Test Drive: 2018 Dodge Durango

Born of red brick and barbed wire, the 2018 Dodge Durango SRT is a brutalist, blue-collar brawler. If your local had a Durango SRT at the bar, he’d be everybody’s mate, and the first bloke to sort out the rubbish when stuff got untidy.

Let’s be serious: If fuel economy is your issue, you haven’t read this far anyway.

It seats six. It has an interior that is more impressive than it really ought to be, and severe, Soviet Bloc styling. But at its core, the Dodge Durango SRT has a mammoth heart. The sort of heart that grips you in a crushing bear hug and makes you feel warm and nourished, then heartily slaps you into the back of your seat as it surges on to the next challenge.

Engine

A 6.4L V8 heart, in fact. One with 475 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque, mated via an eight-speed automatic gearbox to all four wheels, with particular favouritism to those out the back. This is important, because that’s what makes the Durango SRT so ridiculously fun to drive. Any flaws there may be with the steering and handling – and given this is a 2,500 kg three-row SUV there are surprisingly few – are countered by your ability to steer the thing with your right foot. Stonking great globs of power arm-wrestle those 20-inch by 10-inch tires into submission and murder any semblance of inertia.

In a world where every other engine is a hybrid, light hybrid, or downsized turbo, this 6.4L V8 is a white rhino. It’s noisy, visceral, and represents all that is good and true about the internal combustion engine. If “America” was a motor vehicle, this engine would be Texas. And if you wanted to run one for a year as your daily driver, you’d end up funding most of the country clubs in Texas. Despite the fuel-saving multi-displacement system, which seamlessly disconnects four cylinders when they’re not needed, this behemoth is rated at 15.6 L/100 km combined. On the highway it’s rated at 12.2, and in the city, a whopping 18.3. For the record, I saw low 17s after a week of mostly city, and I’ve seen 11s on long road trips in this car, but let’s be serious: If fuel economy is your issue, you haven’t read this far anyway. If you do feel guilt, don’t worry, the $1,000 Federal Green Levy is applied to this car to help offset its footprint.

Value

And it’s not just the pumps where the Durango SRT takes it out of your wallet. Our tester’s as-tested price of $85,072 is a jarring concept. That is of course, until you start thinking about the performance numbers and practicality. Mechanically, you’re getting that intense engine, plus a limited-slip rear differential for throttle-steering goodness.

The three rows and six seats add value, as does the whopping 8,700 lb towing capacity. That’s more than a lot of full-size pick up trims. You also get Bilstein adaptive damping suspension at both ends, multi-link rear suspension plus stabilizer bars fore and aft. Primary ride in the Durango is excellent, with good damping and very little jounce or float. Yes, it will lean hard on the outside front tire in a corner – but this is, again, a very tall, very big SUV.

Six-piston Brembo calipers clamp down on monster 380 mm discs at the front, with four Brembo calipers clawing at the two 350 mm discs out back. The result is a firm, consistent, and confidence-inspiring brake pedal. Brake check? No drama, mate.

Interior

But not a single bit of that will matter one iota if the interior doesn’t match the price tag. Nobody is going to spend $80,000 or more on a rig that feels cheap on the inside. Fortunately for FCA, they’ve done a solid job in recent years of building genuinely great interiors. The array of materials, the quality of the leather, and the fit and finish are all very good.

Heated and cooled front seats, heated steering wheel, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and three-zone automatic climate control make this a properly comfortable cabin to be in, no matter the weather.

The highlight though, is the gauges and screens. The 7.0-inch digital display in the dash is customizable, rich in colour and deep in information. Pair that with the 8.4-inch Uconnect display in the centre stack and you get a pair of industry-leading screens that are a legitimate pleasure to use. The large icons, easy menu navigation, and sheer depth of features make this system one of our favourite infotainment systems on the market. This one is also paired with the $2,150 rear DVD entertainment centre. The two-screen system gives kids in the back something to do on long trips, though for the price a tablet with a data subscription might do a better job. Or, you know, human interaction. Or a book.

Our tester was also fitted with the SRT Interior Appearance Group – a $2,995 option that lathers the interior with carbon fibre, coloured trim around the speakers, and special trim around the dashboard. It added to the gravitas of the interior, but whether or not that is worth the corresponding gravitational effect on your wallet is a matter of personal taste.

Technology

Less difficult to justify is the $1,450 Technology Group offering. With forward collision warning and active braking, blind-spot detection with rear cross-patch detection and lane-keep assist, this package adds a lot of the safety equipment that is becoming a must-have on modern cars. The same group also adds adaptive cruise with full stop and go, which makes traffic a much less stressful experience.

Those features, plus the rear-view camera and parking aids mean the Durango is a much more livable car than its bulk and prodigious performance specs might suggest.

Cargo volume is a scant 360 L with the third row up, but fold them down and there’s an enormous 1,350. Fold the second row tumble-and stow seats, and you have a gargantuan 2,392 L.

Verdict

It would take a lot to get the amount of practicality and performance you get from a Durango SRT. Effectively, you’d need to go German, and you’d be cresting six-figures.

This Dodge embodies the democratisation of power, technology, and performance. It’s a working-class brute with the right sort of endearing, feet-on-the-ground authenticity to make you feel like you haven’t lost your roots.

And if you feel a sense of aspiration, it packs just enough polish to fit in with the upper management types. Then, when you’re done, it’ll blow their doors off too.

2018 Dodge Durango SRT
Engine Displacement: 6.4L
Engine Cylinders: V8
Peak Horsepower: 475 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Peak Torque: 470 lb-ft @ 4,300 rpm
Fuel Economy: 18.3/12.2/15.6 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 360/1,350/2,392 L behind 3rd/2nd/1st row
2018 Dodge Durango SRT
Base Price $72,495
A/C Tax $100 and federal green levy $1,000
Destination Fee $1,095
Price as Tested $85,055
Optional Equipment $11,265 – vented, black and red leather front seats $1,500; Technology Group $1,450; rear DVD entertainment centre $2,150; Trailer Tow Group IV $825; SRT Interior Appearance Group $2,995; second-row console with armrest and storage $250; black roof rails $200; five-spoke wheels $995
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.8
7 Styling
9 Powertrain
8 Quality
8 Comfort
9 Practicality
7 Drivability
8 Usability/Ergonomics
6 Fuel Economy
8 Features
8 Value