Yeehaw

My Family Thought Durangos Sucked. Could the 475-Horsepower SRT Change Their Mind?


September 21, 2018 Cars By Photo by AJ Powell
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My family hated Durangos. We had a bad experience with the first generation Durango (a black 1998 with a V8 and an automatic four-speed transmission), but I’ll get into the plight of our tank later. The 2018 Durango SRT is a far cry from our former family car. It’s a mouthy, rebellious and at times unwieldy motor barge that’s as giggle-inducing as it is terrifying — and it seats six plus luggage. But could it win my family back? Could it challenge my family’s dedication to Toyota? A trip to southern Vermont in the 2018 Dodge Durango SRT, family in tow, was the only way to find out for sure.

The Good: A family-oriented SUV clad in Alcantara leather with a 6.4L V8 shoved into the front… that rockets you from 0-60 in 4.4 seconds shouldn’t exist. It’s impractical. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t tremendously fun. The suspension, steering, throttle response and transmission are all tunable with the press of a button. The interior is refined, sophisticated and comfortable. In fact, my mom remarked that sitting in the rear seat “feels like sitting in a first class airline cabin.”

Who It’s For: Admittedly, the Durango SRT isn’t for everyone. If you’re looking at a three-row SUV because you need space to haul your family and all its gear around, you won’t get the most out of the SRT. (In fact, your best bet is probably the Subaru Ascent.) But if you like the sound of a punchy V8 and a perfectly tuned exhaust, you’ll find little to complain about in the Durango SRT.

Watch Out For: The infotainment system takes a minute to get used to. (There are a host of additional buttons and options you get when you opt for the SRT trim level of the Durango.) Also, you likely won’t get the most out of the Durango SRT unless you take it on the track a handful of times. It’s chock full of technology designed for just such occasions: massive Brembo brakes, launch control, Pirelli Scorpion tires and a genuine track mode.

Alternatives: The most obvious comparison is the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT ($68,145+), which is slightly smaller and slightly more expensive. From there, you’re looking at the Chevrolet Tahoe RST ($78,450) which offers fewer horsepower and a more expensive price tag.

Review: The 1998 Dodge Durango was our second family car. The first was a first-gen Ford Explorer. With the arrival of my sister, my parents were looking for more space, more safety and a car that would be durable. The Durango fit the bill — or so it seemed. There were a few happy years. The truck was a tank, and the third row of seats in the back was my personal cabin. But after countless trips to the dealer for maintenance on the transmission, my father resorted to telling my mom, “Don’t come home with it.” That’s right. On that final trip to the dealer, we left the Durango there. And instead drove home in a 2004 Chrysler Pacifica. My family had terrible taste in cars for a bit there.

With the stigma of a poor transmission and endless maintenance ingrained in me, I was certain that the Durango SRT would suffer the same fate as our family car. That the SRT badge would simply be lipstick on a pig. But I was wrong.

To be fair, the SRT is a great deal different than the 1998 Durango that carted my sister and me to school and back. It’s a racecar. Well, it’s the closest thing to a race car that I’ve ever driven. And it has some race-car-esque parts. And it’s definitely the fastest family-worthy SUV out there. The interior is luxurious — the seats are vented with Alcantara suede seat inserts; there are two built-in, flip-up entertainment screens behind the passenger and driver’s seats. Had this been the case in the ’98, my sister and I surely would have fought less.

There are no words for the joy that comes from using launch control in a three-row SUV. It’s madness. And the Durango deserves every ounce of credit for providing that joy. But part of me feels that the Durango SRT lacks the ruggedness of the original. Famously, in our family at least, on a particularly snowy day, my mom was out driving the ’98 when the brakes locked up. She was on a hill and slid down the entire thing until she hit a parked car at the bottom. The parked car came out the worse of the two. The Durango was spotless. Like completely spotless. Not even a scratch. Of course, had she been in the SRT, the brakes wouldn’t have locked up. But what if they had? Would the SRT have displayed the same resilience? Maybe. But there’s a feeling you get in the SRT. Maybe it’s just the ludicrous speed, or the lavish interior car design. Either way, the SRT doesn’t feel like a tank.

Verdict: Would I buy the 2018 Durango SRT? If I had the money and the need to cart the kids around to soccer practice and a deep desire to be the badass dad at all of the PTO meetings, then yes. The car is a riot, and it handles surprisingly well for its size.

What Others Are Saying:

• “It might be tough to make a case for the Durango SRT to frugal parents such as my dad because of its $64,090 starting and $73,360 as-tested price. But really, it is a performance bargain.” — Christian Seabaugh, Motor Trend

• “I completely understand the appeal of a practical passenger vehicle with a little extra burble, which is why I really dig the $44,000 Durango R/T. It couldn’t catch the SRT around a race track, but it would leave you with a nice-sounding practical SUV and enough money left over to buy a real muscle car.” — Andrew P. Collins, Jalopnik

Key Specs

Horsepower: 475 hp
Engine: 6.4-liter HEMI V8
Transmission: 8-speed automatic; all-wheel drive
0-60: 4.4 Seconds
Towing capacity: 8,700 lbs
Tire size: P295/45R20
Curb weight: 5,510 lbs

Note: Dodge provided the 2018 Durango SRT for review.
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