We’ve come to expect American car maker Dodge’s increasingly unusual uses for its now famed 710bhp supercharged V8 HEMI engine in Challenger and Chargers for a few years now, but this might just be its most puzzling application yet. It’s decided to go ahead and fit this monster petrol V8 to its family friendly Durango SUV, creating a 700bhp seven-seater.
The Durango itself is no longer the crude body-on-frame SUV it was in the ’90s, but this third-generation car can still trace its roots right back to 2010, when it was revealed on a more road-biased monocell chassis. The Durango shares its underpinnings with the Jeep Grand Cherokee, a model that’s also available with the supercharged HEMI engine, but while the Jeep is a quasi-premium brand SUV with just two rows of seating, the Durango’s always had a more family first approach.
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Specifications of the V8 are familiar from its use in other Hellcat models, with that aforementioned 700bhp power figure joined by a peak torque output of 645lb ft. Power is then transferred to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission, which again is shared with other Hellcat models.
As you’d hope, the chassis has also picked up a round of performance upgrades, including a set of Brembo brakes, recalibrated electric steering, and a specific suspension tune. However, any word on the sort of elements common to European high-performance SUVs such as active anti-roll systems, carbon-ceramic brakes and torque-shuffling differentials is notably absent from the spec sheet.
Instead, Dodge has given the Durango Hellcat a launch mode, and selectable driver modes that Dodge claims makes the Durango track ready. The performance figures do look impressive though, with the 0-60mph sprint taking 3.5sec, a standing quarter-mile being passed in 11.5sec and top speed arriving at 180mph.
Visually the Durango has a spread of bespoke design elements, mostly dedicated to either keeping the engine cool or attempting to keep the car on the ground. Bespoke bumpers front and rear, a pitched rear wing, bolstered sports seats, full-length racing stripes, and a set of 20-inch wheels wrapped in 295-section Pirelli all-season tyres all feature.
While high-performance SUVs are not unusual in 2020, the notion of a family oriented seven-seater with such performance is something much rarer. You might even say the Dodge Durango channels some of the eccentric energy first seen in the Mercedes R63 AMG from way back in 2007 – Merc’s bizarre six-seater executive people carrier that had a 6.2-litre AMG V8 wedged underneath its dashboard. Ironically, this Durango actually shares more than a few elements, including its underlying chassis, with the long-dead Mercedes, making it a model with perhaps more substance than we might give it credit for. If you’re after a Durango Hellcat in the UK through official channels though, things are looking unlikely, if for no other reason than its inability to pass any of the EU emissions regulations, ever.