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Automobile Featured

First Drive: 2018 Dodge Durango SRT

A 5,600-pound, three-row SUV isn’t the sort of vehicle you typically bring to a place like Indianapolis Motor Speedway, let alone take into a sweeping left-hander while carrying serious amounts of speed. But the 2018 Dodge Durango SRT isn’t your typical SUV

Dodge says the Durango SRT eight-speed automatic, which distributes power to all four wheels via a standard all-wheel drive system that can send up to 70 percent of torque to the rear wheels, has been specifically calibrated for the vehicle. Shifts can reportedly be cracked off in as little as 160 milliseconds (good luck beating that mark yourself) and there’s a satisfying WHOMP to each one when you have the hammer down.

Its suspension is bolstered by Bilstein adaptive dampers, 3-percent stiffer front springs, 16 percent-stiffer rear springs, and an 18 percent-stiffer rear anti-roll bar. The effect is a surprisingly agile package on track that offers a smooth and comfortable ride on road with minimal NVH aside from the engine’s soundtrack. A noticeable amount of body roll makes its presence felt on turn-in, but it’s linear and easily controlled and certainly won’t pull you off your line by itself.

Slightly front-heavy (weight distribution is 52:48 front/rear), the Durango prefers to under- rather than over-steer, but extra rotation can easily be induced when necessary. Steering feel is fairly absent, but there’s enough resistance to tell that the SUV is doing what you want it to do and you can have some fun hustling it around a track. (That the number of owners who will track the Durango SRT is going to be somewhere around zero is beside the point.) Unsurprisingly, it’s an experience that’s pretty similar to that of a Challenger or Charger overall.

 Brakes are giant 15.0-inch discs wearing red six-piston Brembo calipers up front and still-sizeable 13.8-inch discs clamped by four pistons at the rear. They’re hidden behind 20-inch wheels wearing one of two sets of available 295/45 Pirelli rubber (Scorpion Verde all-seasons or P Zero three-seasons). The binders reel the big boy in without complaint, though fade will certainly become an issue later in a session if you’re not the smoothest of drivers. (Dodge says the Durango SRT needs just 115 feet to come to a full stop from 60 mph.)

Visually, the SRT separates itself from the rest of the Durango range with a more aggressive front fascia that includes a functional hood scoop, a revised rear end with large circular exhausts, obligatory SRT badges, and unique wheel designs.

Inside, it’s a similar story, with SRT seats being the highlight until you delve into the new performance-oriented pages accessed through the infotainment system’s 8.1-inch screen. (Also worth highlighting is the new shifter that slides back and forth from P to D instead of the controversial pull/push one.) In addition to performance data, these pages are the gateway for choosing one of the Durango’s seven (!) drive modes, which adjusts six vehicle settings — transmission, shift paddles, stability control, all-wheel-drive system, suspension, and steering. You can also configure your own personal preferences if you desire via the custom mode set-up screen.

Unlike other Durangos, the SRT’s seating capacity maxes out at six instead of seven, with the second-row bench making way for standard captain’s chairs. It’s a bonafide six-seater as the third row is not a vestigial, just-for-kids space. With 31.5 inches of legroom, it’s not exactly spacious, but far larger than the knee-crunching 24.8 inches offered by the GMC Yukon. My 6-foot, 4-inch self was able to climb back there with ease and I had slightly more space than in your average economy class airline seat. There was enough vertical space for my head to clear as well, though backwards motion would be stopped by the headliner rather than the headrest — potentially resulting in a braining in case of an accident. Less vertically inclined folks, however, won’t encounter this risk.