First Drive: The first-ever 2018 Dodge Durango SRT is family hauling made fast

Durango be nimble, Durango be quick, Durango jump over every other midsize SUV on the market. Okay, no, that doesn’t rhyme but the Dodge Durango SRT is an SUV that doesn’t behave as an SUV should. For the 2018 model year, SRT power is available in the three-row hauler for the first time ever. What this means is a 6.4-liter HEMI V8 engine rumbling under the hood, and it’s just this side of glorious.

First Drive: The first-ever 2018 Dodge Durango SRT is family hauling made fast

Starting at $64,090, the 2018 Durango SRT is the newest muscle car in the Dodge lineup—except for the fact it seats six.

(Beverly Braga)

As far as suburban shuttles go, 475 horsepower and 470 lb.-ft. of torque is admittedly kind of bonkers, especially for a vehicle with a usable third row. With room for up to six occupants, the Durango SRT scoots from 0-60 in 4.4 seconds and hits the quarter mile in 12.9 seconds. You’ll basically get home from the grocery store before the ice cream even has a chance to think about melting. SRT does stand for Street & Racing Technology after all, so why not live up to it?

First Drive: The first-ever 2018 Dodge Durango SRT is family hauling made fast

Our test car was outfitted with an SRT Interior Package in an available Demonic Red. Although leather and suede trim are standard, the upgraded upholstery and carbon-fiber add to the sense of a high performance.

(Beverly Braga)

The vehicle feels as loud and as fast as you would hope. Sporting a new exhaust system doesn’t hurt either when tuned to resonate that deep HEMI sound. And absolute restraint was required in order to keep the SRT-ness around the posted 50-mph speed limits of our South Jersey drive route. But being surrounded by plenty of farm land and empty two-lane roads, even restraint has its limits. Therefore, I may or may not have found myself on a long, empty straight, and I may or may not have squeezed the throttle more quickly than necessary to offset the silent shadows of that autumn afternoon. And I would do it again.

The HEMI V8 reverberates through your spine like the best kind of inward massage. Any moments of wide open throttle, however, will not necessarily snap heads backward unless you aggressively intend it to do so. The Durango SRT, for all its power, handles itself rather professionally.

Weighing in at 5,510 pounds, the Dodge carries nearly as much heft as a full-size pickup, ranking nowhere near the leanest of the three-row crossover SUV crowd. Yet its on-road manners are nearly car-like, offering a spryness in handling one wouldn’t expect from so much sheet metal. Even though crossovers and its ilk are the hot sellers these days, many of them demand more work behind the wheel. Thanks to the light but precise steering of the Durango SRT, this is a six-passenger midsize SUV that is genuinely fun to drive.

With standard all-wheel drive and seven drive modes—Auto, Sport, Track, Snow, Tow, Valet, and Eco—the Durango SRT experience can even be customized to your specific mood. For example, in Sport, shift times for first through fourth gears are increased by 23 percent compared to Auto, and 65% of the engine’s torque is delivered to the rear wheels. Comparatively, Track directs 70% of the torque to the rear, increases shifting speed by 50%, and ESC is adjusted to allow for maximum yaw so your every zig can have a zag.

First Drive: The first-ever 2018 Dodge Durango SRT is family hauling made fast

Exterior styling is rather bland when considering the Durango SRT is outfitted with a 6.4-liter HEMI V8 that propels it from zero to 60 mph in a quicker-than-fast 4.4 seconds.

(Beverly Braga)

In terms of design, the Durango SRT’s exterior is disappointingly uninspired. The new front fascia is no doubt go-fast aggressive with a brawny disposition, functional hood scoop, and can’t-miss SRT badge. But the rest of the vehicle’s wide-body stance fades to frump. With nary a curvaceous character line, the Durango’s massive, squared-off haunches become more pronounced, almost minivan-ish in form.

The dual exhaust tips add a sporty touch but the visor taillights are hardly slimming nor create as distinctive a demeanor as the front. Like something you’d find in the last-chance clearance bin at T.J. Maxx, you’d never notice the Durango unless you were dead set on finding it.

Exterior looks (or lack thereof) aside, the Durango offers an interior fit and finish as tight as its handling, with a quiet cabin to match. With a Dodge Challenger SRT Demon idly rumbling next to me, a flick of the auto up/down windows in the Durango and the Demon’s hellish growl was surprisingly shushed. However, the Durango SRT’s own sound is inescapable. Windows up or otherwise, if you don’t hear that HEMI, you feel it—and it’s a swell moment to be alive.

Key interior features include a flat-bottomed, Dinamica suede-wrapped steering wheel with SRT paddle shifters. The Nappa leather-and-suede combination seats are heated and ventilated in the front with a heater selection for the second row. A true carbon fiber instrument panel in the SRT is a first for the Durango. Suede is also utilized along the A-pillars and headliner, which most likely contribute to the cabin’s soundproofing. And, of course, “SRT” is emblazoned throughout the interior, from the steering wheel to the seats to the floor mats.

With the design misstep, a starting price of $64,090 (includes $1,095 destination fee) may seem like a stretch but with no true pound-for-pound competitor, Dodge can essentially charge as it pleases. Premium marquees do offer supercharged SUVs as well. BMW starts its X5 M at $101,695 while the Land Rover Range Rover Sport Supercharged has a baseline of $81,645. Their powerbands are rated at 567 and 510 horsepower, respectively. But, the former seats only five while the latter’s third row is bespoke for booster-seat babes.

The all-new Volkswagen Atlas, priced at $36,225 when equipped with a V6 and AWD, offers a comparable third row but drops nearly 200 horsepower versus the Durango SRT. In fact, the Durango’s closest competitor may actually be one that doesn’t exist—yet. The Land Rover Discovery SVX is slated for production next year and with room for seven, 518 horsepower, 461 lb.-ft. of torque, and a 0-60 time of in the low 5s, the performance three-row SUV race just might be on. The 7-passenger, supercharged-V6 Discovery starts at $50,985 so expect the SVX to begin a tad bit north.

First Drive: The first-ever 2018 Dodge Durango SRT is family hauling made fast

The theater-style arrangement of the second and third rows offer rear occupants cozy but comfortable seating better than most of the segment.

(Beverly Braga)

Rear seating in the Durango SRT is done theater style with the second-row captain’s chairs able to fold over and forward to provide access to the third row, or simply squeeze through if you’re so adept. Be cautious of the in-floor cup holder/cubby, though. Although it doesn’t protrude much, its matte-like plastic coating creates quite a grip for rubber-soled shoes. And you will be trippin’, for real.

Third-row headroom and legroom are listed at 37.8 and 31.5 cubic-feet. The aforementioned Atlas measures in at 38.3 cubic-feet for headroom and 33.7 cubic-feet for legroom. A five-foot-eleven male colleague with an athletic build stated he was “comfortable enough” in the Durango SRT’s third row but if he had a twin, they would be fighting for shoulder and elbow room. Still, former college football players aside, two average-sized adults in the last row can easily handle carpooling.

For the sake of comparisons, the all-new Buick Enclave is offering up 37.6 cubic-feet for noggins, 33.5 cubic-feet to stretch your legs, and follows a 2/2/3 seating chart. The Atlas goes with 2/3/2 and the Durango adheres to 2/2/2. The Mazda CX-9, a long-standing dynamics champ, is a squeeze with 35.4 and 29.7 cubic-feet for third-row occupants, and the consummate safety net that is the Toyota Highlander is an even tighter fit with a heads-up 35.9 cubic-feet and cramped-leg 27.7 cubic-feet. But the Highlander does score big with front-row legroom at 44.2 cubic-feet whereas the rest of the group comes in at the low 40s. Second-row accommodations are similar across the board.

First Drive: The first-ever 2018 Dodge Durango SRT is family hauling made fast

The interior exudes high-quality materials with tautly hemmed seams. The driver-oriented dash encourages spirited driving but the cabin offers plenty of quiet and comfort to make stop-and-go traffic just that much more tolerable.

(Beverly Braga)

All 2018 Dodge Durango SRT vehicles sit on 20-inch wheels wrapped in Pirelli 295/45ZR20 Scorpion Verde all-season tires with the stopping power of Brembo six-piston (front) and four-piston (rear) calipers and vented rotors on all four corners. Pirelli P Zero three-season tires are available as a $595 option.

The standard 6.4-liter HEMI V8 is mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. An active damping system adjusts to the driving mode chosen while stiffer front and rear springs improve cornering. Oh, and there’s launch control, too. So, even if you didn’t want to use all 475 horsepower or tow a best-in-class 8,700 pounds, the Durango SRT almost compels you to, anyway.

My test vehicle’s MSRP totaled $72,265 as it was optioned with a number of add-ons: a technology package, SRT interior package, a Blu-ray rear entertainment system, Pirelli P Zero tries, and 20-inch low-gloss black wheels. The tech package included additional driver-assistance systems like adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring, and lane keep assist. The interior package was, as expected, cosmetic niceties like the suede trim.

Although the Durango SRT isn’t slapped with any sort of gas guzzler tax like its supercharged siblings, no one is going to purchase the vehicle for its fuel efficiency. But report the numbers I must. The SRT-powered SUV is EPA rated at 13 city, 19 highway, and 15 combined mpg. The base engine Durango 3.6L AWD is estimated at 18/25/21.

All in all, the Dodge Durango SRT is a pricey endeavor but the power output is its premium return. The vehicle is an absolute showcase of how an SUV is not supposed to act. But here’s hoping more of them follow its lead.

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