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2018 Dodge Durango SRT: First Drive Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Jason Fogelson October 2017

The Dodge Durango has always been a bit of a sleeper in the FCA family. Overshadowed by its stablemate and mechanical cousin, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Durango was often overlooked by SUV shoppers. The 2018 Dodge Durango SRT may change that, coming with the claim that it is "America's fastest, most powerful and most capable 3-row SUV." We recently had a chance to drive the latest SRT SUV on the track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and on the streets of Indiana to test those claims.

What is SRT?

SRT stands for "Street and Racing Technologies," and it's the high-performance arm of Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep. SRT began as the team that created the Dodge Viper and merged with the team that created the Plymouth Prowler to become Specialty Vehicle Engineering (SVE). For a brief time (2012-2014), SRT was its own division, but it is now under the Dodge umbrella. Think of it as Dodge's version of Mercedes-Benz's AMG, BMW's M, Ford's SVT or Cadillac's V -- basically an engineering and manufacturing team organized to get the most performance possible out of select company products. 2017 offerings included Viper SRT, Charger SRT Hellcat, Challenger SRT Hellcat, Charger SRT 392, Challenger SRT 392 and Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT. 2018 will say goodbye to the Viper and add the Challenger SRT Demon and Durango SRT.

What is the Durango?

The Durango has been around for three generations. The first two generations (1998-2003, 2004-2009) were traditional body-on-frame sport utility vehicles, based on the same platform as the Dodge Dakota mid-size pickup. In 2010 (for the 2011 model year), Durango got a full redesign, and moved over to the unibody platform that it shares with the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Durango got a mild facelift for 2014, and has been hovering above 60,000 annual sales ever since -- less than a third of Grand Cherokee's sales figures.

Durango is a 3-row SUV. It has a wheelbase of 119.8 inches (5 in longer than Grand Cherokee), and an overall length of 201.2 in (12.4 in longer than the Jeep). The base Durango is a few hundred pounds heavier than the base Grand Cherokee at 4,680 lbs, while the Durango SRT weighs in at 5,510 lbs. The least-expensive Durango, the SXT trim model, starts at $29,995, while the base Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo 4x2 starts at $30,395 – which is one reason Durango is somewhat of a sleeper.

SRT Flair

SRT starts with the basic Durango exterior, and puts its stamp on the SUV in a few subtle ways. A performance front fascia with a unique body-color grille gives the SRT a new, more assertive face, backed up by a Performance Hood that features a functional air intake at the center -- always a hint that there's a monster engine lurking beneath. 6.5-liter HEMI badges confirm the rumor, and SRT badges let you know who's responsible. The roof rails and crossbars are gone for a sleeker look and better aerodynamics. HID low beams/LED high beams and LED fog lamps light the way, with Durango's signature LED tail lamps holding up the rear view. The SRT rides on 20-in x 10-in 5-spoke low gloss black alloy wheels -- a menacing look -- wrapped with Pirelli all-season tires. The changes are subtle, they're few, but they're effective, sharpening the look of the SRT Durango over the other trim levels.

Interior

Like the exterior, the interior gets some SRT love as well. Nappa leather is used throughout the cabin, with embossed and stitched SRT logos showing up on the seats. Both front- and second-row seats are heated, and front-row seats are ventilated as well. Driver and front-passenger get 8-way power with 4-way lumbar adjustment and active head restraints. The second-row seats are fold-and-tumble captain chairs, making entry to the third row easy, even for spry adults. There's ample leg and head room in the third row, and the headrests can be folded down remotely when the third row is not in use – a nice feature for outward visibility and convenience. Black velour floor mats with the SRT logo protect the carpet throughout.

The driver's seat is a command center, where you can admire the 180-mile per hour speedometer and premium 7-in TFT (thin-film transistor) customizable digital instrument cluster on a panel surrounded by a light black chrome bezel. A hand-stitched, leather-wrapped flat-bottom steering wheel is backed by standard paddle shifters. The interior gets gunmetal accents throughout, along with carbon fiber trim. There's a 115-volt auxiliary outlet and a 12-volt outlet in the center console and another in the cargo compartment. Behind the scenes, the Premium Insulation Group calms the cabin noise. The whole package is executed with great fit and finish, and is a very comfortable place to spend time.

Safety and Security

Dodge has equipped the Durango with a nice array of safety features, and the SRT benefits from them as well. Standard safety includes 4-wheel traction control, electronic stability control, hill-start assist, LED daytime running lights (DRL), Parksense front/rear park assist with stop, ParkView rear back-up camera, remote start system, security alarm, tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS), trailer sway damping, LATCH child seat anchors and a full array of airbags including a driver inflatable knee-bolster airbag.

Technology and Infotainment

SRT Durango checks all the boxes for you, so it comes with a 506-watt Beats Premium Audio System, GPS navigation and Uconnect 4C NAV with an 8.4-in display in the center stack. The sound system is loaded with capability, like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, HD Radio, Bluetooth, voice command, SiriusXM (with a 1-year subscription), one year of SiriusXM Guardian Service and five years of SiriusXM Traffic Service and Travel Link Service.

Keyless Go with remote keyless entry and remote proximity keyless entry is standard, as is Sentry Key Theft Deterrent.

Powertrain

Finally, we get to talk about that big engine! Let's be honest -- the big horsepower is really the reason that the Durango SRT exists. Under the hood lives a specially massaged 6.4-liter V8 HEMI engine that is tuned to crank out 475 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque. The 8-speed automatic transmission sends the power to all four wheels -- there's no 4x2 version of Durango SRT, thank heavens. Fuel economy, as you might expect from a 5,500-lb SUV with that kind of power, is fairly dismal: 13 miles per gallon city and 19 mpg highway, or 15 mpg combined, and 91-octane premium gasoline is recommended. That's one of the prices you pay for performance. Towing capacity is a class-leading 8,700 lbs.

So, is it worth it?

Driving Experience

As mentioned earlier, our test drives took place at and near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – the same venue that hosts the Indianapolis 500 each year. SRT set up a road course that was more than just the famous oval that Indy cars use, and they provided pro drivers to accompany us as we drove our laps. It's pretty unusual for a manufacturer to send an SUV out on a race track, but the Durango SRT was right at home. The pro driver showed us how to access the SRT Performance Pages nested within the Uconnect display. There you can access the seven SRT drive modes: Auto, Sport, Track, Snow, Tow, Valet and ECO. Set up in Track, we were able to experience Durango SRT's impressive acceleration and speed (validated at 4.4 seconds from zero to 60 mph and 12.9 seconds for a standing quarter-mile), and feel the stopping power of the standard Brembo brakes.

Speed and power are great, but if you want your SUV to be more than a flying brick, you have to tune the suspension to keep things flat in the corners. Durango SRT is equipped with an Active Damping System that acts in accordance with the drive mode -- delivering a stiffer ride in Track than Auto, for instance. The springs on the SRT are stiffer all around, as is the rear sway bar. As a result, Durango SRT can be pushed hard around the track without inducing car sickness (or fear). Out on the public roads, the ride in Auto is comfortable and composed. It does take a bit of maturity to restrict the use of those 475 ponies at every opportunity, but the times when it's safe to mash on the throttle for full acceleration, like entering a freeway, make the maturity seem worthwhile.

The Bottom Line

The 2018 Dodge Durango SRT carries a list price of $62,995. If that induces the need for supplemental oxygen, you haven't got the horsepower bug. You can't get this kind of performance out of a minivan, and you can't get this kind of passenger carrying, cargo hauling and trailer towing out of a sedan. The Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT comes close, but doesn't have a third row to match Durango. Durango SRT may be a sleeper no more -- it has moved up to the head of the line.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle's manufacturer.

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2018 Dodge Durango SRT: First Drive Review - Autotrader