What is it?

This is the Dodge Durango SRT – a fairly innocuous family SUV that’s been to the SRT finishing school. Whereas the standard Durango – a harmless family truck with seven seats – can be specced with a 3.6-litre V6 (or a 5.7-litre HEMI V8, if you must), this one is mean-looking, hunkered down and powered by the group’s monstrous 6.4-litre HEMI V8. As the world’s fastest three-row SUV, this is a family man who gets his kicks base-jumping.

Apart from that engine, which packs 475 bhp, underneath the angry styling lies some pretty serious engineering. There’s SLA independent front suspension, a specially tuned adaptive damping suspension system, and multi-link suspension at the back. The springs are 3% stiffer at the front, and 16% stiffer at the rear. And the rear-sway bar is 18% stiffer. Massive, high-performance Brembo brakes come as standard – six-piston at the front and four-piston at the back. The rubber wraps around 20-inch “Goliath” wheels and is from the Pirelli P Zero stock.

All of the power is fed through a fairly sophisticated four-wheel-drive traction control system that delivers seven driving modes – from Auto, Sport and Track to Snow, Tow, Valet and Eco. There’s launch control, too. As a result of all of this, the Durango SRT is much more than the standard car with a big engine; it’s a proper street racer. That it’s capable of ferrying a large family about in comfort is by-the-by.

How does it drive?

As with every other SRT car, the drive is dominated by that naturally aspirated, 6.4-litre V8. It’s a masterpiece, this engine. Whatever car it’s in, it creates an absolutely savage experience. It burbles away with the growl of a deranged hound when it’s idling. And when you gun it, you’re rewarded with the full T-Rex roar. By virtue of the engine being naturally aspirated, throttle response is pretty much instant. Blast it too hard without having mentally prepared, and you’ll find your eyes have rolled around to the side of your head – such is the backwards G-force this thing inflicts on its occupants.

The stats say that the Dodge Durango SRT will do 0-100 km/h in 4.6 seconds, but because the car’s so big and (relatively) unwieldy, it feels much faster. The combination of that crescendo of noise and the high driving position creates a rocket-ship sort of appeal – a feeling that you’re the fastest thing on four wheels. It’s intoxicating.

And that’s just when you’re in the Auto driving mode. Head into the sub-menus on the infotainment screen, select Track, and you’re in for an altogether more aggressive experience. Here, 70% of the 470 lb-ft of torque is sent to the rear wheels, and gearshifts are shortened to 160 ms. That doesn’t translate to a tail-happy, muscle-car drive, but it does mean you can take on corners at insane speeds. You’ll notice the systems wrestling with the car’s high centre of gravity, with quite a bit of obvious pitch and roll, but the tyres stay planted and the tracking stays accurate. It’s a bit of a bus (what large SUV isn’t?), but it’s mightily impressive, given the size of the thing.

It’ll stop well, too – those big Brembo brakes are pretty fade-resistant (important in such a large car). Certainly, they’re high-performance enough for long periods of road use – even if you constantly drive about as if your hair’s on fire.

And let’s not forget that this is still a practical, three-row car. You can spec your Durango SRT with either two luxurious racing seats in the second row, or a standard bench. All come with a pair of large third-row seats that are spacious enough for adults. Either way, you’re getting at least six people in very comfortably. The rear seats fold flat, and the middle seats fold up, creating a cavernous van of a car.

The ride also bears mentioning. While the Durango SRT has been fitted with sporty, stiffer suspension, it’s still as refined as you’d expect from an American family bus. Wind and tyre noise is kept to a minimum on the highway, and you’ll barely notice speed bumps – such are the bump-absorbing properties of the ride.

The one downside to the drive? That aggressive throttle. It’s fabulous for when you want to gun it, but when you’re just cruising about, you notice just how little play there is at the top. There’s a very fine line between setting off gently and simply lurching forward with all 475 bhp – even in Auto mode. You can cure this by setting the drive selector to Eco. But if you’re going to drive about in Eco mode, why have the SRT in the first place?

Interior quality and tech

If you’re familiar with any of the larger Jeep and Dodge models, you’ll recognise the Durango SRT’s interior in a heartbeat. The overall design is lifted straight from the standard Durango, which is itself a copy-paste job on the Jeep Grand Cherokee. This is no bad thing; while there’s not much beauty to the interior vibe, there’s a satisfying element of form following function.

Still, because this is the top-of-the-range SRT model, you do get some additional luxuries. The Laguna leather seats are fabulous, providing excellent support and comfort. And it’s not just the driver who benefits from this – you get pretty much the same seats across all three rows, which is a nice touch for passengers in the back. There’s an SRT steering wheel with leather trim, and while the fake leather atop the dash isn’t particularly convincing, it is integrated nicely into the overall design, with lovely stitching adding a touch of luxury.

Tech comes courtesy of the Fiat-Chrysler group’s UConnect system – still one of the best infotainment systems going. You get a big, 8.4-inch touch screen above the centre console. It controls everything – from the entertainment to the driving modes. Physical buttons and knobs are reserved only for the HVAC controls and the Beats by Dr Dre stereo volume.

The touch screen is responsive and easy to navigate through. But we’d have preferred a physical drive selector (like you get on the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT). Switching from Auto to Track, for instance, requires at least two actions (and perhaps more, depending where you’re starting from), which isn’t great if you suddenly happen upon a great piece of road and want to quickly take advantage of it.

Elsewhere, you get a plethora of USB ports and charging stations. There’s also an SD card slot for your media, and a DVD player on-board. Those link to two high-quality screens in the middle row. Or, if your passengers prefer, they can plug directly into the screens via an HDMI cable or a standard, three-pin AV connection. Either way, there’s no way your kids are getting bored in this car.

Running costs

You’ve got a 6.4-litre V8 powering a two-tonne SUV. You’re going to be paying a lot out in fuel. We’d reckon on about 600 km between fill-ups – if you’re careful. And the fuel tank isn’t small at 93 litres. At current UAE fuel prices, it’ll cost you around AED 230 to fill the car up.

On the plus side, insurance isn’t too bad. Budget around AED 6,000 to AED 7,000 for a decent fully comprehensive policy.

Our verdict

There’s something inherently silly about the Dodge Durango SRT. The normal Durango is sensible, well-priced and easy to live with. The SRT takes those qualities and throws them out of the window. What you get in return, though, is a glorious engine that deserves every piece of praise that’s heaped upon it. It may be silly, but we salute the entire endeavor. As for whether or not you should buy one: Well, if you’ve got three kids and you’re hankering after a performance car, the Dodge Durango SRT may be the answer.