Amazon Prime Day 2024
First Drive

2018 Dodge Durango SRT First Drive | Speed, and space for six

For the buyer with specific needs, the Durango SRT makes its point loudly.

View 28 Photos
  • Engine
    6.4L V8
  • Power
    475 HP / 470 LB-FT
  • Transmission
    8-Speed Automatic
  • 0-60 Time
    4.4 Seconds
  • Drivetrain
    Four-Wheel Drive
  • Engine Placement
  • Curb Weight
    5,510 LBS
  • Towing
    8,700 LBS
  • Seating
  • Cargo
    84.5 CU-FT (max)
  • MPG
    13 City / 19 HWY / 15 Combined
  • Base Price
  • As Tested Price
We're gathered along with other members of the media at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to drive a trio of new vehicles from Dodge's performance arm. Alongside a pair of SRT Challengers – the Demon and the Hellcat Widebody – the 2018 Dodge Durango SRT towers over the coupes, and is surprisingly menacing to behold. Its proportions may be relatively simple, but its hood scoop, air vents, and aero features let us know that this car is built for performance. A set of sporty wheels and bright Brembo brakes reiterate its purpose. A badge on the fender bearing the number "392," denoting the V8's displacement in cubic inches, gets us thinking about classic muscle. Even with the Demon sitting feet away, just looking at the Durango has us excited to drive it.

Our first stint in the Durango SRT takes place on the infield road course at Indy. We had just gotten out of the Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody, driving the same circuit, and we expected the Durango to seem tame by comparison. We were mistaken, mostly.

The Durango SRT's seating position feels very upright, particularly due to a helmet that kept us from settling into the headrest. Still, we make ourselves comfortable, able to adjust the steering wheel right where we want it. Everything is in Track Mode – transmission, AWD, suspension, and steering – except for stability control, which is still set to Street.

Taking off from behind Indy's famous bricks, throttle tip-in is quick, and the Durango SRT springs to life. The Durango feels fast under wide-open throttle in a straight line, which is impressive consider we had just gotten out of a louder, faster coupe. Dodge claims a 0-60 time of just 4.4 seconds, and it's that kind of acceleration that makes us agree with Dodge's boastful claim that the Durango SRT is a "three-row Charger."

Then we take the first corner. The steering feels progressive, if not super tight, but the size and weight of the Durango quickly make themselves known. Body roll reminds us that this is, in fact, a tall utility vehicle, and definitely not a Charger. We lean to the side as the tires dig in, pulling the Durango around its axis and toward the apex of the corner despite the lateral momentum they are fighting.

We're hesitant, but the instructor in the passenger seat coaches us to keep on the throttle despite what our inner ear is telling us. The Durango manages to stay stuck to our line as we push harder through the corners than we had thought possible.

We reach the final straight, where the Indy road course dumps us onto the start/finish stretch it shares with the oval track, and we hammer the throttle. The sound of the 6.4-liter V8 fills the cabin as the Durango revs. Shifts from the eight-speed automatic – we've left the steering wheel-mounted paddles alone to focus on getting the vehicle around the 2.6-mile course intact – bring with them a burp of the exhaust that's absolutely stimulating. We feel heroic as the car jerks through the gears. For a naturally aspirated engine, we get the sense that this Durango has a healthy set of lungs.

As we approach Turn 1 again, we find that the Durango SRT's brakes grab firmly and have no trouble bring the Durango SRT's 5,510-pound mass down to a manageable speed. We feel a little more confident as we corral the vehicle through the curves until one corner catches us just slightly off our guard. The big ute plows a bit, and we mentally note that there's not much advance warning that the vehicle was about to give up grip, particularly as the body roll seems to dominate the cornering feeling. Fortunately, the Durango quickly recovers without commotion, and we're just slightly off our line and slower than we could be getting back onto full throttle as the track straightens out.

A few more corners and we start to wish the seats had more bolstering as we begin to feel the fatigue that comes with trying to hold our body in place behind the steering wheel and the left knee pain that comes from leaning into the plastic of the door. We make it to the bricks again, fly past them, and head into our cool-down lap.

Our track drive doesn't leave us buying the line that the Durango SRT feels like a smaller car, but it definitely has the performance and handling capabilities of something in a smaller segment. The Durango SRT rewards smooth inputs from the pedals and steering wheel, and we come off the course with a smile on our face, amazed at the experience we just pulled off in such a big vehicle.

After our track stint, we hop into a fresh Durango with our gear and head out on the highway for a bit, taking the long way between IMS and Lucas Oil Raceway, where we'd trade in the keys for those of the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon.

With our heart rate back to a normal level, we're more inclined to play around with the Durango's features. We drive the car in both Normal and Sport mode and find the difference between those two to be slight, and either offers smoother shifts than Track mode. In regular driving, when the goal isn't to get from one point to another as quickly as possible, throttle tip-in is a bit trickier to modulate. It's easy to dig a little too deep into the right pedal, jarring your passengers and shifting around any cargo you have in back, as you pull away from normal stoplights.

The location of the paddle shifters on the back of the steering wheel is weird. The paddles feel truncated compared to what we're used to, with the bottom half deleted. That means we have to reach up with our fingers to tap the tabs protruding from behind the wheel. That small observation aside, the manual mode is satisfying. Shifts happen quickly, even in Normal Mode with the throttle mashed, and we get to interact more closely with the powerplant.

That big engine, and all the sound that comes with it, leaves us with mixed feelings. Switching gears ourselves and driving fast with the revs up is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. That heroism we felt on the track translates to the road, and the sound of the exhaust turns heads in traffic. At cruising speed on the highway, though, it's just noisy as the low drone of the motor and the sound of the road permeate the cabin. The ride is comfortable enough for relaxed driving, but there's just no getting away from that sound.

If you need a vehicle to check three seemingly disparate boxes, the Dodge Durango SRT makes a lot of sense. A third row and solid towing capability can be found in lots of competing vehicles. But if you need that car to be really entertaining when you're not hauling your kids and boat somewhere – and a second vehicle is out of the question – the Durango SRT is a prime candidate. It's capable of carrying you and five passengers when you need it, but after you drop the kids off at school you can take the long way to work and wring out the V8 to get your blood pumping. (Your kids will likely also enjoy being thrown back in their seats with the easy-to-use and impressively smooth launch control feature.)

Then, there's the added benefit of the price. The Durango SRT starts at $64,090. That's not chump change, but in the small microcosm of the performance SUV, it's a bargain. The Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT costs $3,900 more than the Durango. The two utes share the same 6.4-liter V8, but the Durango SRT brings with it an extra seat, 16 extra cubic feet of storage space, and an extra 1,500 pounds of towing capacity. The Jeep brand may carry a premium in the minds of a lot of buyers, but practicality favors the Dodge.

As an added bonus, buyers of the Durango SRT – just as with the Grand Cherokee SRT – get a free day at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving. It'll come in handy if you get the chance to take your ute to the track, which you definitely should. We certainly enjoyed it.

Related Video:

Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own — we do not accept sponsored editorial.

Share This Photo X