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Durango SRT vs Explorer ST: The All-American Performance SUV Battle

For decades it's been pony cars and muscle cars that have fought it out for American performance supremacy, but recent years have seen an influx of factory-hot rodded SUVs, and now these dogfights are also being fought by large, feature-laden behemoths that deliver muscle car performance but with the ability to carry the whole family and anything they may need.

While there are a number of different options today for those looking for an SUV with high performance chops, the Dodge Durango SRT and and Ford Explorer ST are two relative newcomers to this segment and while they achieve their performance in very different ways, they share a lot of the same appeal. Does one of these new American performance vehicles them reign supreme? Let’s take a look.

The Basics: Dodge Durango SRT

While the current Durango is one of the oldest SUV designs currently on sale, Dodge has done a great job of keeping it fresh - especially with the addition of the high performance SRT model a couple years ago. It shares the same 6.4 liter naturally aspirated V8 engine as the Dodge Charger and Challenger, which makes 475 horsepower and 470 pound feet of torque. It’s got an eight-speed automatic transmission and standard AWD.

2018 Dodge Durango SRT White

The Basics: Ford Explorer ST

On the other hand, the Ford Explorer ST is based on the fully redesigned 2020 Explorer which has now moved to a RWD-based platform. Like the Durango SRT, the hotter ST model offers standard AWD, but rather than a V8 it offers a twin turbocharged 3.0 liter EcoBoost V6 that makes 400 horsepower and 415 pound feet of torque. Both impressive figures, even if they fall behind the old school Hemi force of the Durango SRT. The transmission is a 10-speed automatic.

2020 Ford Explorer ST Blue

Performance: Durango SRT

Despite its heavy weight, the Durango SRT moves very well. Zero to 60 is accomplished in the mid to high four-second range and low 13 second quarter miles are the norm. While it likely won’t be used on a road course by many owners, the SRT-tuned suspension and big Brembo brakes make it surprisingly capable on a twisty road.

2018 Dodge Durango SRT 6.4 Engine

Performance: Explorer ST

While the Explorer ST can't quite match the Durango's giant V8 in terms of acceleration, 0-60 times in the low five second range and high 13 second quarter times mean it's not far off the pace. The Explorer also comes with a significant weight advantage which means a more nimble feel when compared to the brute of the Dodge.

2020 Ford Explorer ST Grille

The Everyday Stuff: Durango SRT

If you are buying a high performance SUV, chances are practically and livability are very important. The big Durango delivers here with its vast interior, three-row seating and when equipped with tow package it can pull up to 8,700 pounds. Perhaps the biggest hit against the Durango SRT is its fuel economy, which sits at just 15 miles per gallon combined. Then again, if you are in the market for a large SUV with a lot of horsepower and a large towing capacity, gas mileage may be of little concern in the first place.

2018 Dodge Durango SRT Interior

The Everyday Stuff: Explorer ST

While a little smaller in most dimensions than the Durango, the Explorer ST certainly isn't hurting for practicality. It too offers three rows of seating with more than ample cargo space, although its towing capacity falls behind the Durango at 5,600 pounds. One major benefit of the Explorer is fuel economy, which delivers around 20 miles combined with its smaller twin turbo V6. It should also be said that if you want the most modern offering, the all new Explorer should feel a lot "newer" than the third gen Durango platform, which has been around since 2010.

2020 Ford Explorer ST Interior

Price & Value: Durango SRT

MSRP for a 2020 Durango SRT starts at about $63,000, although it needs to be said that real world purchase prices should be significantly lower. Thanks to promotions like Dodge's "Power Dollars" incentives, it's not uncommon to find Durango SRTs offered at substantial discounts, with sometimes as much as $10,000 off on vehicles that have been on the lot for a while. Prices get even lower if you open yourself to a lightly used example, which can be had for as low as $50,000 with low mileage.

2018 Dodge Durango SRT White

Price and Value: Explorer ST

The Explorer ST meanwhile has a starting MSRP of about $56,000 before you start adding the options. Discounts shouldn't be hard to find though, and when all is said and done the Explorer should still carry a roughly $5,000 lower price while compared to a similarly equipped Durango SRT. Additionally, the Explorer ST is going to be a lot more common on dealer lots because it's a bit less of a "specialty" model than the Durango SRT.

2020 Ford Explorer ST Blue

The Verdict

Despite achieving their performance with different methods, both the Dodge Durango SRT and the Ford Explorer ST are catered toward similar buyers and have similar goals. If you want the extra edge in performance and don't mind the decreased fuel economy, the Durango SRT is the muscle machine of the pair. The Dodge brings muscle car performance and feel in a family-friendly SUV. The Explorer, on the other hand, brings to the table a more tech-oriented approach with its turbocharged engine, better fuel economy, a slightly lower entry cost along more modern underpinnings.

2018 Dodge Durango SRT White

To sum it up, the Durango SRT is the the more specialized, old school enthusiast offering, while the Explorer ST offers a high tech enthusiast-oriented spin on one of America's most popular and modern three-row SUVs.

2020 Ford Explorer ST Rear View

Then again, if you want a truly wild high performance SUV with more performance, more horsepower and a much higher MSRP, Jeep has a Grand Cherokee Trackhawk with your name on it. But that's a subject for a different story.

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