Half a lifetime ago, I had to walk my bike on a hiking trail prohibited to bikers, or so I was told by a woman walking her dog. She was about my age now, and within a minute of polite chitchat she said, “You’re a Gemini. I can sense the division within you.”
This was in the Colorado foothills so the comment shouldn’t have surprised me except for two facts: I hadn’t mentioned my birthday and I was in fact a Gemini, the inseparable twins anchored by Castor and Pollux in the sky and known for their dual personalities. I divided from her and took off down the trail.
Driving the 2023 Dodge Durango Hellcat around town left me with that same unsettled feeling about my split personality. I’m in awe of machines that can defy physics. But I also appreciate practicality and reason. And I like the Earth, just maybe not as spiritually as the Gemini necromancer from so long ago. A three-row SUV with a 710-hp supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 that screams to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds had me all kinds of divided.
Conceptually, the Dodge Durango Hellcat suggests to all the gearheads and motormamas in the family way that you can still seat six in comfort yet tap a V-8 meant to blast all comfort. Nothing says midlife crisis at the school dropoff lane louder than a V-8 Hellcat, but Hellcat owners can respond with equal disdain.
This is ’Murica. Land of the free, home of the bravado, where I can do what I want how I want as long as it fits with my worldview.
The fire-breathing Durango Hellcat is the last of its kind, a raging hot burp of indigestion as the industrial revolution consumes itself. It claws out one more model year in the 2024 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat, at least until production officially ceases at the end of this year, smothered by regulations capitulating to a hotter world. It’ll share a shallow grave with the 2024 Ram 1500 TRX, even as its muscle car progenitors have already sealed their combustion legacies.
The gas guzzler tax of $6,400 is baked into this Durango’s $91,185 base price ($106,665 as tested), but a 0-60 mph time of 3.5 seconds is becoming common in the electric age: The less expensive Rivian R1S three-row SUV hits the mark in 3.0 seconds; the Tesla Model 3 at half the price hits it in 3.1 seconds; even the Ford Mustang Mach-E matches the Durango Hellcat’s mark. And they’ll do it at far better than the 8 mpg I averaged around town.
It outperforms EVs after that, however, with a 11.5-second quarter-mile time and a top speed of 180 mph, two stats that make it hard to remain a law-abiding citizen.
Sure, the Hellcat has become an anachronism in our modern climate. Raise a toast to the wizards at Dodge, though. No automaker has wrought such joy and so many iterations of a supercharged V-8 engine.
Whatever Dodge becomes in the regulated confines of the future, it honored the engineering of the 20th century and injected fuel-fed enthusiasm for one more generation, and in so doing helped that new generation better understand its predecessors. How else could Dodge have kept the Charger and Challenger muscle cars new when the last time they were actually new was 15 years ago in 2008? It’s astounding, and Americans loved all the iterations of the Challenger and its retro bygone style so much that it became the bestselling muscle car over the last two years, for the first time?
What’s most impressive about this accomplishment is Dodge did it only by letting its engineers run wild without building out new platforms or costly assemblies. Ford dumped money into the Mustang during the same time, developing the Mach-E as well as three distinct generations of Mustang, including the seventh-gen model that launched for 2024, and its stunning Dark Horse variant. During this time, Chevy developed two generations of Camaro only to…what the hell is going on with the Camaro? Dodge just tweaked an engine and suspension, revamped an interior, and created a legend.
The V-8 not only kept Dodge on financial life support, it elevated the brand to the top of the muscle car zeitgeist. Applying this money maker to the modern money maker in SUV form has been brilliant. The Durango was last redesigned for the 2011 model year, and it rumbles on with the fresh sense of purpose of the endangered.
The Performance Pages in the 10.1-inch touchscreen let drivers keep tabs as they try to wring the most comfortable setting from the six drive modes, and there’s even an Eco mode for the 8-speed transmission that shifts up quicker. The green button with the leaf icon is delicious irony. More popular features might be customizing Sport mode by tweaking the steering feel, suspension damping, and AWD torque delivery. The G-Force meter with separate pitch and roll readouts is especially fun with an EV-like curb weight of 5,575 pounds. The Durango Hellcat is a beast, and with the towing package it can tow 8,700 pounds.
This monster SUV is all about the visceral feel, and there’s still no primal call to arms like the V-8, especially with the supercharger whirring in the background. It’s not just the sound but the chunky flat-bottomed steering wheel that’s so thick on the bottom half I could hardly wrap my pointer finger to my thumb. Even the indicator stalk requires a hard click to engage, emphasizing its durability.
It rumbles as firmly as a high-end sports coupe, and even with the Bilstein adaptive dampers tuned to the softest Street mode, I felt every bit of road negligence though the Pirelli P Zero tires mounted on20x10-inch fatty wheels.
Then there’s a look that can come across as hostile, with a hood vent flanked by heat extractors like snake nostrils. The sound and look prompted my 17-year-old son to ask why someone would buy this while my 16-year-old daughter circled around it, recording, yelling at me to start it again.
Dodge does it not because it can, but because the consumer demand is strong enough to outweigh the regulatory fines, at least through the end of the year. I can’t help but appreciate the gumption, even in a house divided less by generation than by perspective.
I could have predicted the reaction when I met my brother and dad for lunch on a sunny fall day. My 82-year-old dad left his 1967 Mustang and his 2006 Shelby in the garage, opting instead for his latest toy, a Kia EV6. He parked next to my brother in his Ioniq 5. One of them gave a thumbs up to the prowling thrum of the Durango Hellcat, while the other called it so stupid. Yes to both!
- Lexus GX concept shows SUV’s active lifestyle potential
- Bespoke Rolls-Royce Cullinan is an exquisite birthday gift
- Review: The tiny Honda MotoCompacto e-scooter goes big on fun
- 2025 Lamborghini Urus PHEV will be next electrified bull
- Ringbrothers shows Tusk 1969 Dodge Charger packing 1,000 hp