The Coolest SUV On The Road
In my humble opinion, the Dodge Durango is one of the few really cool SUVs out there.
There is some proof of this claim. How many SUVs have real swagger? I'm talking the kind of swagger that you can roll up into a car meet, smile, and give the one-finger salute on the way out because some troll tried to butthurt you – because you rolled up in an SUV.
Seriously, which SUVs will allow you to be cool and badass at the same time? Some say that it takes a BMW X6M, a Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG, or G65 AMG to pull that off – with loads of cash in your pocket, of course! A Range Rover would for the simple fact that you can easily look down upon the peasants.
If you look no further than at the same production line as the Dodge Durango – Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' Jefferson North Assembly Plant – you have its two savage cousins: The Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT and Trackhawk. Both employ big V8s – one with a supercharger attached. Both can work a track without mercy. And, both can scare the living daylights out those fanboys who will eventually head back to their half-done wannabe sports compact.
There is a common trait of the BMW, the two Mercedes-Benzes, the Range Rover, and the two Jeeps. They can only seat five people across two rows. My apologies to the six-member family who needs high horsepower to be the coolest family on the school run.
Not all is lost. For 2018, Dodge added the Durango SRT to the lineup. They plunked the "392" 6.4-liter V8 from the Grand Cherokee SRT into the engine bay of the longer, three-row SUV. They made it look like a Charger SRT up front, upper the interior materials and gave it an exhaust note that announces its presence in the face of anyone who dares to stare at it.
I really wanted to check out this hottest version of the "Dodge Charger of SUVs." Well…it did not work out that way. Instead, I got the next best thing to the Durango SRT…the Durango R/T
My first Durango was the R/T. In 2012, it fulfilled its mission as being the "Dodge Charger of SUVs," by behaving like one – which is very satisfying, in my book. It was red – very red. The 5.7-liter HEMI V8 offered no apologies for screaming at mere cars to get out of the way and making other SUVs notice its cool factor immediately.
Out of three Durangos, two of them were R/Ts. The third was a V6-powered GT model, which Dodge was promoting as their all-wheel-drive subline for their rear-drive biased vehicles in their lineup.
What makes the Durango R/T a part of the story of my work and of this site is what it represents within the SUV crowd. It offers no apologies or cares about you and anyone who is part of your crew. It does so without pretense, flash, and status. It is your everyday vehicle for the Moparian and his/her family – or, whichever definition of family you want to use here.
This 2018 Dodge Durango R/T is a capsulation of the vehicles that set the tone of the early days of V&R. It is a symbol of the Mopar enthusiasts who championed this site and my work at the onset. It is also a reflection of who I am and the reality of the marketplace – being a humble person who grew up in a working-class community living in a world which the SUV is the driver of sales for every brand in North America.
With that said, the timing was right for the 2018 Durango R/T as I celebrate V&R’s seventh anniversary.
It came with a curveball attached to it. In the past, the R/T shared most of the design elements from the rest of the Durango lineup. While Dodge added the SRT model, they handed down the key design elements from that high-performance model onto the R/T. The front end and the hood are from the SRT, but the badge basically says "Dodge." A look under the hood will tell you it is the smaller, less powerful HEMI V8 instead of the badassed "392" motor.
The adoption of the SRT's styling to the R/T had me confused at first. It also spurned some criticism from a few Moparians. However, I actually think this new look on the R/T will help distinguish it from a mere V6-powered GT model. It makes it equally badass – and that is why you get the Durango R/T in the first place!
The key to enjoying a Durango R/T is understanding a few important words: command, presence, and power. Unlike most three-row SUVs, the Durango R/T (and the SRT) commands anything in its wake. There are a lot of rugged-looking models in its class, but none of them can say anything to what's underneath its hood or the fear it would strike on the school run.
This leads to its presence on the road – or in the parking lot. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles assures us that Dodge will turn out iconic cars that no one can screw around with. The Charger and Challenger reside in the top of the American lexicon of modern muscle. The Durango R/T and SRT fit perfectly within this lexicon – even with a look similar to a Charger R/T Scat Pack and SRT. If you hear the roar of the HEMI V8, mere cars and small SUVs should simply move out of the way.
There is no denying the power a Durango R/T has underneath its newly sculptured hood. Though it is rated at 360 horsepower with 390 pound-feet of torque, it feels like it has more. It always had and continues to do so. I expect nothing else from a Durango R/T.
Since the last Durango R/T I drove, the ZF-designed eight-speed automatic connects the HEMI V8 to an all-wheel-drive system. I am happy to see that the T-bar shifter is used to throw the Durango R/T in gear, instead of that E-Shift rotary dial I experienced in the last Durango I worked with. The AWD transfer case has a low range and neutral, just in case you need some extra traction in tough situations. I can use terms, such as “kick-ass” and such, which describes this driveline perfectly. However, I would need Kevin Garnett’s “Cuss Button” to go deeper into how this Durango R/T drives.
With every vehicle I work with, I have to report fuel economy. Therefore, this 2018 Dodge Durango R/T averaged 17.9 MPG – just above the average for this model.
The ride quality is excellent. It is smooth and absorbent. You would think you’re driving the more luxurious Durango Citadel than the R/T. Handling is fine, as it will take some care when cornering. Steering is responsive and well-weighted. In fact, it holds the lane quite well. Brakes are also fine, with solid stops in normal and panic situations. All of this is pretty good for an SUV that weighs 5,381 pounds!
When it comes to practical matters, this R/T tester offers seating for six people. Third-row room is OK for some adults, but the "captain's chairs" do fold and tumble for easy access to the far rear seats. The second-row occupants have their own console separating them, along with the available dual video screens that can show movies in the Blu-Ray format, two USB ports, and heated seat controls.
I know that SUVs were designed to accommodate passengers, but what about me? The driver has a command center that has not fully changed over the past six years. However, the 8.4-inch UConnect touch screen is now in its fourth generation. You can now connect your iPhone or Android device via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto respectively. The R/T also comes with a Beats premium audio system, which is really one of the best speaker systems I have heard in an automobile.
In terms of cargo space, you do start with 17.2 cubic feet with all three rows up. That will work its way to 47.7 cubic feet with the third row down. Ultimately, you can carry up to 84.5 cubic feet of car parts, IKEA flat-packed items for the new home office, the weekly grocery shopping, your new outfits for the week in Hawai'i, the new drum set with cymbals, electronic pads and hardware, a cowbell or two, other percussion…and so forth. Or, a combination of some of the above!
The 2018 Dodge Durango R/T starts with a base price of $46,295. My tester came with a sticker price of $54,365. For a few dollars less, you can go from Mopar badassness to a more civilized atmosphere with the Citadel model. You can get the HEMI V8 on that model, too! The Citadel and R/T are also available in rear0wheel-drive, as well as all-wheel-drive. Just in case you are unable to afford anything with the HEMI V8, you can always get a Pentastar V6-powered, rear-drive Durango SXT for starting at $29,995.
On the other side of the spectrum is the Durango SRT. That model starts at $62,995. That is about half the price of a Mercedes-Benz AMG GLS 63, $32,000 less than the GLS 550 (which has 40 horsepower less)…which makes the Durango SRT the best value for high performance, three-row SUVs! That, my friends, is what being badass is all about!
Why bring up the SRT again? Because the Durango R/T is an even better value overall. You still get HEMI V8 power, more cargo space and maximum towing capacity than the Ford Explorer Sport, and has a pedigree that is born from Mopar stock.
I’ve always loved the R/T package – a muscle SUV that can take a family of 6-7 on a road trip and up to 7,400 pounds of trailer and whatever you put on one. It is truly the embodiment of command, presence, and power. All with a swagger that makes other SUVs bow down to it!
That is what makes the Dodge Durango R/T the coolest SUV on the road today.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
All photos by Randy Stern