In an era where fuel economy and a push for green technology are becoming paramount initiatives in the automotive industry, FCA and its SRT performance brand are still providing customers a lineup of vehicles that aim to defy political correctness, while also pushing the boundaries of performance even further. While the bulk of the spotlight is centered around the growing family of Hellcat powered offerings in its stable, as well as the limited production Dodge Demon, SRT has not forgotten about its other models. One of these is the 2018 Dodge Durango SRT which aims to transform an already competent family hauler into a brutish all star at the track. But can the Durango SRT successfully walk the tight rope between practicality and performance? Or does it lose too many of its core values in the process?
The exterior styling of our Octane Red tester is certainly on target when it comes to being noticed by passersby. At it's core, this is still a Dodge Durango which means it is a big SUV with a decidedly utilitarian profile. Look past this, and there are enough visual cues to tell you that the SRT is a very special breed of Durango that stands out from its more mundane cousins. SRT stylists equipped the big utility with a new front bumper and grille, which helps channel some much needed aggression into the Durango's mug, while a new hood with functional hood scoop and twin heat extractors solidify its lineage with SRT's other performance offerings. Body color valences are also part of the package, while 20-inch matte black wheels are a visual treat crafted just for the SRT. A beefy pair of exhaust tips round things out, and allow the Durango SRT to have much of the swagger that normally defines imported performance SUV entries, while also allowing it to blow by other rivals, including the Chevrolet Tahoe RST that we recently tested. Our tester came equipped with standard all-season tires, but pay $595, and SRT is willing to swap those out for Pirelli P-Zero run flat summer tires.
The interior of the standard Durango is already a roomy place to spend time in, but the SRT goes full circle, and offers occupants a special place to stretch out and relax. Standard sport seats and second row captains chairs help cocoon occupants in place during fast cornering, while also being reasonably comfortable at the same time. The third row may seem suited for little kids at first glance, but it is actually roomy enough for adult passengers albeit on short trips. This feat is a rarity in the segment, with many rivals often having tight headroom. A flat bottomed steering wheel with paddle shifters is standard, and it felt great in the hands especially when pushing the Durango through twisty roads. Our tester also came equipped with the $1500 SRT Interior Appearance package which covers the dashboard and gauge cluster hood in black leatherette trim, and adds white contrast stitching to the aforementioned items, as well as the seats. The interior also receives real carbon fiber accents, and the headliner is covered in micro suede fabric. The seats are adorned in leather/suede, but $1595 is all that is needed to transform them into full leather units.
Overall, the presentation is quite good, but we did notice alot of squeaks and creaks emanating from the cabin when we took the Durango out on the road. This is in contrast to some of its foreign competition which have largely banished these minor annoyances. Lastly, the base SRT does not quite have the same level of polish at first glance, and buyers will have to step up to the SRT Interior Appearance Package if they want to bring out the cabin's true potential. The beefy hood and chunky roof pillars do intrude on visibility from the drivers seat, but thankfully, rear visibility is decent, and is better than both the Chevrolet Tahoe and the Ford Expedition.
But we are willing to live with a few minor creaks to hear the full soundtrack of the mighty V8 that lurks under the hood. Following in the tire tracks of the Challenger Scat Pack and other SRT offerings, the Durango SRT is bestowed with a 6.4 liter V8 which is good for a healthy 475 horsepower, as well as a lighting quick 4.1 second 0 to 60 time. Most people will probably say that this is excessive for a family truckster, but we're not like most people, and we like a rig that can effortlessly keep up with not only its two row cousin the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT, but also the Mercedes-AMG GLS63 which is much pricier, makes 100 more horsepower, and has a twin-turbocharged V8 to boot. Acceleration is brutally quick, but the Durango delivers its power in a smooth and linear manner, while also sounding outright gorgeous even at half throttle acceleration.
An eight speed automatic transmission is the sole unit available, and it did an excellent job delivering smooth quick shifts when left to its own devices. Drivers can also shift the gearbox themselves with either the shift lever, or the steering wheel mounted paddles. With the shifter still retaining the strange and long standing "up is down," and "down is up" mapping that is straight out of the 4th dimension, we chose to spend the bulk of our time with the paddles for our manual shifting duties. The paddles are just as sharp, but leave the revs too high for too long, and the computer will override the driver, so make sure to watch the tachometer when driving. The Durango SRT even boasts a 9,000 lb tow rating, but accessing that potential (if you must) requires the $995 Trailer Tow IV package.
Our tester came equipped with SRT's Performance Pages menu which allows the driver to tailor the Durango SRT to their driving tastes. Each mode does bring something different to the driving experience, but with full on Track Mode being even more punishing than hearing Queen's Hot Space album, we instead opted for a Custom Setting, which combined the best of both Track and Sport mode into arguably the most enjoyable way to experience this special SUV. The ride is still somewhat stiff regardless of how the electronic dampers are tuned, but it's a solid tradeoff considering that the suspension does a good job hiding much of the Durango's bulk and high center of gravity in sharp cornering. The steering is also very communicative, and is capable of making any driver feel like a track champion out on the open road. A Challenger coupe it isn't, but the Durango is certainly a good example of what happens when that model is given a set of stilts to stand on. Braking in our tester was also smooth and stable with the four wheel mounted Brembo brakes delivering solid amounts of bite and poise.
Of course, nothing is perfect, and in the case of the Durango SRT, that fact of life emerges with its rather pitiful fuel economy. While the 6.4 liter tries its best to distract you from this inconvenient truth, there's no hiding the fact that this is a thirsty engine that is lugging over 5,000 lbs of SUV around. As a result, it should come as no surprise that the Durango SRT is only capable of achieving 13 mpg in the city and an equally modest 19 mpg on the freeway. A Prius it is not, but then again, how many Prii can haul three rows of passengers, and let the neighbors know your coming from a long distance away? We rest our case.
Pricing for the 2018 Dodge Durango SRT starts at $62,995 which is on par with others in its segment, and is even cheaper than a few of its rivals including the aforementioned Chevrolet Tahoe RST. Our loaded tester had a final MSRP of $73,360 which includes the $1,095 destination fee. Alot of this sticker shock can be mitigated with carefully selected options, and if we were buying one for ourselves, we would only focus on two in particular, the $2,495 Technology Group, and the $1,500 SRT Interior Appearance Package. Curiously, Dodge also offers a no cost "Lightweight Performance" package that pitches the third row for the sake of saving some weight, but we suggest you stay away, since its stablemate the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT is a two row offering to begin with.
With a suit of clothes that makes it look like a musclebound action hero, and a V8 that will be the talk of the neighborhood, the 2018 Dodge Durango SRT is certainly a unique and compelling purchase for families that want something that goes far beyond the mundane. If you are willing to adapt to some of its unique quirks, and have the fuel budget to keep it fed, this special Durango will be right at home in your garage.