First Drive: The 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat Is A Three-Row Thrill Show

10 min read

First Drive: The 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat Is A Three-Row Thrill Show

10 min read

It’s safe to assume that the Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat fits into the “Esteem” segment of Maslow's hierarchy. Nobody needs a three-row SUV with 710 horsepower, and considering its one-year-only limited production schedule, the people at Dodge are perhaps more aware of that than anyone.

Allow logic to take the reins and the argument against its existence only gets stronger: A 5700-pound SUV is not going to be the quickest way to get down a drag strip, nor is it the sharpest tool for carving down a mountain road. And with a track-tuned suspension, it’s also probably not going to be the most comfortable way to move people from one place to another.

Yet the appeal of the Durango SRT Hellcat becomes obvious the very first time you stomp on the go pedal from a stop light: In a world seemingly hell-bent on force feeding American drivers whisper-quiet EVs and autonomous driving technology, SRT’s latest creation is supercharged middle finger to the status quo; a stark reminder that blown V8s will not go quietly into that good night.

There’s sort of a Jekyll and Hyde-style split personality that’s become a hallmark of the Challenger and Charger SRT Hellcats: They’re fantastic grand touring cars that can eat up the miles without beating you up for the privilege, but drop the hammer and the savagery that they can deliver is simply stunning.

The question is, can Dodge replicate that same kind of experience in three-row family hauler? Over the course of a week with this Reactor Blue example, we intended to find out.

Inside and Out

While the Durango SRT Hellcat’s cavernous layout targets the pragmatists among us, offering seating for seven and up to 85.1 cubic-feet of storage capacity with the second and third row seats folded down, the powertrain is the stuff that muscle truck dreams are made of. Under the hood is Dodge’s 6.2-liter supercharged Hellcat Hemi, here dishing out 710 horsepower and 640 pound-feet of torque.

The Durango sends power to all four corners as-standard in SRT 392 and SRT Hellcat guise, administered by way of an eight-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters and a single-speed transfer case that’s similar to the Quadra-Trac unit used in the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. And as with the Trackhawk, the torque split of the Durango SRT Hellcat changes based on the drive mode selected, with Snow mode distributing an even 50:50 while Auto mode shifts the power rearward with a 40:60 split. Sport mode continues that rear-biased trend with a 35:65 split, while Track mode takes things a step further at 30:70.

The supercharged powertrain delivers straight-line performance that’s genuinely hair-raising for a vehicle of this size: 0-60 MPH in 3.5 seconds, a quarter mile in 11.5 seconds, and a top speed of 180 MPH. Those figures make the Durango SRT Hellcat the world’s fastest standard three-row SUV, and with an 8700-pound towing capacity, Dodge says that no SUV in the world can tow more or carry more with a faster quarter-mile time. To corral all of that horsepower under the hood, the Durango SRT Hellcat calls upon six-piston Brembo calipers with 15.75-inch rotors up front, while four-piston units with 13.8-inch discs are installed at the rear. It’s enough stopping power to bring the big SUV to a halt from 60 MPH in a sportscar-like 116 feet.

Hellcat Durango rolling stock

Pirelli Scorpion Zero 295/45ZR20 all-season tires are standard on the Durango SRT Hellcat; Pirelli P-Zero 295/45ZR20 three-season performance tires are available as an optional upgrade. Situated behind those 20-inch rollers are six-piston Brembo calipers, which clamp down on 15.75-inch ventilated rotors.

Man cannot subsist on acceleration and deceleration alone, however. To bring the handling and body control up to snuff with the increase in horsepower, the new top-dog Durango has also scored suspension upgrades that go above and beyond last year’s SRT 392 setup. Here the Hellcat Durango gets three-mode adaptive Bilstein dampers – like SRT models of the past – but they’ve been tuned to provide a wider dynamic range that’s said to result in a more comfortable ride in Auto mode while also improving handling in Track mode. Coupled with rear damper top mounts which are 18 percent stiffer than those used on the SRT 392, Dodge says the new suspension tuning reduces understeer and allows for greater corner entry and exit speeds.

It’s also worth noting that the entire Durango lineup has been refreshed for 2021. The interior sees some influence from the Challenger’s cabin design, resulting in a layout that’s noticeably more driver-focused. Unique to the SRT Hellcat are red-accented gauges and standard heated and ventilated Nappa leather with suede front seats with embroidered Hellcat logos, but the new center stack is really the main attraction.

Dodge’s all-new Uconnect 5 infotainment system and its 10.1-inch touchscreen display makes its debut in the revised Durango, boasting headline features like wireless Apple CarPlay and five times the processing power of the outgoing system. Just below the screen are physical knobs and buttons for HVAC, audio system controls, and frequently used performance functions like the drive mode settings and launch control. Beneath that are a pair of USB-C ports, a pair of USB-A ports, an AUX jack, and a wireless charging pad. It’s an uncluttered design that puts almost everything you need to use within arm’s reach – no need to fumble around in the center console storage.

The exterior has also seen some attention across the Durango lineup, but the SRT Hellcat is the most overtly aggressive of the bunch thanks to its two-piece front splitter, unique grille, and an SRT-exclusive rear spoiler design.

Behind The Wheel

Outfitted with big red brake calipers, 20-inch wheels and a dose of racy aerodynamic bits, the Durango SRT Hellcat isn’t exactly an unassuming machine at glance, but the roar of the Hellcat Hemi can still catch you off guard the first time you press that start button. This active exhaust system has the largest-diameter X-pipe in the SRT lineup, and it yields a rumble that isn’t shy about making its presence known whether you’re at wide-open throttle or simply loping along at idle.

Still, everyday civility has been a cornerstone of SRT’s approach to tuning Hellcats ever since they landed on the scene in 2015, and the Durango maintains that tradition to a significant degree. Leave the drive mode in Auto, crank up the stereo, and set the heated and ventilated seats to your liking, and the Durango SRT Hellcat is a great place to be if you’re stuck plodding along in commuter traffic.

The aforementioned Uconnect system deserves significant praise in that regard. The high resolution display looks great, the menus are intuitive to use, and the system is responsive and packed full of genuinely useful features. Our experience with Wireless CarPlay was ostensibly flawless, and apps like Google Maps occupied all 10.1-inches of screen real estate rather than only using a portion of it (as we’ve seen in other manufacturers’ implementations of CarPlay). Dodge gets bonus points for installing a nice big wireless charging pad right below the center stack, too, which dutifully kept our iPhone 12 Pro Max in place no matter what shenanigans we got up to.

That last bit is important when you remember that this is still a performance-tuned vehicle with 710 horsepower at the ready. As such, there were a few occasions when the reworked suspension jostled us around a bit on the highway, and at times the drive-by-wire throttle seemed to be a little more eager to hustle than we were. Some of that can be attributed to the Durango’s performance capability, which is downright awe-inspiring for a vehicle this big. You just don’t expect it to move like this. This is a three-row sport utility that weighs nearly three tons that will embarrass a lot of sport cars at the stop lights.

And that’s when the Durango SRT Hellcat starts to really make sense. Beyond the facts and figures, there’s one important metric that truly justifies building such an unlikely machine: No other three-row sport utility vehicle can elicit as much joy from its occupants as the Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat does.


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