The Dodge Durango has always stood apart from competing three-row crossovers.
Unlike a Honda Pilot or Toyota Highlander, the Durango is a hardy workhorse of a truck. Ever since the current generation debuted as a 2011 model, it’s offered a class-exclusive V8 engine that allowed it to tow a large trailer. Furthermore, this cousin of the Jeep Grand Cherokee offers the burly, rumbling “tough” feel of a full-size SUV rather than the mild-mannered minivan-esque vibe of most competitors.
For 2018, Dodge has further distanced itself from any competitor by introducing a new Street and Racing Technology version: a high-performance, high-capability SUV with a whopping 475-horsepower V8, an even higher towing capacity and sports-car suspension tuning. The result is brash, ridiculous fun from a vehicle that can seat six passengers, carry tons of cargo and drag an 8,700-pound trailer.
To be clear, the Durango isn’t the world’s only performance SUV. German luxury brands have been making similar vehicles for years. And the Durango SRT also reaches into the luxury realm with a base price of $64,090, and more than $70,000 as tested.
But considering the Durango SRT’s combination of extreme acceleration, tenacious handling performance and ample interior space, it’s still a relative bargain. You have to pay at least $10,000 more to get this much power in a BMW X5, and a whopping $30,000 premium for a Mercedes-Benz GLS 550.
The Durango isn’t quite as luxurious as those models, of course, both due to its age and its price point. But it’s not too bad either. The tested SRT keeps things looking especially nice with generous leather and suede upholstery and trim, plus neat touches like a backlit steering wheel logo. And given that the Durango was built as a family car first, it offers a spacious interior with seats that fold easily flat to offer a large cargo hold.
Equipped with a 7-inch or 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system, the Durango offers user-friendly ergonomics and an attractive design. You can use the touchscreen to fold down the rear head restraints for better visibility, and the SRT has a fun “performance pages” feature that displays everything from your 0-60 acceleration times to the lateral force exerted when you swerve.
Ordinary Durango models have a smooth ride and respectable handling composure for such a big vehicle. The SRT’s suspension is tuned to be stiffer, but it also remains surprisingly comfortable — even as it adopts the corner-carving abilities of a sports sedan. The Durango SRT grips the road eagerly and demonstrates eerily high handling limits.
However, gas mileage understandably suffers with the big 6.4-liter V8 engine. The Durango SRT is rated for a disappointing 15 miles per gallon in mixed driving on premium fuel, compared to 21 mpg on regular fuel for the base model’s 3.6-liter V6. (There’s also a 5.7-liter V8 that splits the difference with 17 mpg on mid-grade fuel.) Another downside: The Durango trails most competitors’ performance in one demanding crash test.
The base Durango is priced from $33,690, which makes it more expensive than most comparably equipped competitors. Although their base prices are relatively close together, once you add such common options as leather upholstery, a suite of family-friendly safety features, a power liftgate, and all-wheel-drive, the Durango hits a sticker price of more than $44,000. Even factoring in rebates and haggling, you can expect to spend roughly $3,000 to $8,000 less for a similarly equipped Pilot, Ford Explorer, Volkswagen Atlas, GMC Acadia, Mazda CX-9 or Nissan Pathfinder.
Of those, the CX-9 and Atlas offer the sportiest handling; meanwhile, the Atlas, Pilot, Explorer, and Pathfinder have the most interior room. Any of these crossovers can be a good fit as a mild-mannered, fairly roomy family car, and there’s also a performance-oriented Explorer Sport model. The Acadia, meanwhile, is a crossover that’s styled to look more like a truck than a car, providing a bit more of the Durango’s vibe, yet at a lower price and with superior safety ratings.
However, none of these crossovers has the Durango’s available V8 engines — which give the Dodge superior towing capacity and a more tough-truck vibe. Both of these qualities make the Durango a less bulky, less expensive alternative to a cumbersome and pricey full-size SUV like the Chevrolet Tahoe, Ford Expedition, Nissan Armada, or Toyota Sequoia.