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Being at the Star Hill Ranch amongst the scenic old-time town and cinematic landscape featured on the silver screen, it’s easy to get nostalgic. Patina-covered pickup trucks that may or may not have film credits under their VINs, horse saddles draped over wooden barrels, and steel windmills creaking in the breeze set the scene for the 2020 Texas Truck Rodeo. A taste of the old west seasoned over the latest SUV and pickup trucks scheduled to be arriving at a 2021 dealership near you. 

Amongst the Toyota, Honda, Land Rover, Nissan, Ram, and Hyundai stood an Octane Red secret that couldn’t be spread until this week. It was hard to miss this passenger-hauling Mopar amongst the herd of freshly disinfected vehicles at the event, and even harder to ignore once the bright red ignition button was hit. This was the 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat, the FCA family’s latest member to join the Hellcat pride. 

This seven-passenger cul-de-sac-missile is equipped with a supercharged 6.2-liter HEMI SRT Hellcat V8 to rotate all-four wheels using 710 horsepower and 645 lb-ft of torque. That translates to zero to 60 in 3.5 seconds and capable of lighting up a quarter-mile in 11.5 seconds with a top speed of 180 mph and a max towing capacity of 8,700 pounds. 

This seven-passenger cul-de-sac-missile is equipped with a supercharged 6.2-liter HEMI SRT Hellcat V8 to rotate all-four wheels using 710 horsepower and 645 lb-ft of torque.

The famed Jeep Trackhawk is no longer the only Hellcat-powered SUV in the FCA household. Being at the Texas Truck Rodeo, organized by the Texas Auto Writers Association, offered me the chance to test drive the 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat. An opportunity of this caliber deserved the utmost professionalism and a heavy right foot. 

A steel windmill tower caught my peripheral while stepping into the suede interior of the Durango SRT. The old western vibe of Star Hill Ranch, being aware of the cowboy hat on my head. The fact that I was sitting inside a vehicle designed to transport multiple people at once got me thinking of stagecoaches. 

Getting across the prairie has come a long way from the era of steel springs, wooden wheels, four-horse teams, and double barrel shotguns. It’s easy to take for granted the simplistic luxury of pressing an ignition button instead of tugging on a set of reins. Foot on the brake, I listened for the spark that brought the 710 hp HEMI V8 into bellowing life. Suede on the steering wheel added a luxurious flair to the high-performance vibrations. A Charger/Challenger inspired console-mounted shifter provided the key to movement. 

The Hellcat supercharger plays lead vocals like AC/DC’s Bon Scott rehearsing “Whole Lotta Rosie” as you charge through the gears using its standard paddle-shifters.

On the street, the 2021 Durango SRT has a Dr. Jekyell and Mr. Hyde personality, and the trigger is your right foot. It behaves like a typical V8 powered SUV when you’re just puttering around town going with the flow of traffic. When the road opens up, and the streets go empty, the red mist descends as the rpm’s start to climb. Shoving your foot down to the floorboard unleashes the HEMI’s fury as the Durango’s all-wheel-drive grips and pulls this SUV forward like a prized fish caught on a lure. 

The Hellcat supercharger plays lead vocals like AC/DC’s Bon Scott rehearsing “Whole Lotta Rosie” as you charge through the gears using its standard paddle-shifters. There is a sincere delight in feeling this level of grunt, speed, and torque in a vehicle usually seen parked curbside at elementary drop-off zones. Unlike most of the other SUV’s sitting in that school area, the Durango SRT offers Launch Control with Launch Assist. The wide-body and flared wheel arches give this factory hotrod SUV a black leather jacket’s worth of attitude. 

Steering is not as precise as a scalpel but is sharp enough to deliver a close shave in the corners. All-wheel-drive does a great job helping the driver control the Durango’s weight while maneuvering through the ups and downs of Texas’ two-lane twisting country roads. During its default Auto Drive Mode, 60 percent of the engine’s torque is sent to the rear wheels and increases to 70 percent in Track mode. So while this is technically a full-time AWD vehicle, the system plays favorites with the rear wheels. 

If your head snaps back when you hit the gas, you better be prepared for it to jerk forward when you hit the brakes. Stopping power on the Durango SRT comes from a set of nearly 16-inch two-piece rotors and six-piston discs from Brembo in the front, with 13.75-inch rotors and four-piston disc brakes in the rear. With anchors this size, you’ll have no trouble yanking the chain on this Hellcat when it starts to pull. Rubber meets the road thanks to a set of Pirelli Scorpion Zero tires hugging 20-inch wheels, available in black. 

Looking over the bulbous hood with a functional air scoop is a constant reminder that you’re driving a vehicle that can play as hard as it works. Upfront, the Durango SRT Hellcat features cold-air intake in the spots usually reserved for fog-lights to feed a constant stream of O2 to feed the beast under the hood. 

The 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat is meant to be the kind of the kill in the Durango lineup. Naturally, the SRT features a premium interior with bolstered performance bucket seats wrapped in suede. Infotainment is managed via FCA’s Uconnect system on a 10.1-inch touch screen. Rear passengers get a set of captain’s seats with nine-inch HDMI Blu-ray screens to entire during long road trips. 

Who needs 710 hp to run hot laps to and from the grocery store? With a starting price of $80,995, it’s hard to justify this as a sensible family vehicle without adding passion into your logic.

Looking in the rearview mirror and seeing two rows of seats with the sound of supercharged Hemi humming in the backdrop makes one think of the ideal buyer and lifestyle for the Durango SRT Hellcat. Who needs 710 hp to run hot laps to and from the grocery store? With a starting price of $80,995, it’s hard to justify this as a sensible family vehicle without adding passion into your logic. So who is this vehicle for? Anyone who likes muscle cars but has a family is the obvious answer. However, a car like this usually supplements a lifestyle that presumably has a garage storing a vehicle that runs on menthol and needs to be trailered to events. A weekend adrenaline junkie.  

What the 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat offers is a cause for rebellion. Right now, there are plenty of options to choose from if you want a high-performance SUV: Jaguar F-Pace SUV, BMW X6 Competition, Lamborghini Urus, and Aston Martin DBX, to name a few. However, these SUVs usually speak of a boutique, luxury lifestyle. There is something grassroots about a Hemi V8 powered SUV from Dodge that makes one think of custom cowboy boots, hunting licenses, and a trailblazer way of thinking. 

Like the Ram 1500 TRX, the Durango SRT is a vehicle that speaks to this country’s ego. It’s a smart bomb with a dirty limerick written on the side, a seriously powerful vehicle with a sense of humor. The 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat is an SUV with the supercharged heart of a muscle car that can seat seven people, tackle a canyon road with confidence, and tow a trailer if needed. It’s an all-rounder Mopar.

*All photos by Jesus Garcia.

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