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    Friday, January 27, 2023

    Dodge Durango Hellcat is Hulk on wheels

    The 2021 Durango will include six models, Dodge said: SXT, GT, Citadel, R/T, SRT 392 and the SRT Hellcat. (FCA US LLC/TNS)

    Dodge’s muscular lineup has always struck me as an Avengers comic book. There’s Challenger. And Hellcat. Demon and Charger. So what to make of a full-size SUV joining the team, the 2021 Durango SRT Hellcat?

    Let’s call it Hulk.

    Get it in green. It’s the perfect color for this huge, 5,710-pound, 710-horsepower beast that was once called Bruce Banner — er, Dodge Durango.

    Its capabilities are stupefying, comic-book stuff. Zero-60 in 3.5 seconds officially. I did it in 3.4. With launch control. You've got to take it out on the road with the kids: With all-wheel drive, this Hulk is a stable genius compared to its rear-wheel drive Charger Hellcat mate.

    Find a deserted road on the way to school. Press the Launch button on the console (yes, there really is a button called Launch on the console). Mat the brake, mat the throttle, release the brake. Hulk explodes forward like a CGI action sequence, all four wheels churning in perfect harmony. The supercharger is screaming, the 6.2-liter V-8 roaring — if you can hear it over the kids’ cheers. It’s epic.

    Try that in the Dodge Charger Hellcat and it’ll turn your hair white. With 707 horsepower running though just the rear wheels, it’s a challenge even for modern electronics systems to channel the power. I tested the Durango Hellcat back-to-back with an upgraded 797-horsepower Charger Hellcat Redeye in North Carolina this fall, and the Durango beat it to 60 every time thanks to superior traction — and despite Hulk’s added weight and ungainly appearance next to the sleek Charger.

    The Charger Hellcat (and sister 485-horsepower Scat Pack) is one of my favorite sedans. But it’s hard for even this car disciple to deny that the Durango Hellcat is the superior family vehicle.

    Not only does Durango accommodate six comfortably with its palatial third row seat — your 6-foot-5 correspondent could sit behind himself sitting behind myself in the third row — but it comes with significant interior upgrades you can’t get in the Charger.

    Chief among these is adaptive cruise-control which the Durango possesses and the Charger Hellcat does not. That low Hellcat face is handsome compared to Hulk’s meaty mug, but it comes at a sacrifice of airflow which the hungry, supercharged monster under the hood demands. The radar brick simply takes up too much grille space. Not so with the taller Durango, even though it feeds the same V-8.

    I find adaptive cruise essential in Hellcats — not just for easier highway driving — but to regulate them in heavily policed speed limit zones. Believe me, this beast is so effortlessly quick you’ll find yourself at insane speeds very quickly.

    “I’m sorry, officer, but you say I was going HOW fast?”

    Durango also gains (along with the new Chrysler Pacifica minivan) Fiat-Chrysler’s latest Uconnect 5 infotainment system. Uconnect has always been an ergonomic gem — Dodge-Chrysler cockpits are generally the easiest to use in the industry — and Version 5 continues to lead the way with an enlarged 10.5-inch screen (compared to the Charger’s old 8.5-incher), quicker response, Android operating systems and excellent voice commands.

    The Durango even excels on the track (yes, I took it to Carolina Motorsports Park) despite its higher center of gravity. Screwed to the ground with advanced shocks, the all-wheel drive system allows you to mat the throttle out of turns. By contrast, the rear-drive Charger is more nervous on exit and therefore more of a handful to drive. You gotta track the Hulk to believe it. Dodge even offers a free driver’s school at Bondurant Raceway in Phoenix.

    That said, Hulk could use a few beauty pointers from its Charger siblings.

    The Charger Hellcat Widebody is one of the most sinister, reptilian designs conceived. With its glowing LED lamps and swollen hood, it looks like something that migrated from Skull Island to exterminate the Prius species. Durango Hellcat, on the other hand, looks like, well, a Hulk. You might think twice about bringing it home to mother.

    SUVs are hard to make sexy. But may I suggest widebody fender flares like the Charger Hellcat? And perhaps an elongated roof-spoiler like some of Durango Hellcat’s smaller, hot-hatch car brethren? Widebodies have been a boon to Charger and Challenger sales — and they are practical, too.

    Doing zero-60 launches on the way to elementary school won’t come cheap. The Durango Hellcat comes in a healthy $10,000 north of its Charger equivalent. But can you put a price on a child’s smile?

    Mommy, can we please hear the Hulk roar one more time?

    2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat

    Vehicle type: All-wheel drive, four-door, six passenger SUV

    Price: $82,490, including $1,445 destination charge ($89,965 as tested)

    Powerplant: Supercharged 6.2-liter V-8

    Power: 710 horsepower, 645 pound-feet of torque

    Transmission: 8-speed automatic

    Performance: 0-60 mph, 3.5 seconds (mfr.); top speed, 180 mph; towing capacity, 8,700 pounds

    Weight: 5,710 pounds

    Fuel economy: EPA est. N/A (9.9 mpg observed)

    Report card

    Highs: Ferocious AWD performance; interior sanctuary

    Lows: Gulps fuel; exterior design needs some love

    Overall: 4 stars

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