Dodge Durango Joins the Hellcat Pride

It was easy to get star struck at the cinematic landscape environment of Star Hill Ranch. A stage with old-timey western architecture, antique pickup trucks used as a canvas for patina, and the welcomed cliché of a steel windmill towering over the 2020 Texas Truck Rodeo, organized by the Texas Auto Writers Association.

This event allows auto journalists to test drive various upcoming SUVs and pickup trucks for 2021. Think speed dating, but with auto manufacturers, but instead of comparing zodiac signs, we get to see firsthand what the latest vehicles have to offer on the street and off-road.  

It was hard to stand out amongst the line-up of disinfected vehicles, but being the only Octane Red SUV sporting a Hellcat badge helped lasso the eye. FCA brought the new 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat to the Texas Truck Rodeo to give us a taste of the latest vehicle to join the Hellcat pride. This supercharged HEMI powered seven-passenger SUV did not disappoint in living up to the hype of all Hellcat vehicles as being one heck of a good drive. 

Going down the spec list, the 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat grows to live using a 6.2-liter HEMI V8 supercharged to crank out 710 horsepower and 645 lb-ft of torque. Unleashing hell in the Durango SRT means reaching zero to 60 in 3.5 seconds and goes on a berserker charge to a top speed of 180mph. The Durango’s fury is sent through an all-wheel-drive system that plays favorites with the rear wheels. 

On its default auto mode, the power distribution is 40/60, with the latter being sent to the rear. That ratio is increased to 35/65 in Sport Mode and 30/70 in Track Mode. Regardless of the driving mode, the 2021 Durango SRT has enough HEMI muscle to deliver a max towing capacity of 8,700 lbs. 

Driving Impressions 

Stepping into the Durango SRT’s bolstered suede leather-wrapped bucket seats is the first of many reminders that you’re sitting inside the vehicular equivalent to Iggy Pop’s “Neighborhood Threat.” Like the song’s killer guitar intro, the biggest clue that you’re in for a wild ride comes a half-second after pressing the red ignition button. The Hellcat HEMI V8 awakens like a pit-bull who just heard an unfamiliar noise in the dark. 

2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat

With a featherweight foot, you wouldn’t expect the 2021 Durango SRT Hellcat is packing 710hp. It rides unexpectedly comfortable for a high-performance SUV, and the Hellcat V8 purrs like a house cat when you’re in the flow of traffic or just going around the block. The other side of the coin is revealed on empty stretches of two-lane blacktop or in the passing lane when the right foot puts the squeeze on the throttle and kicks the Hellcat into gear. What comes next is as advertised. 

The Durango SRT throws you back into your seat as the rear-biased AWD system digs in and lifts the front end just enough for you to grip the wheel tighter and hang on. The supercharger whines like Led Zepplin’s Robert Plant vocal solo in “Whole Lotta Love ” as it sucks in air via its functional hood scoop and features cold air intakes where the fog lights used to be.

The Durango runs through its gears like an auctioneer searching for a final bid making you shift its paddle shifters quickly like you’re playing a video game.

On the twisty two-lane roads of Texas’ hill country, the Durango’s AWD system and Pirelli Scorpion Zero tires came into play. The Durango is still a sizable third row SUV, and there is no escaping its weight, but like the Jeep Trackhawk, it’s engineered to handle its weight like a WWE pro wrestler.

Easing off the throttle before entering the turn and powering out while existing gives you a real feel for the Durango SRT potential if it had a track day or a chance to shine on an autocross circuit. It’s a vehicle that wants to prove it can do more than run a quarter-mile in 11.5 seconds. As standard on the SRT Hellcat, the 2021 Durango features Launch Control with Launch Assist to make the most of its 645 lb-ft of torque when the light flashes green. 

Stopping power comes in the form of a set of six-piston Brembo disc brakes in the front and four-piston discs in the rear—the brake rotors in the front measure nearly 16-inches and 13.75-inches for the rear wheels. With pizza-sized brakes, the Durango has no problem shutting the gate on the Hellcat before it has a chance to get away from you. 

Factory Hot Rod Looks 

Ever since Dodge dressed the 2015 Charger to look like a Stormtrooper from Star Wars, I have never been able to un-see that in the Dodge Durango’s face. I’ll leave that up to you on whether that is a good or bad thing. The 2021 Dodge Durango Hellcat looks like a supercharged Hemi with a wide-body, flared wheel arches, and a bulbous hood that can be admired from the driver seat. When it comes to attitude, the 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat’s fascia has it in spades. 

SRT Performance Interior 

Being a top tier model, the Durango SRT Hellcat features FCA’s Uconnect infotainment on a 10.1 touchscreen. The seats are draped in suede, and the second row features captain’s chairs with an entertainment package that includes dual HDMI Blu-Ray screens. These media screens may require the driver to shout to warn rear passengers when the mood strikes and he/she decides to live out a Hunter S. Thompson quote,

It will take him a moment to realize that he’s about to make a 180-degree turn at speed, but you will be ready for it. Brace for the g’s, and fast heel-toe work.”

The Hellcat Lifestyle 

Looking in the rearview mirror at two rows of seats with the sound of supercharged Hemi in the backdrop made me think of the lifestyle the engineers were envisioning when they built this vehicle. This is a 710hp SUV with a starting price of $80,995, and when you say that out loud, it’s tough to sound sensible when trying to justify it as a family cruiser.

Fifty years ago, the Dodge Durango Hellcat would have been a wooden panel station wagon with a 426-454 big block, muffler-delete, and four-on-the-floor shifter. 

With its towing capacity, this sort of vehicle makes me think it belongs to someone involved in motorsport. I can imagine the SRT Durango parked in front of a garage, home to a machine that runs on methanol or sports a canister of nitrous oxide and at least one jet-ski.

The SRT Durango’s character speaks of a lifestyle that likes adrenaline but understands that bills need to be paid – somehow. 

The work hard, play harder mentality sums up the 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat. People can pile into it, attach a tow hitch, and produce smiles just by goosing the throttle while driving to a weekend adventure or everyday grind.