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2018 Dodge Durango SRT 392: Holy Smokes!

By Ted Orme

NOTE TO READERS: You have no doubt noticed that Street Dreams has been unusually quiet for a while. The reason, unfortunately, is that Vern Parker has been dealing with a serious illness in the family that requires his full time and attention. But we are not done! Vern will be back at it soon. In the meantime, I will get going again with reviews of some new products. We have also put out the welcome mat to other car writers for additional contributions of new and classic cars. So, stick with us.

I can’t think of a better way to revive this column – and my automotive libido – than a review of the totally outrageous 475 horsepower, 6.4-liter V-8 Hemi powered Dodge Durango SRT, which is capable of 0 to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and four-wheel burnouts. No, that’s not me in the above company photo, which would be a sure fire way never to get anymore test vehicles. But this is the fastest, most powerful three-row SUV, according to the automaker, and it is certain to bring out the devil in you.

We used to call these tire burners “sleepers.” You know, those drag strip champs in Plain Jane wrap that could blow away muscle cars and sporting machines from an unpatrolled stop light. At first glance, the SRT appears to be a family friendly SUV. But the tipoff that it is something very different than the rest of the far more civilized Durango line is the red 392 emblem (as in cubic inches of engine displacement) on the front fenders. There’s also the functional vented and scooped hood, wide grille, body-color side skirts and beefy red Brembo front brakes peeking through black 20-inch wheels.

Like all Durangos, you can load up the SRT’s spacious and luxurious cabin with family or friends or a ton of stuff. But strap them in tight. The launch-control feature in this musclebound Arnold Schwarzenegger-style SUV can blast them into automotive hyper-space. In fact, all customers who buy a new Durango SRT will receive one full-day session at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving. No joke.

But you have options with a choice of seven drive modes – Auto, Sport, Track, Snow, Tow, Valet, and Eco. Each mode makes adjustments to the viscous clutch in the transfer case that sends more power to the rear of the all-wheel-drive system and tightens up the Billstein shock absorbers. The modes also carry different settings for gear-shift times for the eight-speed automatic, the stability-control system, throttle mapping and power steering weight.

After a week in this brute, however, it was obvious the driving dynamics of the SRT are designed for the track, and I don’t mean just straight-line performance. The firmed-up suspension has revised bushings, stiffer springs, fatter rear stabilizer bar and adaptive dampers for the control-arm front and multilink rear suspensions. You can fling the SRT through a slalom course with a surprising lack of high-center-of-gravity SUV body roll or excessive understeer. Steering is tuned for maximum response and, as mentioned, massive Brembo brakes can bring this 5,500-pound UTE to a full stop from 60 mph in an impressive estimated 115 feet, according to Dodge.

Even in Auto mode, the default setting and most comfortable for everyday driving, this thing is still a terror. Push the start button and the big 4-inch tailpipes issue a macho rumble that becomes a howl as revs climb. Full throttle gets chirps between quick and decisive shifts and scares walkers and dogs (my bad). Switch to Sport mode and the transmission reduces shift times by up to 50 percent, 65 percent of the engine’s torque goes to the rear wheels, suspension damping tightens and steering gradient increases.

For maximum oomph and crazy fun, the Track mode delivers 160-millisecond shifts and up to 70 percent of the engine’s torque delivered to the rear wheels. It also tightens up suspension damping and steering gradient feel for maximum cornering response. In addition, shift speed increases 50 percent in 1-4 gears from Auto mode.

Once at the track or an isolated straightaway far from radar, the aforementioned SRT launch control feature mimics a professional driver’s inputs by bringing engine, transmission, driveline, stability control and suspension together for an optimal launch and consistent straight-line acceleration.The opposite extreme is the ECO mode which maximizes fuel economy with a revised shift schedule and second-gear starts. But don’t expect much relief. The SRT is EPA rated at 13 mpg city, 15 mpg highway and 13 mpg combined. I was able to eke out 13.8 mpg in my week aboard the beast, sans burnouts.

The Snow mode also sets the transmission to start in second gear rather than the very punchy first gear, stability control is set to “Full-on” and AWD is set to 50/50 distribution. The Valet mode is the perfect antidote for the car jockey at the hotel or restaurant who looks a little too eager. This mode will cool his jets by remapping the engine to mimic the Dodge Charger V-6 engine’s torque and horsepower settings and disabling most performance settings as well as the steering wheel paddle shifters.

One of the most practical reasons for owning a SRT is its 8,700 pound towing capacity and 470 lb-ft of torque, enough for big boats, campers or classic car trailers. The Tow mode turns on full stability control while sending power 50/50 through the AWD system. “Active Noise Cancelation” is automatically engaged to reduce engine noise during high-load towing conditions.

Paired with all this extreme performance is a full suite of the latest safety features. Side curtain airbags in all rows, backup camera and front/rear park assist are standard equipment. The optional but worth it $2,496 Technology group adds adaptive cruise control, collision warning and brake assist, blind spot and cross path detection, and lane departure warning.

The SRT cabin is loaded with things to like. The leather covered heavily bolstered ventilated front and heated rear bucket seats are both comfortable and supportive. The third row bench is easy to access with twin seats that fold down individually depending on your cargo needs. But this is strictly a six-seater. The vehicle I tested also had the optional $1500 SRT Interior Appearance package that features a hand-wrapped leatherette dashboard with contrast stitching, a suede headliner, and carbon-fiber trim.

I really liked the easy-to-read and operate Fiat Chrysler 8.4-inch infotainment display with navigation and, according others more knowledgeable, the Uconnect infotainment system and Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto work well. The BeatsAudio premium nine-speaker plus subwoofer, 506-watt sound system can easily drown out all other earthly noise. Also available is a rear seat DVD entertainment system for an extra $1,995.

A newly designed 7-inch, thin-film transistor (TFT) customizable digital instrument gauge cluster allows drivers to select from a multitude of layouts and information. At the left of the panel is a smaller half-moon 180 mph speedometer that is, frankly, hard to read – a problem in an ultra-high performance vehicle where it’s very important to know how fast you are going. A heads-up display would cure the problem.

 As you might imagine, this high performance, high tech mobile playground doesn’t come cheap. With a base price of $62,995, the sticker price soared to $71,670 with all the options mentioned above plus a $1,095 destination charge. But that’s still a bargain next to the new Lamborghini Urus SUV, that clocks 0 to 60mph in 3.4 seconds but cost north of 200 grand.

But price isn’t the reason I won’t own a SRT. The main reason is I know I would always ride alone. After a couple of spirited launches my cautious (fearful) wife declared in no uncertain terms, “Drop me off at home!” 

For those looking for both thrills and utility, however, the Durango SRT is definitely in a class by itself.

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