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

Chad Kirchner
by Chad Kirchner
2021 dodge durango hellcat first drive the three row one year wonder

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]

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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!

  • Jeff S Corey--We know but we still want to give our support to you and let TTAC know that your articles are excellent and better than what the typical articles are.
  • Jeff S A sport utility vehicle or SUV is a car classification that combines elements of road-going passenger cars with features from off-road vehicles, such as raised ground clearance and four-wheel drive.There is no commonly agreed-upon definition of an SUV and usage of the term varies between countries. Thus, it is "a loose term that traditionally covers a broad range of vehicles with four-wheel drive." Some definitions claim that an SUV must be built on a light truck chassis; however, broader definitions consider any vehicle with off-road design features to be an SUV. A [url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossover_(automobile)]crossover SUV[/url] is often defined as an SUV built with a unibody construction (as with passenger cars), however, the designations are increasingly blurred because of the capabilities of the vehicles, the labelling by marketers, and electrification of new models.The predecessors to SUVs date back to military and low-volume models from the late 1930s, and the four-wheel drive station wagons and carryalls that began to be introduced in 1949. The 1984 [url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeep_Cherokee_(XJ)]Jeep Cherokee (XJ)[/url] is considered to be the first SUV in the modern style. Some SUVs produced today use unibody construction; however, in the past, more SUVs used body-on-frame construction. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, the popularity of SUVs greatly increased, often at the expense of the popularity of large [url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sedan_(automobile)]sedans[/url] and station wagons.More recently, smaller SUVs, mid-size, and crossovers have become increasingly popular. SUVs are currently the world's largest automotive segment and accounted for 45.9% of the world's passenger car market in 2021. SUVs have been criticized for a variety of environmental and safety-related reasons. They generally have poorer fuel efficiency and require more resources to manufacture than smaller vehicles, contributing more to climate change and environmental degradation. Between 2010 and 2018 SUVs were the second largest contributor to the global increase in carbon emissions worldwide. Their higher center of gravity increases their risk of rollovers. Their larger mass increases their stopping distance, reduces visibility, and increases damage to other road users in collisions. Their higher front-end profile makes them at least twice as likely to kill pedestrians they hit. Additionally, the psychological sense of security they provide influences drivers to drive less cautiously. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sport_utility_vehicleWith the above definition of SUV any vehicle that is not a pickup truck if it is enclosed, doesn't have a trunk, and is jacked up with bigger tires. If the green activists adhere to this definition of what an SUV is there will be millions of vehicles with flat tires which include HRVs, Rav4s, CRVs, Ford Escapes, Buick Encores, and many of compact and subcompact vehicles. The green movement is going to have to recruit millions of new followers and will be busy flattening millions of tires in the US and across the globe. Might be easier to protest.
  • Sckid213 I actually do agree that most Nissans are ultimately junk. (I also think many BMWs are also). I was talking challenging the 3 in terms of driving dynamics. Agree all were failures in sales.
  • THX1136 More accurately said, we are seeing exponential growth in the manufacturing capabilities in this market. Unless, of course, all those vehicles are sold with customers waiting until more a produced so they can buy. Indeed, there are certainly more EVs being purchased now than back in 2016. Is demand outstripping manufacturing? Maybe or maybe not. I sincerely don't know which is why I ask.
  • ToolGuy The page here (linked in the writeup) is ridiculously stupid https://www.tyreextinguishers.com/how-to-spot-an-suvLike, seriously stupid, e.g., A) Not sure that particular Volvo is killing the planet as quickly as some other vehicles we might choose. B) A Juke is "huge"??? C) The last picture shows a RAV4 Hybrid?