A Dodge Durango might be one of the last vehicles you'd want to drive on an angry lap of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's in-field road course. It's a 3-row crossover SUV, designed for school runs rather than running down the front straight. And yet, I'm doing just that, thundering (the wrong way) over the yard of bricks and doing my best impression of the countless legends that have driven this same track.
But unlike the Andrettis and Foyts, the V-8 engine note echoing off the canyon-like grandstands belongs to a hulking SUV with leather-and-suede upholstery, a kick-ass sound system, and heated seats. The 2018 Dodge Durango SRT takes all we love about Dodge's in-house tuning arm—garish looks and awesome performance—and applies it to a big, family-sized SUV.
An Uneasy Start
I start my lap of Indy in the pit lane, where the Durango SRT's amplified looks present an impressive figure. With flared wheel arches, unique 20-inch wheels, a scooped hood with functional vents, a blacked-out grille, and 4.0-inch exhausts, there's no mistaking SRT's work here. I select a menacing black example, open the door, and climb into obnoxious, brick-red seats.
The Durango shares its leather-and-suede chairs with the Grand Cherokee SRT. They're big and heavily bolstered, but also wide enough to be comfortable over the long haul. On the faster bends around IMS, the seats hold you tight, like you wished your high-school crush would. I put my hands on SRT's familiar flat-bottomed steering wheel—I still don't really like the tiny, oddly placed paddle shifters—and then slotted the t-shaped shifter into drive.
Like the seats and steering wheel, the Durango shares its entire powertrain with the Grand Cherokee SRT. ZF's excellent 8-speed automatic channels the 6.4-liter V-8's 475 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque to an all-wheel-drive system that can shunt 70 percent of the power to the rear axle. The new powertrain also increases the towing capacity to 8,700 pounds, the most of any three-row SUV, including the truck-based Chevrolet Tahoe.
An active damper system works alongside firmer front and rear springs—3 and 16 percent, respectively—and a stiffer rear sway bar, while Brembo branded brakes with 15.0-inch rotors in front have the same stopping power as a Desert Eagle. Ignore the tall body and focus on these elements, because in conjunction, they're great…mostly.
Accelerating out of the pit lane, the Durango SRT exhibits a degree of schizophrenia. The throttle response is delightfully aggressive in Track mode while the 6.4-liter sings a bassy, burly song. These are both very good things when lapping Indy's road course, but they come at the expense of public-road manners.
There, the throttle response feels over-caffeinated, even in the default Auto mode. It's hard to accelerate from a stop smoothly, or to really deploy any of the engine's power—the Durango SRT constantly feels eager, for better or worse. The engine's constant shouting grates, as well. Dodge should really offer a dual-mode exhaust to hush the Durango SRT up in everyday driving.
Dodge married Indy's old Grand Prix course with its current MotoGP course—what we were running was closer to the MotoGP route, but we ran clockwise, like Formula One did.