REVIEW: Dodge Durango SRT a crossover vehicle for a new era

The problem with muscle car dreams is family car reality. Sure, it'd be great if you could tuck a Challenger Hellcat in the ol' garage (made in Canada, don'tchaknow), but as cool as the Challenger is, it can't really haul kids, and it can't tow stuff.

Thus, you've got to buy something more mainstream, and if you're lucky maybe there's a V8 option. In Dodge's range, that's the Durango, a three-row SUV that's pretty good looking, has plenty of space, and has ample towing capacity. The 3.6-litre V6 that's available on the base model can haul 2,812 kilograms, which is more than enough for your average boat or trailer.

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However, this is Dodge we're talking about, a company that tends to look at useful competence and go, “But what if we added more horsepower?” They just can't leave well enough alone, bless them.

Thus, the Durango comes in an R/T model with a 5.7-litre V8 engine, and a new SRT designation that pulls out all the stops with a 6.4-litre eight-cylinder monster. Durango? More like Durangry. Let's check it out:

Building on the Durango's handsome lantern-jawed profile, the SRT variant adds a more aggressive front fascia, a hood with functional scoops and venting, huge twin rear exhausts, and 20-inch gloss-black wheels which somehow manage not to look overlarge. It's a brick yes, but an attack brick: the sort of brick that gets heaved through someone's window.

REVIEW: Dodge Durango SRT a crossover vehicle for a new era _8
Dodge’s infotainment touchscreen is very intuitive, and the optional adaptive cruise control takes the labour out of commuting - PHOTO CINDY GOODMAN

Subtle the SRT is not, but subtlety is not really what Dodge does. The Durango has been infused with a little dash of Hellcat hot sauce (minus the supercharger) and it shows.

So, no speaking softly for Dodge's three-seater, which arrives in the school dropoff line with all the subtlety of a pair of patent leather pants. However, shouty though it may be, the Durangry isn't completely without merit.

The original recipe for creating a muscle car was to take a large engine and shove it into a mid-size car. With machines like the original Pontiac GTO, the idea was to build something with a little straight-line speed in a car that still had to haul the family around.

The Charger and Challenger that came along a little later (and persist today) are of a different breed. They're more big sledgehammers of cars, far larger than the average Canadian family sedan – and we don't generally buy sedans for family duties anyway.

No, these days the crossover is king, and in particular the three-row crossover which can carry the whole soccer team if needed. Sure, you could manage the same with considerably more comfort in a minivan, but a minivan is the sweatpants of automobiles: functional, not so much cool.

Despite being a King Kong crossover, the Durango's interior isn't made for knuckledraggers. While built to a price, Dodge has done a good job here of hiding away the cheaper plastics below the field of view. However, based on the performance of previous Fiat-Chrysler models, initially impressive looks might not age well.

Otherwise, building a SRT version of the Durango hasn't affected its practicality, meaning that it's still very much a family-first type of vehicle. Note, however, that the second row doesn't offer fore and aft adjustability, and is a little tight on legroom. If your kids are full grown, things can get a bit cramped on longer trips.

However, overall the Durango is competitive on practical space with less V8-snortin' rivals like the Toyota Highlander and Ford Explorer. And speaking of that V8...

A friend used to refer to cars with the largest optional engine box checked as The Big Stove Option. The Durango SRT certainly qualifies.

If you just want a V8 soundtrack and perfectly adequate thrust, the Durango R/T brings the Hemi noise. The SRT, on the other hand, comes with a whopping 6.4-litre V8 engine that makes 475- horsepower and 470-pound-foot of torque.

Power is routed through an eight-speed automatic transmission and sent to all four wheels through permanent all-wheel-drive. Thus, the Durango SRT also comes standard with better grip than its lower-slung muscle car stablemates, abetted by 295-series tires at all four corners.

As a result, this heffalump really hustles. Zero-to-100km/h comes in under five seconds, and the lateral g-loads are far greater than you'd think physically possible. The steering doesn't offer much in the way of feedback on the regular Durango, and all that steamroller rubber dulls things down even further. However, you can trust the SRT to corner with alacrity.

Braking is pretty good too, despite a massive curb weight, thanks to the large standard Brembo brakes. Combined, the engine and brakes allow for an excellent tow rating: some 3,946-kilogram. However, all this performance is muted a bit by a suspension that seems a little too fidgety for a proper muscle car/truck hybrid.

Partially its the fault of those wide tires, which want to follow the ruts in the road. Partially it's the result of stiffening up the suspension to deal with the Durango's size and weight.

Whatever the case, the Durango SRT isn't quite as compliant an all-rounder as the Jeep Cherokee is, despite it being a close relation. It's plenty of fun to drive, but might be a little too much heat for an aging platform.

With a starting price of $72,495, the Durango SRT is a lot of truck for a lot of money. Add in options like the heavily-bolstered sport front seats, driver assist package, and a rear DVD player, and this week's tester hits your wallet for more than $85K. And that's before you start tracking fill-ups.

Still, Dodge's infotainment touchscreen is very intuitive, and the optional adaptive cruise control takes the labour out of commuting.

Fuel economy is officially rated at 18.3-litre/100 kilometres in the city, and 12.2-litre/100 kilometres on the highway. That's hardly commuter-grade, but the combination of big, torquey engine and high-geared eight-speed transmission means that the Durango will often hit its highway mileage without trying particularly hard.

Green light
lots of character; loud, fun, and fast; still very practical; excellent tow rating

Stop sign
Not the most sensible machine on the road; expensive and a bit dated; fidgety suspension

The checkered flag
A muscle crossover for a new era.


Ford Explorer Sport ($48,406)

When equipped with the 365-horsepower, 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6 in the Sport model, the Explorer is as quick as you'd realistically need your crossover to be, and far more efficient than the Durango. It's not close on the towing capacity, with some 2,268 kilograms of hauling potential, but that's still reasonable.

Reasonable is the word. The Explorer is competent, quick, spacious, and if you buy a white one with a roof rack, every other driver on the road will think you're an RCMP vehicle and get out of your way.

The Durango SRT isn't reasonable, even with that monstrous tow rating. Then again, not everyone wants sane and sensible.

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