Stripes, trim warn others of 475-HP Durango

John Gilbert

If you want to back off from the new trends of EVs, hybrids and plug-in hybrids, the idea of a throwback to the carefree muscle-car era might be too enticing to ignore. In that case, bring your checkbook and try to find a Dodge dealership that might have a new Durango SRT on the lot.

The Durango is one of those vehicles that just keeps being produced and selling in sufficient numbers, while also providing large-SUV seekers an alternative to the large truck-based SUVs over at the Chevrolet and Ford lots. Not only that, but Durango also continues to provide Dodge — and therefore new owner Stellantis — with a pallet that is perfect for loading up with enormous power and performance enhancements that make it the hot-rod choice of those who recall those magical days of yesteryear.

I had the chance to take a very brief drive in the new Durango several weeks ago at the Midwest Auto Media rally at Elkhart Lake, Wis., and while Stellantis bosses had decreed that a company escort would ride along, I didn’t disagree. We were only taking one fairly hot lap around the 4-mile road-racing course that twists up and down the kettle moraine hills of south-central Wisconsin. I started it up, and there was no disguising the wonderful roar of the 6.4-liter V8 as it snarled to life.

“Now, you’ve got to take it easy,” my escort said, as if he thought I had never driven a hot car before. I told him not to worry, and after shifting into drive, I turned the steering wheel with the intention of leaving the paddock and heading out into the pit lane. I stepped very lightly on the gas pedal, and, much to my embarrassment, the Durango fairly leaped into action — startling me, and probably scaring the life out of Mr. Escort. I quickly let off, and apologized, and then proceeded to drive the most boring lap ever around Road America’s course, because the guy kept up a steady barrage of instructions — “Turn now,” “Get on the brakes,” “Slow down,” — and all the other things in his mind because he now was certain I had never driven a hot car before.

When we finished the lap, he expressed surprise at how well I had taken each of the 14 turns and praised me for “listening well and doing everything” as he instructed — unaware that I had thoroughly learned the track during numerous trips to watch big-time races there, as well as driving a Showroom Stock compact through a driving school and after-class race around the track.

At any rate, I was eagerly looking forward to the chance to drive the new Durango SRT 392 more extensively, an opportunity that came up a few weeks ago when a new Durango was delivered to my Duluth area home for a week-long evaluation. This vehicle was the same “Destroyer Gray” color except for one significant alteration. It had a pair of wide, black racing stripes running full-length from the bottom of its spoiler-enhanced nose to the rear bumper beneath its hatchback, and the pair of stripes were outlined by brilliant yellow accent lines, and the bright yellow trim repeated itself throughout the exterior and interior of the Durango SRT.

All that has very little to do with the sheer joy of driving the Durango SRT, it merely helps inform those around you that something special is arriving, or, more likely, departing, in case you couldn’t tell by the roar of the engine.

As you climb inside, you are first taken by the comfort of the well-contoured bucket seats, and the feel of the thickly padded steering wheel, covered in leather and accented by white and yellow stitching. Two large alloy paddles stick up on either side, for manual upshifting and downshifting, and that adds to the fun of summoning up the 475 horsepower, and accompanying 470 foot-pounds of tire-screeching torque.

The paddles run you up through eight gears, and if you leave them alone, it shifts ver efficiently on its own, always smooth but with less of a power sound than paddling it.
If you don’t have a 4-mile road-racing track at your disposal, you can run the Durango through its paces on any given stretch of highway, although you’ll want to keep an eye on the digital speedometer number in between the instruments on the dash panel. There is also a large center dash panel filled with all the important information and controls to handle the 825-watt Harman Kardon amplifier and its 19 speakers and subwoofer located around the cabin.

The fact that the all-wheel-drive Durango is a heavy vehicle might surprise you, because the vehicle doesn’t drive heavy. It cuts and veers at your touch, thanks to special adaptive damping suspension and performance-tuned steering system, which you also can control with the configurable drive-mode switchwork.

The loaded Durango starts at $74,995, but in order to fill up the order blank with all the leather and specialty features inside and the 6.4 SRT-prepared V8, as well as all the safety features added, you’re up to $91,785.

If you only cared about hauling the kids to soccer practice or taking the family to the shopping center or on a few short trips, you can keep the price more reasonable, but the preferred package alone is $14,800, with its Brembo brakes, 20-inch satin black alloy wheels, power sunroof, lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning, and trailer-towing equipment, plus the audio upgrade and interior features, you might as well hand over the checkbook and let ‘er rip.

You also can go test-drive the loaded up Suburbans and Tahoes, and Expeditions and Navigators, but while you’re on that drive, and a Destroyer Gray Durango SRT pulls up alongside you, look for the yellow-trimmed black racing stripes and politely decline the chance for an impromptu drag race.