Be sure and scroll to the end for a ten minute ride-along.
A few weeks ago, dodge kindly offered me the loan of 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat. For the uninitiated the Dodge Durango SRT hellcat is a three-row-seated 710 horsepower super-SUV, seats up to 7 people, tows 8700 pounds all with mind twisting performance specs. My long-time followers will recall that I’m a lifelong Mopar fan, growing up with my Dad’s big-block New Yorkers, and my Uncle Claude as a Mopar master-tech.
The third generation 6.2 liter Hemi V8 makes 710 horsepower, and 645 lb/ft of torque delivering 0-60 times of 3.5 seconds, 11.5 quarter mile times, at an estimate top speed of 180 mph. Quoting Motor Trend in their pre-test release, “If we're able to reproduce (or beat) those numbers in testing, the Durango Hellcat would easily earn a spot among the top 10 quickest SUVs we've tested, beating the likes of the BMW X6 M and Jaguar F-Pace SVR.” I haven’t driven an X6 M, but I have driving the F-Pace SVR, and interestingly the all electric I-Pace as well. More on that a bit later.
I'm intimately familiar with the Durango’s platform as we purchased a 2013 V6 model new and it's been our family trickster, hauling kids, grandmas, baseball equipment, tons of groceries, greasy auto parts and everything else under the sun. I've also done all sorts of towing with it and the Pentastar V6 has proven to be bulletproof.
We've always found the interior of our Durango to be comfortable and perfect for long hauling on the highway. The 2021 SRT takes everything we loved and made it better-er!
Once we even used our 'ol Durango as a rescue vehicle during hurricane Harvey. We loaded the back down with water and other supplies to the point that the suspension was on the bump-stops and headed over to some stricken family and friends in Beaumont, Texas. The trip to-and-from required us to ford some deep water well above anything dictated by common sense.
Our Durango took it all we dished out with barely a whimper. We've since passed it along to our oldest son in San Antonio it has 170,000 miles on it and it is still his daily driver
I also have a lot of history with the hemi V8. I once owned a ’51 New Yorker with a first-gen 331ci Hemi and have been involved with several muscle car era street Hemi’s. My 2020 ram has a 5.7 liter hemi with 395hp, and I’ve driven countless other Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Ram vehicles with every factory iteration of the third-gen Hemi including the 797hp Hellcat Redeye. All of this made the review of the Durangos SRT easy in some ways and very difficult in others
It has all the three-row-seated utility of our V6 model along with gobs of tire smoking horsepower. It can tow almost as much as my half-ton Ram truck equipped with the factory tow package but does so in much greater style and panache than my bare-bones Tradesman truck, or our geriatric 2013 model.
The base price of $80,995 is also a relative bargain. Dodge only built the Durango Hellcat for 2021 with 3,000 units produced. Initially they said they would only build 2,000 but those sold out almost instantly, so they decided to add a thousand more units to the run. I doubt any customer got one of these rare cats for anything close to sticker price. Ladle on a multitude of options and dealer markups and I'm sure many customers paid well in excess of $100,000 which puts the vehicle in some very rarified competitive territory.
I drove the Durango everywhere I went for a week and only a handful of people realized that it was something special. At the local Kroger parking lot, it basically blended in in a sea of other SUV's. Yes, it has a few special exterior styling touches and that iconic Hellcat badge, but not much else other than the exhaust note and supercharger whine lets you know this is a rarra-cattus. And therein lies the rub; the Durango SRT has amazing capabilities gobs of torque and horsepower, world-class towing capacity and relatively decent fuel economy considering the amount of horsepower that's on tap. The problem being is it looks pretty much like every other Durango. When you spend somewhere north of 100 large you typically want something that's going to stand out from the crowd. In the case of the SRT the only way you can stand out is to boil the tires.
I'm sure none of that matters to the lucky SRT Durango owners and there's no doubt in my mind that one day a few decades hence we will see these cross the block at a Barrett-Jackson or Mecum auction setting world record prices in the same manner the vintage ZL1 Camaros and Hemi Cudas do today. I’m sure a few have been hermetically sealed in amber just waiting for such a day.
All of that brings me back to the Motor-Trend mention of the Jaguar F-Pace SVR, and I’m going to add the comparison to the all-electric Jaguar I-Pace into the mix as well. The Jaguar F-Pace is a smaller SUV with unique styling, and with world-class performance. The F-Pace V8 seems much “twitchier” than the big Hemi, and the power band is higher as well. That big ‘ol honkin’ Hemi makes all sorts of low-end torque and when that supercharger winds up, batten down the hatches!
The Jaguar I-Pace represents the near future in all-electric SUV's. The performance is amazing, but it also has the range and recharge limitation of all current electric vehicles. It's styling is almost other-worldly compared to today's crop of SUV's including the Durango.
What the Jaguar and other close competitors don’t have is the American brand-loyalty enjoyed but Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Ram. Just look at the memes generated about Hemi and Hellcat. I can’t think of any other American brand that generates that kind of homespun enthusiasm (not even you Tesla fanboys.)
As much as us old-school gearheads hate to think of the internal combustion engine becoming a fossil (dinosaur pun intended) that seems to be the direction we’re headed. Every car company is jumping on the electric bandwagon. I’ve driven the Jaguar i-Pace and Tesla Model-X and was impressed with both for different reasons. Both seem like cars from some near future, and vehicles like the Durango SRT Hellcat seem like throwbacks to a different era.
I can’t help but wonder if were seeing the end of the golden age of internal combustion engine performance. We thought the same about muscle cars by the mid-1970’s and look at the performance renaissance beginning in the 1990’s. One thing I know for certain is that we can’t predict the future and when the old Chrysler corporation dropped the 426ci street hemi in 1971 who could have imagined fifty years later we’d be salivating over a 700 horsepower SUV.
And what of Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Ram’s next act? The last thirteen years have been all about performance and nostalgia for the muscle car era which led to a renaissance of the brands that everyone predicted was all but dead in 2008. The question is not whether there will be future high-performance SUV’s from the new owners at Stellantis. There mostly certainly will be. The question is how to channel all that brand loyalty for giant honkin’ Hemis into EV’s or other eco-friendly cars.
History has show over and over that every time we write off Chrysler, Dodge, and associated brands they rise again and again like Phonenix from the ashes. Click the video below to hop in for a ride in the 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat. I’ll see you all at Barrett-Jackson in 25 years or so.