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Tons of torque: Durango SRT

by David Zatz on

When the current-gen Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT took off, observers started wondering when the Dodge Durango would get the big engine as well. Based on the Grand Cherokee, but with a longer wheelbase and street-tuned suspension, the Durango was a natural for SRT.

srt durango dodge

It took a long time, but Dodge finally coughed up a Durango SRT, complete with 475 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque going through an eight-speed transmission and single-speed all-wheel-drive transfer case.

If those numbers don’t impress you, try braking from 60 mph to a full stop in a mere 115 feet. In a three-row SUV that can tow 8,700 pounds. Going back up to 60 mph takes just 4.4 seconds (NHRA certified), with a 12.9 second quarter mile. This is the fastest three-row vehicle you can buy.  Feel free to keep your trailer on while you race (no, wait, that’s a terrible idea. Take the trailer off first.)

allpar 392 engine

Earlier, Patrick Rall tested the Durango SRT on the track and street, during a Dodge event; but what’s it like to live with it for a full seven days, perhaps moving some furniture? How is it on concrete roads in the rain? This is where dreams meet reality.

First, it’s hard to describe the instant-on torque. Hit the gas and you move, as simple as that. It helps that the transmission downshifts in well under one second, without the lag you may get in a V6 Durango to avoid complaints from less performance-minded buyers. With the SRT, they assume you want instant responsiveness, and they give it to you.

srt suv

The 392’s big deliverable is its 470 pound-feet of torque; when you’re just diddling around on the highway, with the engine barely ticking over above idle, you get more torque than the most capable 2013-16 Dodge Dart at its peak.

To test out the truck, I put in 1,300 pounds of human beings (testing the interior space as well), along with some luggage, turned on the air conditioning, and drove uphill. The torque seemed to be unaffected; extrapolating from there, it seems like the 8,700 pound towing capacity wouldn’t be too taxing on the powertrain.

srt engine

The eight-speed automatic transmission shifts extremely rapidly, making up its mind instantly and moving to match, even in Street mode. The economy mode made little difference in mileage but hurt the feel. Sport mode shifted faster but lingered in higher revs.

The engine provides a constant deep-throated growl which instantly changes as you accelerate, but not when you drop into four cylinder mode, a neat trick. In some cars, that’s annoying, but the Durango’s was only enjoyable.

The all wheel drive system worked quite well, making launches extremely predictable; I was able to do hard launches from a full stop on wet concrete, without problems.  That’s impressive given the slippery nature of wet concrete.

durango srt

I don’t think it’s much of a revelation to say that the Durango SRT is not as thrifty as the 392 Challenger on the road; it’s a much bigger vehicle, with a much larger face. You pay for the ability to drive four wheels, carry six people, and tow a heavy trailer — to the tune of 13 mpg city, 19 highway (realistically, 18 highway). The Challenger SRT is rated at 25 highway, and some people have beaten it.

Okay, you don’t buy an SRT for the gas mileage, unless it’s a Neon SRT4; I get it. The Hemi slips into four-cylinder mode whenever it can, helping keep mileage from single digits, and the eight-speed keeps highway revs down. 19 mpg highway (on premium fuel) might seem low, but it’s really an achievement given what you get.

One of the nice things about an SRT is that you can fine-tune your driving options; the illustration below shows the choices (Paddle means whether the paddle shifters are on).

custom-modes

Changes to the suspension are possible because of the use of an active suspension; the default setting does a fine job of balancing ride quality with performance, giving a good firm grip and plenty of road feel, but without punishing the driver when you hit bad pavement. Sport was also well balanced, albeit with more of an impact from bumps and potholes.

The long wheelbase helped keep the ride quality up, which may have given the SRT people a bit more latitude with tires, wheels, and spring rates. Certainly, the Durango SRT clung to turns far better than I had any right to expect.

The brakes were over-performers, stopping the big vehicle suddenly and without any loss of control. Steering was tight, without road vibration coming through; the Sport mode provided good resistance, with Track providing a more manual-steering feel and Street providing greater ease.

Moving inside to the controls, we find a well-integrated seven-inch digital gauge cluster, of the type FCA has been putting into all their new vehicles, from the 2013 Dart on up. Some companies are cheap with the information they show on these, but not Mopar; you get fuel economy, navigation, trip information, and various temperatures and pressures, all controlled from five steering wheel buttons.

Proximity alerts make parking much easier

Both front and rear sensors showed up on the center display when parking; this being an SRT, it made sense to illustrate the 0-60 timer. You may notice a big 0 underneath the red zone of the tachometer; that’s a digital speedometer, and it appears when you don’t use the big digital speedometer in the middle. Why would you want it there, you may ask?

Look over at the speedometer. Yes, it has tiny markings which go, in a short half-circle span, from 0 to 180 mph.  Reversing these gauges would seem to be more sensible, since the police won’t ticket you for going at 3,500 rpm instead of 2,500, but very well might if you do 85 mph instead of 75. (Remember, it’s an automatic transmission, albeit with paddle shifters).

Let’s move to the center of the car, with the big 8.4 inch display and its SRT Performance Pages.

If you want to see a line graph showing horsepower and torque with points showing gear changes, it’s there, under Dyno. You can see multiple gauges at once in the Gauges section; well, you can guess what these do. It’s quite impressive and you can even take screen shots (the camera).

We mentioned before that you can change the settings; you can even tame down the SRT, with Valet Mode.  If you’re curious about what each of the presets does, well, there’s a screen for that.

tow or snow

The SRT also has Launch Control, which lets you choose a base engine speed and have the computer control your sprints — probably the best way for most of us to do those 4.4 second 0-60 runs. One physical button that gets you to the SRT pages, and another takes you straight to Launch Control.

If we can get a little more mundane, and remember that the Durango SRT is a perfectly street-legal car with six seats, we can look critically at the layout of the screen as a grid of unrelated apps, seemingly with no organization. You can pick a few selected favorites, which is good. It’s interesting that the radio and media are in separate collections, though. There are three pages of apps, with some duplication (e.g. heated steering wheel is on Controls, too). The volume knob sometimes has a noticeable lag, though the steering wheel volume button doesn’t seem to.

It is good to have a searchable version of the owner’s manual as an app, which is well done.

Moving on to the rest of the car, we can see attractive black and red Laguna leather seats in all three rows, with, in our case, captain’s chairs in the center row. The rear had two close semi-bucket seats. Extra-tall people may find limits to the legroom, but it’s still good for a three-row SUV, and there are some nice luxury touches, such as the middle-row console — deep enough to take a 35mm DSLR with a telephone lens.

The Durango comes with three-zone automatic temperature control, with middle-row controls, and numerous ports for the optional dual-display rear-seat TV system as well as a DVD player (which took up much of the front seat console).

“Flip and tumble” center seats, operated by two straps, helped people make their way to the third row seats. A button in the 8.4” screen let every rear headrest flip forward to make the rear window more useful.

There is a bit over six feet (we measured 74 inches) of cargo space from the back of the front seats, in a reasonable position, to the tailgate; as you move the tape measure higher, the number gets a little lower. In minivans, seats fold into the floor; in SUVs, they usually fold flat if you’re lucky, which means less cargo space (albeit with more comfortable seats). The 8,700 pounds of towing capacity, though, means that you can take a cheap U-Haul trailer if you need to. There’s plenty of shoulder room, and head room is sufficient for most people.

Other than engine growl, the interior is quiet, with little road and wind noise; the Beats stereo had good clarity and read our USB drive extremely quickly, especially considering it’s a 16 GB drive (too big for many competitors to handle even after a long setup period).  Navigation was also instantly responsive.

To summarize: yes, this three-row SUV is a true SRT. It guzzles down premium fuel and returns stunning horsepower and torque. It gives easy, brutal acceleration from speed, yet is incredibly easy to control and drive gently, if you so desire.  It has sophisticated gizmos to give you more control, but it also has the basics.

It is satisfying to know that you can always roar near-instantly to highway speeds from a dead stop, to not be afraid of that wet concrete or those big bumps or that steep hill. The entire vehicle is well balanced between ride, handling, braking, power, comfort, and space, — really, everything but economy.

Yes, as they say, you can use it to tow your car to the track — and then you can leave your car behind and race your Durango. That’s something you wouldn’t do in a Suburban.

The Technical Stuff

Dodge makes Durangos at the Jefferson Avenue plant in Detroit, Michigan, with Mexican engines and US-built ZF transmissions.  The base price is $64,990, including the destination charge. But how much was ours? Um… $74,955, but you won’t want all the options we had.

First to go, we suspect, would be the $1,995 rear DVD system, beautiful as it is, with flip-up screens on the back of the front seats, two sets of headphones, a remote, various non-DVD inputs, and the ability to show two different programs at once.  It really was a nice system.

The black and red Laguna “sport seats” ran to $1,595, and the neat rear console with all the extras ran to $495. The towing group added another $995, and the SRT interior appearance group was $1,500 (with no other description, but we did notice carbon-fiber-style trim).  Optional wheels added $595, and the sunroof notched up another $1,195.

One pricey option set which is probably a good deal is the Technology Group. That adds a blind spot monitor, rear cross path detection, adaptive cruise with full stop, and front collision detector, for $2,495. Yes, it’s expensive, but so is any sort of collision, and this is a one-time payment, at least.

Oddly enough, if you equip a Durango SRT exactly as ours was, the price of $74,955 is just below that of a base-model, 420-hp Cadillac Escalade ($75,990 including destination). Toss in all wheel drive to even things up a little, and the Escalade zooms to $78,990. The Durango can even out-tow the Caddy. (In case you wondered, the Escalade is rated at 14 city, 21 highway with 4×4, using premium gas.)

The Durango SRT seems like a better deal now, doesn’t it?

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