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by Patrick Rall in July 2017 (5)
After years of Dodge fans demanding a proper high-performance SUV, the 2018 Durango SRT is finally here. To get a feel for the newest SRT, Dodge brought us out to Indianapolis Motor Speedway to drive them on the infield road course.
In most cases, testing an SUV on a road course would be a curious decision, but since the Durango SRT is closely based on the sharp-handling Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT, there is no better place to test the 475-hp family hauler. After a short presentation, we headed out onto pit row of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which was a surreal experience on its own, but the situation became even more incredible when I climbed into a new SRT Durango for a few laps around a modified form of the F1 Grand Prix Circuit, which included a long blast down the front stretch and across the famed brick start/finish line.
Our laps around the IMS road course began with a sweeping left turn off of the straightaway just past the pit road, as we were running the opposite direction of the Indy 500 or the NASCAR race, so we dove into our turn 1 just inside of the oval’s turn 4. For a big SUV which can tow 8,700 pounds, the Durango SRT carried speed through that first turn very well.
The sweeping turn #1 led into a series of harder turns which forced us to use the big Brembo braking system as well as the Track mode of active suspension system. Not surprisingly, the brakes had no issue getting the 5,000 pound SUV down to a safe speed to attack the tighter turns with minimal body roll.
Once we cleared those two turns, we accelerated out along the inside of the oval’s turn 2, allowing us to build speed as we did so. As the Durango SRT powers through the turns, it has the driving dynamics of a rear-drive vehicle; while the performance tuned AWD system allows you to put the hammer down without concern of smoking the rear tires. Exiting the turn too hard will get the tires spinning a bit, but the all-wheel drive system quickly reels you in and keeps you pointed in the desired direction while the sport-tuned steering system provides the perfect mix of feedback and support as the big SUV attacks the curves.
After this long, sweeping turn, there was a hard left turn through a narrow opening in the infield wall, followed by a series of S-turns which the Durango handled well. Through these turns, if I got going too fast, the vehicle would get to understeering a bit, but having recently driven the SRT Jeep which shares many of the drivetrain components, it seemed to me that the larger Durango slips through the back-and-forth turns a little more smoothly. My SRT Jeep testing was on a very different track, making it hard to directly compare the two, but the Dodge seems to cut back and forth more smoothly than the Jeep – even if only by a slight margin.
Finally, after a couple more hard turns through the infield area, we popped through a hole in the wall just inside of the oval’s first turn for a blast down the historic front straightaway of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Durango SRT climbed up past the 100 mile per hour mark as we soared past the brick start/finish line, but the Brembo brakes and the active suspension system allowed us to enter our turn 4 without any problem, carrying that straightaway speed through the wide first turn as the next lap began.
Although the Durango SRT is a bit bigger and a bit heavier than the similarly-powered Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT, thanks to the added third row seats, it still handled the intricate Indy road course remarkably well; in my opinion, it handled the famous F1 course better than any 3-row SUV in America could ever dream. The video below shows one of my sessions with the Durango SRT on the IMS road course, with a warm-up lap, a wide open lap and then an easy cool-down lap.
After spending a few hours storming around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, we headed out onto the road. While it is great that the high performance SUV handles a road course so well, few Durango owners will ever take them to any race track, let alone one with turns, so how it drives on the road is more important than track readiness to most prospective buyers.
Like the rest of the modern SRT cars, the Durango SRT has an active suspension system with varying levels of aggressiveness, so after running at the track in the stiffest mode, I swapped to Sport mode for the road drive. In sport mode, the Durango SRT will handle just about any turn on a normal public road at solid speeds, but at the same time, it had a smooth ride. The ride of the R/T model is likely smoother than the SRT, but that is to be expected with an SUV that handles so much better and the trade-off is fair; the ride quality of the SRT Dodge SUV is still more than comfortable enough for daily driving. After all, the people buying this Durango are looking to get into a performance model, so they should expect that priority was paid to handling, but the ride is still great for everyday driving even in Sport mode.
Really, the 2018 Dodge Durango SRT offers the same advantages as the rest of the modern SRT lineup, combining impressive track capabilities and ideal on-road manners thanks to the various adaptive systems. When the situation calls for premium performance, you can ask the Durango SRT to offer crisp shifts, instant throttle response and precision corner carving capabilities, but with the push of a button on the UConnect touch screen, the ride softens, shifts soften and throttle response eases back a bit, making this Durango every bit as drivable as the rest of the model lineup.
When you combine the fact that the 475-hp Dodge Durango SRT will also tow 8,700 pounds, it is truly unrivaled in the 3-row SUV segment in every way. It is the best handling three-row SUV sold in America, it will tow more than larger, slower three-row SUVs, and it is as comfortable on the road as the rest of the Durango lineup. This is the perfect SUV for someone who wants to tow their race car to the track with a fun-to-drive SUV, which can unhook from the trailer and shine on the road course or the drag strip.
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