2021 Dodge Durango Hellcat First Drive: The Three-Row, One-Year Wonder

Chad Kirchner
by Chad Kirchner

Putting a Hellcat motor in every vehicle you sell, at this point, comes off as a bit lazy. We’ve become almost numb to cars in the Dodge lineup making 700 horsepower or more, so numb that we sometimes forget how insane 700 horsepower is in a family car. But the tactic works for Dodge, and each subsequent Hellcat I drive I find them more and more surprising. For the 2021 Dodge Durango Hellcat, the same thing applies.

(Full disclosure: Dodge flew me to North Carolina to hang out and drive the Durango Hellcat, plus other 2020 Durango models, and the Charger Redeye. The Charger Redeye is what you’d expect, and an awesome ride. But for the day, the Durango was much more interesting and worth your time and attention.)

For 2021, Dodge is offering the Durango in a V6 version, a 5.7-liter V8 version, a 6.4-liter V8 version, and the supercharged 6.2-liter Hellcat V8. The Hellcat version is a one-year-only deal. They aren’t limiting production of the vehicle — the price will limit sales — but the Hellcat variant they are using onboard won’t be emissions-compliant after the 2020 model year.

All three of the V8 versions can tow up to 8,600 pounds, which is a number we’ll come back to later. The Hellcat makes 710 horsepower and 645 lb-ft of torque. Dodge claims that the SUV will scoot to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds and run the standing quarter in 11.5 seconds. Top speed is 180 mph.

As a fun side note, nobody at Dodge would tell me what the top speed of the Durango Hellcat is when towing 8,600 pounds. I want to find out.

All of this power and performance and capability is built into a three-row family SUV that you’d be able to climb into and drive across the country in comfort. The seats in our test model were wrapped in leather. They were heated and cooled. Unlike the Charger and Challenger Hellcat variants, the Durango has adaptive cruise control with stop and go. New LED headlights light up the night. In a lot of ways, the Durango Hellcat is the perfect family vehicle.

The 8,600-pound towing capacity exceeds most of the competition and is greater than in some pickup trucks. The Durango out-tows the Grand Cherokee and also has more seats. A towing mode even optimizes the vehicle for towing duties.

Permanent all-wheel drive shifts power to where it needs to be, and on the road, the Durango is proper quick. The latest version of Uconnect has zero lag when loading the Performance pages, and it’s easy to configure the Durango Hellcat to exactly what you want for the daily drive.

As for me? Give me the transmission and engine in the Track setting, and leave the rest of the car in Comfort. Bombing down some unimproved roads in rural South Carolina you can build up some “scare yourself to death” speed if you let it.

Of course, Dodge “made” us drive it on the track. Carolina Motorsports Park’s 2.27-mile road course is a fun circuit where you can let the 5,710-pound curb weight hang out. It’s a wide course leaving plenty of room for driver error, but what I enjoyed about the Durango Hellcat is that if you messed up a corner, the understeer let you know. Yes, understeer is safer than oversteer, but the way it communicates to you that you screwed up means you don’t screw it up on the next lap.

No, you won’t take the Durango Hellcat to the racetrack. But it’d be a fun way to haul your track car to the track.

For everyday livability, the biggest change for the 2021 Durango is the addition of Uconnect 5. The screen is super high resolution and is built on Android Automotive (not Android Auto). The system has been completely rethought, adding separate driver profiles to save settings, navigation locations, and performance configurations. Android Auto and Apple Car Play are now wireless, and the connectivity works well. The built-in, TomTom-based navigation is actually pretty solid, using the internet to route around traffic issues. It also learns as you drive, suggesting routes depending on the time of day or the vehicle’s location. If you go get in your Durango and 5 o’clock, it might suggest the route home as the route you want to take.

It’s also fast. In previous versions, various applications, including the Performance and Off-Road pages, were slow to load. In later vehicles, the delay in loading apps became painstakingly slow. All of that is fixed with Uconnect 5. There is no load time for Performance Pages, and we assume that as Uconnect 5 makes its way to other models their similar pages will also load quickly.

So should you buy one? If you want the strangest and wildest Hellcat out there, the Durango is it. You expect the Charger or Challenger to be fast, you don’t expect the Durango to be. Also, if you are a bit of a Mopar collector, you might want the single model year run of this vehicle.

If you’re just looking for a cool Durango that can tow and isn’t boring, opt for the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 with the Tow N’ Go package. It picks up the awesome SRT exhaust, the active Bilstein dampers, and bigger brakes. It sounds incredible. It pulls just fine — remember, all V8 Durangos are SAE J2807 rated for 8,600 pounds. It also gives you nearly the same experience for tens of thousands less.

But if you do decide to go for the full Hellcat, you’ll need at least $82,490 to put it in your garage. Maybe put it alongside your Ram TRX as the perfect Mopar dream garage?

[Images: © 2020 Chad Kirchner/TTAC]

Chad Kirchner
Chad Kirchner

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  • Don026 Don026 on Dec 02, 2020

    Dodge Durango SRT Acceleration test 0-60 | Fast, literally FAST! Fast and FURIOUS https://tii.ai/NVVl5mG

  • Challenjour Challenjour on Dec 03, 2020

    I sold my '15 SRT 392 Challenger in order to make room for the future... a home and family. Once I saw the 2021 Durango refresh, I knew I had to get one for long term ownership to match my new lifestyle. The heart of my Challenger lives on in the 392, but this time with AWD, crazy towing, and 3 rows. 3-6 month estimated wait from the factory (spec'd it exactly how I wanted) but couldn't pass up the 0% financing that they have on the table here in Canada. Just like the decision for my Challenger, the 392 is enough power and noise for me and the Hellcat doesn't interest me too much with that price tag but I sure am glad it exists!

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  • Michael Gallagher I agree to a certain extent but I go back to the car SUV transition. People began to buy SUVs because they were supposedly safer because of their larger size when pitted against a regular car. As more SUVs crowded the road that safety advantage began to dwindle as it became more likely to hit an equally sized SUV. Now there is no safety advantage at all.
  • Probert The new EV9 is even bigger - a true monument of a personal transportation device. Not my thing, but credit where credit is due - impressive. The interior is bigger than my house and much nicer with 2 rows of lounge seats and 3rd for the plebes. 0-60 in 4.5 seconds, around 300miles of range, and an e-mpg of 80 (90 for the 2wd). What a world.
  • Ajla "Like showroom" is a lame description but he seems negotiable on the price and at least from what the two pictures show I've dealt with worse. But, I'm not interested in something with the Devil's configuration.
  • Tassos Jong-iL I really like the C-Class, it reminds me of some trips to Russia to visit Dear Friend VladdyPoo.