The Three-Row Hellcat

A Victory & Reseda review of the 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat

Sometimes, you can’t stop "Hellcatting all things"…

Since 2014, one singular V8 engine has launched many ships onto the roads of the world. A V8 engine with a supercharger attached that broke the internet, many hearts, and wallets. 

That is what Stellantis has in their stable – absolute absurdity for throttle-heavy enthusiasts of modern muscle.

The French (and German) side of the merger had to wrap their collective heads around what the American and Italian side of this company embraced as one of their main attractions. How could any company use a large V8 engine with a supercharger on top as a product planning tool?

A friend of mine currently living in North Carolina used to have a response for questions and whining comments such as this: "Deal with it!"

Let’s talk about the 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat for a moment…

This is the result of the "Hellcat All Things" product strategy. They’ve put this engine underneath the hood of a Dodge Challenger, a Charger, a Jeep Grand Cherokee, and a Ram 1500. They finally got around to dropping the Hellcat under the hood of a Dodge Durango. 

It’s about time, don’t you think?

Why did it take so long. You would think that Dodge owners would have wanted this sooner to augment the Challenger SRT Hellcat or Demon sitting in the garage. A Hellcat-powered Durango would be the ultimate family hauler – three rows of seats and 710 horsepower underneath the hood. 

There is one catch. This is a one-year offering. Stellantis will sell you a Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat for the 2021 model year – and that’s it. 

What I have a very special vehicle, indeed. Rare? Maybe. An instant classic? I would hope so. 

All I want to know is whether the combination of Dodge’s three-row mid-size SUV and one of the most desirable engines in the world works in the real world. 

The Durango is already a family-friendly hauler. This current generation always had a V8-powered, performance-oriented model in its lineup. The R/T model proved that you could have great towing capacity, seating for six or seven, room for everything you will bring along with the trip, and the roar of that HEMI V8 engine. 

A few years later, Dodge shoehorned the "392" HEMI V8 and named it the Durango SRT. By elevating the performance, they also upgraded the tow capacity up to 8,700 pounds. It is also connected to an eight-speed automatic with its power sent to all four wheels 

Dodge did not stop there. This year’s SRT Hellcat can still tow up to 8,700 pounds. You also have a lot of power underneath the hood to make it work. That is, if you remember you have up to 8,700 pounds hanging off the hitch to remember to keep it under control. 

“Keeping it under control” is the tough part. The one thing I know about the 6.2-liter supercharged Hellcat HEMI V8 is that any vehicle equipped with this engine will fly – if you let it. 

One can only imagine a 5,710-pound, three-row SUV flying. Consider that the Hellcat engine underneath this Durango has 710 horsepower and 645 pound-feet of torque. That’s more than enough performance to scare the average driver to death.

I am not saying that only a few of us who can drive an SUV powered by a supercharged V8. The Durango is very easy to drive. Just remember that you have that kind of power at your right foot. That power is very intoxicating. 

Those who can drive a Hellcat know that it is not about just pushing the accelerator down to the floor. Even with just a light throttle, the Hellcat can be a pussycat on the street. You do not have to be the fastest off the mark when the light turns green. If you want to, the Hellcat engine will respond accordingly. 

However, I always have to mention fuel economy every time I work on a vehicle. It is one of those things where “if I must” divulge its consumption in my care. How does 12.8 MPG sound? Yep…that’s what I averaged. 

Having the Hellcat engine underneath the hood also provided Dodge the opportunity to improve upon the driving dynamics of their lone SUV in the lineup. There is a science to balancing expectations from everyone. If you have a 710-horsepower supercharged V8, it has to have the suspension that will handle this power and competently keep it on the road. You also have to find that happy medium to keep its occupants comfortable while providing an optimal level of control doing so. 

What you will not expect from the Durango SRT Hellcat is a compliant ride that will keep its six occupants both entertained and relaxed. That is where this SUV strikes it balance. Handling is good, with a sharp response from the steering system and quick reflexes all around. In-center feel is very good from the large, thick-rimmed steering wheel. 

Brakes are strong, but foot position must be perfect on the pedal for optimal stops. Think of these large rotors and red calipers as one of the most critical systems on this SUV, because they are clearly not for show. Panic stops are definitely on point. 

My SRT Hellcat tester is actually a six seater, with second-row captain’s chairs and a mini console with two cupholders. It provides a walk-through for third-row occupants, as long as they remember to be careful that there is a plastic piece on the floor. 

While it is fast, powerful, and accommodating, you still have to remember that the Durango SRT Hellcat is a very practical SUV. Before you fold any seats down, there is 17.2 cubic feet of space for groceries and folding chairs for a car meet. With the second- and third-row seats down, you can cram up to 85.1 cubic feet of paddock gear, spare tires, or car swap meet stuff.

For 2021, the Durango received both an exterior and interior update. The front end has been enhanced with a three-dimensional-type grille and new LED headlamps. I’ve always remarked that the Durango has a Charger-like look up front. It is more so for 2021. 

Inside, Dodge updated the instrument panel for the installation of the Uconnect 5 infotainment system. The screen is wider – at 10.1 inches – and you do get all of the connectivity this system offers – including wireless smartphone integration. Alpine provided nine speakers for seriously clear sound.

How much do you think this 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat cost? The sticker on my tester came to $89,665. If you are in sticker shock, let me talk you down a bit. You can still get the Durango SRT with the 392 HEMI V8 starting at $64,570. The 5.7-liter HEMI V8-powred R/T is priced from $45,920. However, if you do not care about absolute performance, the Durango lineup starts at $32,570 for a Pentastar V6-powered SXT model. 

Now that I talked you down, let me talk up the Durango SRT Hellcat for the moment. Let me start by asking an earlier question another way: Why didn’t Dodge do this sooner? Inquiring Moparians want to know…

Look, I understand that sometimes when you create vehicles that do not require a business case (one of my favorite lines from Tim Kuniskis of Stellantis North America), there are some key decisions that need to be made. Sometimes, timing is a key factor to releasing certain vehicles to enthusiast-consumers.

So is patience. 

That last point is a huge factor in creating a high level of desirability for the 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat. In trying to get microchips installed in these vehicles, your ride will not be available in showrooms unless you put in an order for one. That way, you can lock in your place in history. That is the only way to get you own iconic SUV. 

That is why this company installed their astounding, amazing, and incredible supercharged V8 under the hood of this three-row SUV. If not for the marketing exercise on polishing up the SRT badge. Rather, it is for creating a legend for its time. 

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Stellantis North America

All photos by Randy Stern

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