Earlier this month, Dodge invited me to come to Charlotte, North Carolina to test the 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat. Their goal was to make the most exhilarating three-row SUV on the planet and after a day behind the wheel, I am here to tell you that the engineering team came through with flying colors.
The entire 2021 Dodge Durango lineup has been refreshed inside and out in similar fashion to the Hellcat, but the supercharged SUV features the most changes. The Durango Hellcat looks very mean from the front, with the aggressive front fascia and hood leaving no question that this is a high performance vehicle. At the same time, the new LED-trimmed headlights create the high-end look that you want from a vehicle that costs upwards of $70,000.
There is also a unique diffuser wrapped around the dual exhaust tips and a low profile spoiler which helps add downforce at high speeds, but the bottom line is that the Hellcat Durango exterior looks great while also enhancing overall performance.
On the inside, the Durango Hellcat features a restyled dash that is more like the design in the Challenger. The new 10.1-inch UConnect screen looks amazing and with the added screen space, there are larger “buttons” which make for easier adjustments while driving. Although the leather-wrapped, flat-bottom steering wheel allows you to make changes to the radio station or volume without removing your hands from the wheel, the controls of the new, larger screen are easier to use without focusing too much attention away from the road. Basically, the 10.1-inch UConnect system is an improved version of the already-great 8.4-inch system.
Finally, the sport seats were comfortable for my two-hour road drive, but they also kept me firmly planted during periods of hard cornering during track testing.
My time testing the 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat began at a small baseball stadium in downtown Charlotte. The weather was gross and rainy while I was there, so when we rolled out of the ballpark, we did so on damp roads. In fact, the roads were damp, if not soaked, for most of the day, but that proved to be little problem for the all-wheel-drive Hellcat Durango.
As you likely know, the heart of the 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat is the supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi, which in this format offers 710 horsepower and 645 lb-ft of torque. That engine is mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission and a full-time all-wheel-drive system. Like the other Hellcat-powered Dodge products, the Durango features the Drive Mode system, allowing the driver to make pre-programmed adjustments to the throttle input, the shift characteristics and the suspension damping, among other things.
With my daily driver being a Hellcat Challenger, I am very familiar with the Drive Mode system and in most cases, I keep my car in Track mode for daily use. This yields the most aggressive throttle response and shifts, yielding the best performance.
The “problem” with the Track mode in the Challenger is that the suspension setting is too stiff for many people to enjoy during their daily drive. However, I spent the first portion of my drive time in the Hellcat Durango switching between Track and the other modes and I quickly found that the Durango’s Bilstein dampers don’t yield as rough of a ride as they do in the Challenger.
The Hellcat Durango in Track mode is clearly stiffer, but it doesn’t beat you up over every little bump, so I found Track to be a very comfortable mode for the road drive. It offers the best handling, the sharpest throttle response and the crispest shifts, but it does so with very little compromise of ride quality.
As for acceleration, it is every bit as awesome as you would expect. Even on damp roads, the 710-horsepower Hellcat Durango easily accelerates from a stop to 60 miles-per-hour in the high-three-second range. I was unable to replicate Dodge’s claimed time of 3.5 seconds on the wet roads, but I was able to get down to a 3.7 with a few tries. With that in mind, I have little doubt that the Hellcat Durango will sprint to 60 in less than 3.5 seconds on a dry road with good air.
Of course, the supercharged Hemi offers just as much acceleration through the mid-range, quickly rocketing to speeds well beyond any posted speed limit in the United States with just a few seconds of wide open throttle application. The Hellcat Hemi makes the Durango the quickest, fastest and most powerful three-row SUV in the world, and that leads to acceleration forces that most people have never experienced. Frankly, it is awe-inspiring at how hard this Durango puts you back in the seat on a hard pull, whether you are launching from a stop or putting the hammer down at higher speeds.
The 2.4-liter blower offers a delightful whine on a hard pull, but even with a soft hit, the supercharger is quick to announce itself. It isn’t as loud as the Demon or Redeye, but it seemed louder than the TRX that I recently tested or the last Trackhawk that I tested. On the other hand, the exhaust note is very similar to the Jeep in most conditions, offering a quiet-but-prominent idle and an unmistakable roar at full throttle.
The destination of our on-road drive was the road course of Carolina Motorsports Park. Again, it rained on-and-off all day, so we had to test on a wet track, but that was hardly an issue. The 295-millimeter-wide Pirelli tires did an awesome job of gripping the wet surface during acceleration, cornering and braking. Really, the advanced all-wheel-drive system made the hard pull coming out of the turns a breeze, allowing us to use all 710 horsepower on the wet track. Braking with the 5,600-pound SUV at 100+ miles-per-hour when entering a turn on a wet track was a bit nerve-racking early on, but as the racing line dried a bit, we could really push the big SUV to its limits.
The supercharged Hemi got the Durango out of the corners and down the straightaways with incredible urgency, quickly climbing up over 100 miles-per-hour on the sweeping road course. Under wide-open-throttle conditions, the whine of the supercharger and the roar of the adaptive exhaust system created an unforgettable sound track, punctuated by the lightning-quick, stunningly-crisp shifts that come with Track mode. The Hellcat Durango in Track mode shifts a great deal like the Dodge Redeye cars, with hard, crisp upshifts and rev-matched downshifts that sound like they could be coming from a European exotic with a dual-clutch transmission.
The Hellcat Durango is crazy-fast on the road course during a hard pull, but where this three-row SUV really surprised me was in the corners. Thanks to the adaptive Bilstein dampers and the package-specific springs, the Durango sticks to the corners nicely with almost no body roll. Even with the wet surface, there was very little understeer in the corners and when exiting the corners, the all-wheel-drive system prevented oversteer.
The new, larger Brembo brakes also do a great job in aiding in handling, allowing the big SUV to get down from 100+ miles-per-hour in a hurry. Really, I don’t imagine that many people will buy a Hellcat Durango for its ability to carve the corners, but for someone who wants a large, three-row SUV that handles like a dream – Dodge has your ideal family hauler.
In closing, the 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat is everything that we wanted from the supercharged three-row and more. Dodge could have just dropped the drivetrain and suspension system from the Trackhawk into the Durango and called it a day, and the resulting vehicle would have been great. Instead, they added some extra power, bigger brakes, a new exterior design and a refreshed interior, creating what is, without question, the most exciting three-row SUV that has ever been offered in the United States.