2023 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat Road Test: More serious than you think

It’s a year of lasts for Dodge, and while the Durango Hellcat was originally meant to be dead and gone after 2021, those horsepower fiends of the Mopar world decided to bring back this silly machine for one more year. For that, we say thank you, Dodge.

The world didn’t need a couple thousand more Hellcat-powered three-row SUVs, but it sure will be a more entertaining place with them. If you’re familiar with the formula for the Durango Hellcat from back in 2021, you know what’s going on here, too. Dodge dropped the 6.2-liter supercharged V8 under the hood, where it makes 710 horsepower and 645 pound-feet of torque in this application. That’s better than the TRX’s 702, but not quite the full 717 of the Charger

and Challenger Hellcat models. Will you care? No, the important part of this powertrain is that it produces obnoxious supercharger whine sounds and makes the Durango go like stink.

Just like any other Hellcat-equipped vehicle, the Durango Hellcat doesn’t really have an off switch. Dodge has no interest in valved exhaust systems or quelling the uncouth noise of its big 2.38-liter supercharger. You buy the Hellcat, and you’re getting a Hellcat from the second you smash the red start/stop button until you turn it back off. 

Unlike the Cadillac Escalade-V, which is essentially one of the best $150,000 noisemakers money can buy, the Durango Hellcat takes performance surprisingly seriously. Its 0-60 mph time of just 3.5 seconds is downright blistering – thanks to the added traction provided by its all-wheel-drive system, there isn’t a rear-drive Hellcat model out there that’ll beat it off the line on the street. And the suspension is serious e nough that it can verge on punishing, especially for a massive SUV of its size.

The range of the electrically adjustable dampers helps take some of the edge off, but there’s no getting around the stiff ride around town and on the highway. Thankfully, the Durango Hellcat has handling to balance its compromise in ride comfort. Once you learn to trust the chassis and leap over the mental hurdle of attacking corners hard in such a large vehicle, it gets fun. The suspension has the composure and stability that you’d expect from a big Mercedes-AMG

product (hmm, where did the Durango’s platform originate, again?), and while the steering is just as numb and cold as we last remembered it being in 2021, this Durango can seriously hustle down a winding road.

Where you’d expect to find body roll or protesting from inadequate tires, the Durango Hellcat stays planted, flat and sticks like glue. Dodge will fit the Hellcat with optional summer tires (or three-season, as it calls them), and that grippy rubber allows such a large mass to hang on through corners most big SUVs would’ve long given up in. Unlike most other Hellcats, you can rudely apply power whenever you feel like, too, without fear of the rear end stepping out into a tree on corner exit. But don’t worry, that AWD split is still a very Dodge-like 30/70 favoring the rear in Track mode – you can light up the chunky 295-section-width tires in the back on hard launches.

Try as we might to reveal a weak spot in the Durango Hellcat’s hardware, it didn’t even begin to break character. The massive Brembo brake system – six-piston front, four-piston rear – will hold up to a massive amount of abuse, and the SUV is legitimately fun to swing left and right. Though, you do need to crank up the dampers into at least the Sport setting (above Auto but below Track) to get the assured response and obedience of the front end you want.

Its eight-speed automatic transmission is one of the only elements that truly feels dual-faceted. You can rip off super-quick shifts from the half-paddles behind the steering wheel all day long, with each upshift being accompanied by a massive riiiiip. Then on downshifts, you get the typical yelp from the supercharger that so characterizes the Hellcat engine. It’s a recipe for turning heads no matter if you’re bombing your favorite backroads or headed to the grocery store with the kids. And when you don’t feel like alerting the world to that giant supercharger, the eight-speed will swiftly and smoothly swap cogs without any added drama. Of course, the hilarious exhaust note will never go away, but the powertrain can at least feel like butter if you’d like it to.

Outside of the Ram TRX, running errands in a Hellcat doesn’t get any more luxurious on the inside than the Durango version. UConnect 5 playing on a big touchscreen comes standard, so you can look down on all the Charger and Challenger Hellcats stuck with UConnect 4. Outside of appearance options, there are two packages – Plus and Premium – full of niceties that you can either select or pass on. Fully loading it up with the various driver assistance aids, power sunroof, 19-speaker Harman-Kardon audio system and forged carbon interior trim has to be the way to go. It’s already heavy, so you might as well take all the luxury that Dodge will give you.

Of course, price most certainly is your enemy, because Dodge ratcheted it up by a lot versus the 2021 model. Back then, the Durango Hellcat started at just $82,490. Now, the starting bid is $95,200, and the final price of our tester is $108,690, which includes practically everything short of the purely aesthetic “Black Package.”

Importantly, the Durango Hellcat doesn’t feel completely out of its depth at that price. The Demonic Red Laguna Leather seats are a feast for the eyes, and the buckets are reminiscent of the Charger and Challenger Hellcat seats with their wide, supportive bolsters and couch-like feel. It would be nice if Dodge offered a full bench seat in the rear instead of making captain’s chairs the only option, but those chairs at least offer a good bit of support for the type of cornering the Durango Hellcat is capable of.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Durango Hellcat is how different it presents than the new kid in town, the Escalade-V. Cadillac didn’t try to screw together a true performance SUV, instead opting to go the muscle car route. Meanwhile, Dodge slapped together a suspension package that was quite literally dialed in on a race track. Both have their upsides and downsides, and we’re not going to complain about having choices in the full-size, high-performance SUV world. 

That said, the opportunity to step into the Hellcat-powered version is fast going away. We weren’t even supposed to have this 2023 version of the Durango Hellcat, and owners of the 2021 version have sued over its existence. After the 2023 production run is over, there will be no more. We’ve heard that before, of course, but assuming it’s true this time, if you fancy a massive SUV that’ll terrorize the streets with boisterous noise and hold its own when you push its handling limits, the Durango Hellcat is the SUV for you.

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