smart features. Half a dozen user profiles can be loaded to allow each driver (including a valet mode if you trust the pimply college kid at your favorite steakhouse with a Hellcat) to have their own settings pre-loaded for music, HVAC, and even driving settings. It responds much more quickly to touch inputs; it feels just as quick as using your phone.
Wireless Apple CarPlay and wireless Android Auto take away the hassle of a USB or Lightning cord—a plus since wireless charging is available as well. Rear-seat entertainment is available with a pair of 9.0-inch screens on the backs of the front seats. Blu-Ray or DVDs can be played, or even that PS5 or Xbox Series X for which you paid too much on Facebook Marketplace, as HDMI and RCA hookups are available.
My only real complaint about the interior? The foot pedal used for the parking brake. I found that when I’m driving briskly around a right-hand turn, the natural position of my leg puts that pedal in direct conflict with my ankle. I suppose if I slide the seat rearward a touch, I’d be fine. But when driving aggressively, I want my upper body close to the steering wheel for better control. One can hope that electronic parking brakes will come along when the Durango is redesigned.
King of the track – and the suburban crawl
Dodge claims 140 pounds of rear downforce from the new rear spoiler at 180 mph. That we’re talking downforce on an SUV makes me shake my head in disbelief. No, I can’t tell you that I felt that downforce – I don’t think I got the Durango Hellcat over 120 or so on the track anyhow. I can tell you that—despite the worst efforts of my poorly-trained right foot—I could not upset the beast coming out of corners. Unwind the flat-bottomed steering wheel, ease into the deep well of torque, and the Durango Hellcat squats and launches. I’d have loved to try a drag launch to see how close I could get to the claimed 11.5-second quarter mile.
Mercifully, the six-piston front Brembo brakes (clamping 15.75-inch vented rotors) were up to the Herculean task of whoa-ing the Durango down from triple digits. I can’t attest to the fade resistance—each track session lasted just three laps, two at speed, and one cooldown lap where the pro in the right seat advised us to use the paddle shifter to engine-brake. I’d imagine these pads would need replacement forthwith should a proper trackday be attempted.
What impressed me is how well the Durango Hellcat managed the drive to the track. No crashing over bumps, no untoward noises when sitting in traffic; it behaved itself like a proper family truckster. Yes, the low-profile tires and firm suspension tuning (as well as the previously-mentioned vibration from the engine) remind you that you aren’t in your grandfather’s Chrysler New Yorker, but it’s a surprisingly docile kitty when not exploring the upper reaches of the tachometer.
A number from the spec sheet stands out at me: 8,700 pounds of towing capacity. For an enthusiast who needs to tow an RV, boat, or even a race car on the weekends, the Durango Hellcat can manage better than many half-ton trucks. Dodge also brought out the Durango R/T Tow N Go package – which uses the smaller 5.7-liter Hemi paired with bigger brakes and active damping suspension – that will also handle dragging 8,700 pounds. It showed that off with a Challenger drag car – no, Dodge didn’t let us take that for a rip, either.
Fuel economy figures are not yet available. Don’t be surprised, however, to find incredibly frequent fill-ups: the non-supercharged Durango SRT is estimated at 15 mpg combined, and history tells us that adding boost from a supercharger means adding plenty of fuel. Premium fill-ups of 24.6 gallons will come often.
Verdict: 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat Review
As parents, we are blessed with choices for our kids. Private school, public, or homeschool—though homeschooling has become less of a choice lately, I’m afraid? Pack a lunch, or send the kid with a few bucks for cafeteria pizza? Dance lessons, piano recitals, or a new game console under the tree?
Parents get choices on how they get around, too. A small family sedan or demure crossover works for some. Others (like yours truly) choose a minivan for the flexibility of cargo and human hauling options. Some parents want to enjoy their driving experience, but don’t have the budget or driveway space for more than one car. I’m guessing that’s who Dodge and SRT is targeting with the Durango Hellcat.
Perhaps the story here is that – no matter the model – every Dodge model can be a Hellcat. Of course, that’s only three models (Challenger, Charger, and now Durango) as the Journey and Grand Caravan will go to the great sales bank in the sky. I’ve a feeling that this three-row Durango will be the closest thing to a Hellcat minivan this dad will ever see.
[Images: © 2020 Chris Tonn, interior images courtesy FCA]