2018 Dodge Durango SRT, Durango Citadel Review: The 3-Row Family SUV with a Muscle Car’s Heart

A touch of Jekyll and Hyde make the 475-horsepower Dodge Durango one of the most unexpected—and appreciated—rides this year.

byKyle Cheromcha|

Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whatever The Drive writers happen to be driving. Today's edition is a twofer: The 2018 Dodge Durango SRT and the Durango Citadel Anodized Platinum. (Yes, really, that's the name.)

"Just so you know, there were a number of rocks in the road when we ran it earlier this morning to scout it for you guys. And it's pretty cold up there. So, just be aware."

Not exactly the thing you want to hear when you're about to hop in a 475-horsepower Dodge Durango SRT and run the full length of Angeles Crest Highway, one of the best-known, technically-challenging driving roads in the country. But when someone tosses you the keys to a high-performance studio apartment and points toward the mountains, you try not to ask too many questions. You just hope to stay alive.

2018 Dodge Durango SRT, Kyle Cheromcha

Booby-trapped route aside, the Dodge Durango SRT seems like a questionable choice for an Angeles Crest cruiser. It's big, heavy, and essentially the exact opposite of the exquisite canyon carvers one usually associates with a road like this. But a funny thing happens on the way to the cliff's edge; the adaptive suspension sticks the truck to the twisting tarmac like a kindergarten glue project, the 6.4-liter Hemi V8 roars through the high-altitude air, and the rear-biased all-wheel-drive system saves my behind after I let the truck's swing out way too far through a gravel-strewn turn. Oops.

Like the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, its brother from another mother, the Durango SRT is a hilariously-overwrought piece of functional ass-kickery. It's what you get when you stuff a massive engine from a muscle car into a three-row crossover, and it's one of the most ridiculous family vehicles you can buy today. This isn't a precious project from a performance marquee like Porsche or Mercedes-AMG. No, this is 17 feet of rolling American thunder that can sprint from 0 to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds on its way to an NHRA-certified 12.9-second quarter mile time.

2018 Dodge Durango Citadel Anodized Platinum, Kyle Cheromcha

You don't need me to tell you that a sport-tuned SUV with a sonorous V8 is going to be a good time. But as great as it would be to dial up launch control on the way to the kid's soccer practice, though, far more buyers end up in something like the Dodge Durango Citadel Anodized Platinum, the model's less-intense luxury trim with far too long a name. If you take out the cartoonish lunacy of the SRT, is the Durango still worth a second pass? 

To find out, I followed up my Angeles Crest drive by spending a week bouncing all over Southern California with the Citadel. Spoiler alert: Even sans SRT bits, this stretched Grand Cherokee is a surprising hoot.

The Pros

  • Man, that free-breathing 6.4-liter V8 engine in the Durango SRT is good. It's the same powerplant found in several trims of the Charger and Challenger, and wouldn't you know, it sounds exactly the same. 475 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque are perfect numbers for the truck's most common use—embarrassing many sports cars at stoplights—without making the behemoth too much to handle. And even the smaller 5.7-liter V8 in the Citadel makes for a great time. Both engines offer a split personality experience: There's little vibration or excess noise at low speeds; stomp on it, though, and you (and everyone in a two-block radius) are reminded of what you're packing.
  • The Durango has always been a favorite among the towing crowd, and the SRT's 8,700-pound tow capacity is sure to get a few people interested. Imagine: You haul your race car to the track, only it won't start. What do you do? Race the tow vehicle instead. The Citadel can pull slightly less (7,200 lbs), but it still offers more grunt than most will ever need. Combine a trailer with the impressive 47.7 cubic feet of cargo room behind the second row of seats and you have a vehicle that can haul an impressive amount of stuff.
  • You can get a red leather interior in the Durango SRT. That might be a little much for some, but if I'm ordering a f*ck-you SUV, I'm going all out. The rest of the inside is standard family fare; available captain's chairs and flip-up screens on the back of the front seats make the second row the real seat of power here. And blessedly, UConnect remains one of the better OEM infotainment systems out there.
  • Unlike some family flatbacks, the Durango is an SUV you'll actually enjoy driving. I spent the better part of an afternoon with the Durango SRT looping Angeles Crest Highway, and then a week driving the Citadel nearly 800 miles around Southern California for various assignments. Never once did I find myself wishing for a shorter drive, or wanting to switch to something faster or more traditionally "fun." I'll go to my deathbed defending SUVs as ideal road trip vehicles, and thanks to a well-insulated cabin and that thumpin' V8, the Durango is my new Exhibit A. (Just ignore the fuel economy—more on that below)
  • It's hard to forget that you're hustling almost three tons of truck through the turns, even in the Durango SRT, but it corners far flatter than you'd expect. Beefy Brembo brakes with six-piston calipers up front provide confidence-boosting stopping power. But even in the Citadel, it's the rear-wheel-drive based powertrain and the strong platform (it's related to the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, a product of the unholy Daimler-Chrysler union) that make it quite engaging to to drive.
  • Launch control in a three-row crossover? Get out of here. But come back quick, so I can have another turn.
2018 Dodge Durango SRT, Kyle Cheromcha

The Cons

  • I appreciate that Dodge has done its best to maintain the classic two-box SUV shape here, even though it looks like it's melting a little. But the back end is seriously uninspired, especially in SRT trim. I don't want my 475-horsepower SUV to look like a Grand Caravan from the rear. It's actually kind of impressive how the company has moved beyond its parts-bin-raiding past, and still made the back end of the Durango look like it was cobbled together out of spare bits.
  • As an eight-year-old truck, it's behind the times in a few areas. There's a manual foot-operated parking brake, which I appreciate—but many do not. There's no panoramic roof option, either, and none of the active safety features found on the competition come standard. The whole interior looks nice on the highest trims when it's wrapped in stitched leather and soft-touch surfaces...but it's not $60,000-nice on the Citadel. And in a weird flip of the old-vs-new clash, you can't order the SRT with an old-school bench in the second row to seat seven like you can on every other trim.
  • Boy, the SRT is thirsty. The EPA projects about 15 miles per gallon combined thanks to that giant 392-cubic-inch engine, which I can tell you is not an accurate figure when you're flogging the bejesus out of it at 7,000 feet. I nearly drained a full tank running a 150-mile loop of Angeles Crest Highway. That's to be expected, but the Citadel's 17 mpg combined isn't much better. The Pentastar V6 doesn't drink as much...but it's also far less fun.
  • The Durango SRT has a pretty stiff ride that prioritizes handling over ride comfort. It's not uncomfortable per se, but it's noticeably rougher than the Citadel, regardless of driving mode. That kind of comes with the "performance SUV" territory, but it's something to watch out for. General Motors' magnetic ride shocks offer a far better balance in its RST trucks.
  • It goes without saying that the SRT is almost useless off-road, and the Citadel isn't far behind. Its 16.3-degree approach angle and eight-ish inches of ground clearance aren't going to be much help on a trail, nor will the low-profile tires. Ergo, the Durango is crying out for an off-road-focused trim. The optional Trailer Tow package also adds a few skidplates, and every AWD model except the SRT can be locked into an ersatz "low range"...but borrow some tech from Jeep and be done with it, Dodge. The market is ready.
2018 Dodge Durango SRT, Kyle Cheromcha

The 2018 Dodge Durango SRT, Ranked

Performance: 4.5/5

Comfort: 4/5

​​​​Luxury: 4/5

Hauling people: 4/5

Hauling stuff: 5/5

Curb appeal: 4/5

“Wow” factor: 4.5/5

Overall: 4.5/5

2018 Dodge Durango Citadel Anodized Platinum, Kyle Cheromcha

The 2018 Dodge Durango Citadel, Ranked

Performance: 4/5

Comfort: 4/5

​​​​Luxury: 4/5

Hauling people: 4/5

Hauling stuff: 4/5

Curb appeal: 4/5

“Wow” factor: 3/5

Overall: 4/5

2018 Dodge Durango Citadel Anodized Platinum, Kyle Cheromcha

The Bottom Line

Honestly, I didn't expect to enjoy the Dodge Durango—in either form—as much as I did. Turns out the secret to curing the crossover blues is to make them all rear-wheel-drive-based vehicles with V8 engines. (I'll take my Nobel now, thanks.) This is the first time I've driven a unibody SUV that used to be a tough body-on-frame truck and not wished for it to return to its humble roots. In both aggro SRT and luxe Citadel editions, the Dodge Durango is a proper homage to a hazy time when both sales success and respect at the stoplight could be distilled down to a single question: That thing got a Hemi?

Yep, it sure does. But it's also got a lot of other things going for it too, like a tight chassis, nearly-unrivaled towing capacity, and of course, that third row of seats. Around town, the Durango carries itself with the same desirably-unremarkable driving experience found across the family shuttle class of crossovers. Then you lean on the throttle, and you remember that there's something a bit different about this one—something that has a smile dancing on your lips as your right foot grows heavy.

So while that wonderful exhaust note remains a prominent selling point, it's the way the Durango balances its ridiculous inner child with the duties of everyday family driving that really define this vehicle. Consider it the anti-minivan: an SUV that can equally accommodate a growing family without plunging Mom and Dad into an existential crisis on the fleeting nature of youth. Remember, this sucker can pull four tons in SRT form; that's enough for your emotional baggage and a whole lot of real baggage to boot.

It's ironic, then, that the only thing that winds up tripping up the Durango is time. The current generation debuted all the way back in 2011, and though it's a credit to the platform and the updates Dodge's engineers have stuffed in there that it drives as well as it does, there's a new wave of challengers on the horizon. To take just a single example, Ford is reportedly returning the Explorer to a rear-wheel-drive platform, while its new Expedition has been well-received by journalists and buyers alike.

A few new variants might keep things fresh until the next Durango is ready for the spotlight, like an off-road-focused model or one with a true Hellcat engine. Until then, let the band play on. I've always been a sucker for the classics.

2018 Dodge Durango SRT, Kyle Cheromcha

The 2018 Dodge Durango SRT, By the Numbers

Price (as tested): $64,090 ($74,995)

Powertrain: 6.4-liter naturally-aspirated V8 engine, 475 horsepower, 470 pound-feet of torque; eight-speed automatic transmission; all-wheel-drive

Fuel Economy: 13 mpg city/19 highway/15 combined

Curb Weight: 5,510 pounds

Cargo Capacity: 84.5 cubic feet with second and third row folded down, 47.7 cubic feet with the third row folded, and 17.2 cubic feet with all seats up.

Towing Capacity: 8,700 pounds

0-60 MPH: 4.4 seconds

Quarter-mile time: 12.9 seconds

Top Speed: 155 mph

Amount of fuel burned on a spirited loop of Angeles Crest Highway: All of it

2018 Dodge Durango Citadel Anodized Platinum, Kyle Cheromcha

The 2018 Dodge Durango Citadel, By the Numbers

Price (as tested): $50,135 ($59,115)

Powertrain: 5.7-liter naturally-aspirated V8 engine; 360 horsepower, 390 pound-feet of torque; eight-speed automatic transmission; rear-wheel-drive (all-wheel-drive with lockable "low range" optional)

Fuel Economy: 14 mpg city/22 highway/17 combined (midrange 89 octane recommended)

Curb Weight: 5,417 pounds

Cargo Capacity: 84.5 cubic feet with second and third row folded down, 47.7 cubic feet with the third row folded, and 17.2 cubic feet with all seats up.

Towing Capacity: 7,200 pounds

0-60 MPH: 5.6 seconds (Car & Driver testing)

Number of times I stomped on it unnecessarily just to hear the Hemi sing: 19