Car Review: Dodge Durango SRT 392 is a family hauler with disguised muscle

WASHINGTON — Usually when a car fanatic outgrows his or her fun muscle car, it gets parked and used only on special occasions or, more likely, traded in for something family-friendly.

That new vehicle is usually an SUV or crossover — both do well as family haulers — but the driving isn’t quite as fun. Until now.

Enter the 475 horsepower Dodge Durango SRT 392, which turns that family hauler into a fun machine for six.

Before this, you could find powerful SUVs but were out of luck if you needed more than five seats. Now Dodge has stuffed the 475 horsepower SRT engine in the Durango.

Unlike the rear-wheel-drive Dodge cars that share this engine, the Durango SRT has all-wheel-drive. All the power from the 475 horsepower makes it to the ground, making this large SUV quicker than a big family SUV ought to be.

The sound of the Hemi engine is something else, and there’s good rumble even at idle. The eight-speed automatic allows quick shifts and smooth gear changes. Keep in mind, however, that a big V-8 with a lot of power does not make for good fuel economy. I managed 15.1 mpg for my week of driving, which is exactly what the sticker promised. But if you tow — the Durango will haul up to 8700 lbs.– it will get considerably less. The trade off is that most crossovers and smaller SUVs won’t be able to pull that kind of load.

Compared to other Durangos, the Durango SRT is beefed up with big Brembo brakes and a tighter suspension. While it’s no sports car, the Durango SRT handles well — although it feels a bit weighty when pushed. For those used to a midsize SUV, remember the Durango is large, and maneuvering it can take some getting used to if you’re coming from a smaller vehicle.

A sporty muscle car should look cool and so should a muscled-up SUV. Checking in at $71,670 as tested, the Durango SRT has a sinister look with blacked-out trim pieces and grill. The hood doesn’t say “this is my family ride.” With a big air scoop and vents on either side, it hints of the power lying underneath. Even the 20-inch wheels are black. They come with wide, low-profile tires that look like they belong on a muscle car more than the family truckster from National Lampoon’s “Vacation.”

The Granite Metallic paint is darker, but offers a nice contrast with all the blacked-out trim pieces. Other than the cool hood and a few badges it’s still a bit low-key in its sportier aspirations. There are no gaudy spoilers or special body kits, just some larger exhaust pipes that do the talking for this Durango.

You might think the Durango SRT may skimp on the inside, but that’s not the case at all. Clad with leather-trimmed bucket seats with Alcantera inserts, the front seats are heated and ventilated — even the back-seat captain’s chairs are heated. My ride came with the SRT Appearance package which gives you real carbon fiber trim pieces and a leather-covered dash that looks and feels nice.

Other materials are soft-touch and quality. Most Durango models have seven seats, but the SRT with those comfortable captain’s chairs can seat just six. A bench seat isn’t an option, unless you lose the third row, defeating the purpose of this large SUV. The third row works for adults and it’s easier to get back to than in many midsize crossovers.

The Uconnect with NAV and a large 8.4-inch touch screen is easy to use and responds quickly. This Durango is Apple CarPlay and Andriod Auto capable. The Rear DVD entertainment center with two screens means one passenger can watch a movie while the other plays games. Other technology and safety features are competitive in this class.

Power-hungry enthusiasts don’t have to suffer with boring family hauler status anymore. The Dodge Durango SRT 392 now checks the powerful V-8 desire while combining the well-rounded utility needs of a larger SUV.

Mike Parris is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association. The vehicles are provided by DriveShop, FMI or Motus One for the purpose of this review.

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