Driving the 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat, The Fastest Supercharged 3 Row SUV On The Planet
Have you ever wanted to bring the entire extended family with you on a quarter mile pass? That seems to be the question posed—and answered—by the 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat, the full-size, six-passenger SUV that serves as the latest stop for Stellantis' supercharged 710hp V8.
Photo: Benjamin Hunting
A couple of years after the arrival of the 475hp Durango SRT 392 the Hellcat takes things to a much more absurd level, surpassing the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk in terms of practicality while also out-drinking it at the fuel pump due to its larger size and weight. Despite all of its obvious excess, however, the mightiest Durango also manages to be the most low-key Hellcat interpretation so far in terms of how its driving experience is presented not just to the owner, but also to the world around it.
Is It Or Isn't It?
Finished in clean white, my Dodge Durango Hellcat tester looked almost identical to the SRT 392 model. The same hood scoop, rims, and bodywork are found on each vehicle, with only the additional Hellcat badges and the absence of fog lights serving as clues that the hotter engine is between the front fenders.
Inside it's a similar story. Hellcat logos are found on the seats, but the overall cabin presentation matches that of the less-gifted SRT edition. Even more interesting, however, is how muted the overall presentation of the Durango's performance features is compared to other Hellcat-equipped vehicles. Tucked underneath the center stack are two sliver-shaped buttons labeled 'SRT' and 'Launch.' The first accesses the vehicle's SRT selection menu on the LCD infotainment screen, while the second arms the vehicle's launch control system.
And that's it. No dials, selectors, instant-access programmable buttons on the steering wheel—if you want to wake the beast, the Durango asks that you please follow the requisite steps, preferably while at a stoplight, to get from the SRT menu to the various drive modes, 'race options,' and performance displays it has available. No other Hellcat model to date has framed its world-crushing performance in such a civilized manner.
Not Always So Fierce
The Durango Hellcat's largely incognito visual personality and veneer of law-abiding respectability continues when you pull away from the curb. Dodge has programmed the SRT SUV to default to the 'ECO' transmission mode on start-up, denoted by a single green leaf perched on the upper cheek of the gauge cluster, almost as though Gaia herself was weeping over the resources being consumed by the Durango's ferociously thirsty 6.2L V8 (real-world fuel mileage hovers around the 12-mpg combined mark).
Photo: Benjamin Hunting
Even with 710 horses and 645 lb-ft of torque on tap, the conservative ECO shift settings handicap the Hellcat to the point where it feels like you might be accidentally using the 500 horsepower black key offered with other Hellcat models rather than the full-bore red key that is standard with the SUV. It wasn't until I switched to the Sport mode that I was able to tap into the Durango's absurdly gifted drivetrain without any filtering.
It was a night-and-day difference, and one that further demonstrates the less-rambunctious character of the Durango SRT Hellcat right out of the box. Fortunately, for those who'd rather not have their horsepower hobbled it's easy enough to set up a custom drive mode (with the ability to specify suspension stiffness, steering effort, all-wheel drive balance front and rear, transmission shifting behavior, and paddle shifter activation) that you can access quickly by double-clicking the SRT button and avoiding the on-screen menus.
Outside of ECO, the Durango Hellcat is absurdly quick in a straight line, thundering forward with the same antagonism towards authority evinced by every other supercharged SRT. Even at half throttle, the menacing whine from its supercharger serves as a warning to all who might test it from one stoplight to the next. Given that it's also heavier than the rest of its Hellcat siblings (save the Ram 1500 TRX pickup), the 5,700 pound SUV carries a lot of momentum after every 3.4-second sprint to 60-mph, which means you'll appreciate the effort put in by its enormous 15.8-inch two-piece front brake rotors when stomping on the whoa pedal.
Straight Lines Or Corners?
Aside from a hefty fuel bill, the Durango SRT Hellcat's weight and ponderous size are clearly the one true downside when it comes to shenanigans. You never forget just how massive the three-row sport-utility vehicle is when attempting to hustle it through a corner, and while its gargantuan proportions might help sell it to anyone who needs to justify the purchase as a useful daily driver (it features a tow rating of just under 9,000 lbs), it's also going to dial back some of the fun quotient.
This isn't to say that the hefty Hellcat can't handle. I've driven the SRT 392 model around the twists and turns of Indy Motor Speedway's road course, and given that the two vehicles share nearly every suspension detail (with even the two-piece brakes an option with the lesser drivetrain), I have no doubts that the Durango Hellcat couldn't acquit itself well in similar circumstances (with 20 percent stiffer rebound control than the 392), provided that you have an unlimited tire budget.
Photo: Benjamin Hunting
As to whether those laps would be 'fun' or merely 'ferocious' depends entirely on how you define an engaging drive. As a stoplight destroyer or a highway missile (if you have the nerves to seek out its 180-mph top speed), the Durango SRT Hellcat is unmatched by any other domestic people mover, requiring you to spend mucho more dollars past its $82,000 starting price on a three-row European rival like the Mercedes-AMG GLS 63. If you ever get tired of peeling off 11.5 time-slips at the drag strip, however, you might not be as enamored of its big-boned dance moves.
The 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat is a hot rod SUV that flies under the radar as compared to the other supercharged Stellantis models currently available. Absurdly quick and reasonably capable when asked to change directions, it's also quite comfortable in stop and go traffic (although it lacks adaptive cruise control) and provides a good mix of cargo and passenger room (with a kid-friendly third row and a generous second set of captain's chairs).
Photo: Benjamin Hunting
Is it worth the nearly $20k premium charged over the SRT 392 version of the truck? If you want face-melting acceleration, nothing can match the Hellcat, but if you're simply looking for an authoritative rumble and an all-around upgrade compared to the more relaxed Durango R/T, then the 392's slight efficiency advantage and cheaper window sticker make a compelling argument—if you can stomach the nearly 45 percent power cut.
Either way, the Durango SRT Hellcat's reserved design ensures that few passersby will know that you've upped the ante (and your monthly payment) until you stomp on the gas and strip the chrome from the exhaust.