by Jonathan Yarkony
At first, you might think it’s just another white SUV in a sea of monochromatic crossovers littered throughout suburbia. As it approaches, though, heavily tinted windows, black wheels, and black grille evoke the menace of an Imperial Stormtrooper. You feel the exhaust resonating before you actually hear it, the rumble vibrating the asphalt at a frequency that is pure menace.
Then, if you’re lucky, the driver will stab the throttle and unleash the entire needless, senseless, glorious exhaust note as all four tires sling this massive party wagon ahead with surprising speed. It is a completely intoxicating rush and it will absolutely crush your household budget, stealing money you should probably be spending on family movie nights or household essentials. If you have enough left over after blowing your household budget on premium (which is recommended for full power, though not required), the Durango SRT has plenty of space for Costco runs or outlet mall excursions with a couple kids in tow.
With all the seats up, however, it’s a modest 17.2 cubic feet, and it can handle a typical weekly grocery run, but a family of five or six might be piling paper towels and big boxes on the kids’ laps. With just the four main seats in place, cargo becomes a cavernous 47.7 cubic feet, and 84.5 with all seats folded, and we tested that max space bringing home some patio furniture, and it’s a bulging, wide, almost completely flat load space, although the liftover height is quite high off the ground. In general, the entire vehicle is quite high off the ground, and the kids had a bit of a challenge getting up into the car.
I was glad we didn’t have it during winter time, or they would have had slushy road gunk all over their bellies as they leaned over and crawled up into it – the sills are exposed so it could get very messy. Once inside, they were treated to a first class cabin with captain’s chairs and their own console with cupholders, storage and armrest (which did stick up a bit with all seats folded – the only on the otherwise flat load floor). Getting into the third row would be easy without child or booster seats in places, the seat folds and flips forward for a wide entry to a cramped third row.
Then again, the kids didn’t want to go back there (for once) because why miss out on dual, chair-mounted screens that can play DVDs, Blurays or connect via cable to your favorite device? They’re not loaded with games and streaming services like the screens in the Chrysler Pacifica, but the Pacifica doesn’t have 475 horsepower and the ability to instill unbridled fear in small children and appreciative looks from all sorts. The Durango SRT got a lot of looks in my corner of suburbia. Before I get into the terrifying performance of this machine let’s jump into the deeply bolstered, but sufficiently wide front seats, trimmed in “Demonic Red” Laguna leather stamped with the SRT logo in our tester.
In addition to the wide variety of adjustments available with two memory positions, they are heated and vented for added comfort in any season. The armrest is wide and cushy and the shift lever is fat and substantial, which I find very pleasing, and same goes for the cupholders and storage tray. It’s easy to feel at home in this cabin, and the UConnect touchscreen infotainment system controls a gazillion different things, but is also easy to use with a home screen on which you can include different functions that you tend to use more often.
The steering wheel is almost comically fat, but we’ll let it slide because it has great contours at the hand grips, and Dodge has buttons hidden on the back side of the spokes for volume control on the right side and tuning or track selection on the left. It’s incredibly intuitive and one of those things you might not realize how awesome it is until you’ve experienced it. I, for one, instantly got used to it, appreciating that it kept my hands on the wheel more often instead of reaching for the screen, and I continued to reach for them for almost an entire week after I had switched into another car.
The screen is also your gateway to the full potential of the powertrain. Going into the SRT menu via screen icon or the fixed button below the HVAC controls, you can select the appropriate setting for that day’s weather or driving task, with Snow and Tow for practical needs, then Sport and Track for shenanigans and mayhem. Auto responds to the conditions on the road, sensor feedback and your behavior on the fly, and Custom allows you to dial some systems up and others down if you have particular tastes. We stayed out of Track because there is just no call for it, as even Sport provides quick enough engine and transmission response that you're experiencing more than enough of the available 475 hp and 470 lb-ft.
With a Hemi V8 under the hood and decent exhaust, it makes all the right V8 sounds as you terrorize the subdivision with unnecessary downshifts. If you’ve read this far, you probably don’t care about fuel consumption, so I won’t bother looking it up. I’ll just say that it was atrocious and the worst I’ve seen in years. And yup, it was worth every penny. The power is substantial, lifting the nose and pressing the whole family into their seats and getting their attention away from their iPad or movie momentarily, but accelerating over 5,500 pounds of metal and glass and rubber to 60 mph in under 5 seconds (4.4 officially, but I never clocked those kinds of runs, and neither should you except on a drag strip) is fraught with danger.
After a few seconds of gut-tingling excitement, the foot has to come off the throttle because of good sense more than fear of reprisals. Sure, the brakes are upgraded Brembos with six-piston calipers in front clamping down on 15.0-inch rotors and four-piston rear brakes with 13.78-inch discs, and they bite hard and bury the nose practically down to the pavement. But let’s not be stupid, that is still over a couple tons of mass hurtling down public roads. A bit scary when you think about it. Brakes, of course, are only as good as the rubber they’re attached to, and Dodge did what they could,
The P295/45ZR20 Pirelli Scorpions are okay, but they’re still all-seasons, and nowhere near the level of performance that some street tires offer these days. There is an upgrade available to Pirelli P Zeros, but unfortunately for Beastie Boy fans, the Brass Monkey package, which includes 20-inch burnished bronze Brass Monkey wheels is available only on GT and R/T models, not the SRT. Another place to exercise great caution is in corners. The Durango SRT is plenty of fun, and despite the Bilstein active-damping high-performance suspension, stiffer springs and sway bar, and performance-oriented all-wheel drive system, it’s still a great, big, tall, boxy vehicle that has no choice but to obey the laws of physics.
Pitch and roll are pronounced whenever braking and turning in. Driven aggressively but carefully, though, all those weight transfer lessons from your track school can be applied, making for exaggerated and entertaining dynamics. Basically, it’s a muscle car, or muscle utility, just a big honking engine in a family vehicle, no need to overthink it or expect too much. In more casual driving, the Durango can be a bit stiff, but is mostly well behaved and at more typical driving speeds feels buttoned down in turns and on the highway and even in tight quarters thanks to a large screen for the back up camera and parking sensors front and rear.
A neat perk of the Durango SRT, or any SRT for that matter, is that track school is part of the $62,995 price tag (and tack on $1,095 for destination), a full day of instruction at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving in Chandler, Arizona. I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that most buyers of the Durango aren’t looking to make it their track-day vehicle (though it would make a good tow vehicle for any car and trailer combo up to 8,700 pounds). But high-performance driving instruction is a benefit to any driver, especially one that is behind the wheel of something with so much power.
The Durango SRT’s natural habitat will most likely be the wide boulevards of suburbia, gleefully peeling away from minivans at stoplights and disturbing the peace in quiet neighborhoods, and still doing all the jobs your family hauler needs to do (except balancing the household budget). It is totally unnecessary and unabashedly old school, but for anyone with gasoline flowing in their veins that has traded in your weekend track days for T-ball, it will bring a constant grin to your face, whether rumbling at idle with potential menace written all over its blacked out grille or in brief spurts of entertaining delinquency.