2020 Dodge Durango Pursuit Review: Driving a Police Car Will Teach You a Lot About People
The highs and lows of a week with a police car.
If understanding someone requires walking a mile in their shoes, what can you learn from driving 400 miles in their car? More than you might think—and we're not talking about personal hygiene or deferred maintenance. It only took a few hours behind the wheel of the 2020 Dodge Durango Pursuit, a civvy Durango dressed for agency-agnostic police duty, to see that the roads are a completely different place on the other side of the badge.
Among the many insane things Fiat-Chrysler does is loan out examples of their police vehicles for review, which is how we ended up driving one around Indianapolis for a week this fall. The prospect of using a cop car as a daily driver sounded cool at first even if the lights and sirens were off-limits on public roads. But the total experience is far more complex than having cool gadgets or spooking speeders. Driving an SUV that looks like it genuinely belongs in a police department can be hilarious, disturbing, and heart-warming, sometimes all in the same afternoon.
2020 Dodge Durango Pursuit, By the Numbers
- Base Price (as tested): $36,476 ($39,142)
- Powertrain: 5.7-liter V-8 | 360 horsepower, 390 pound-feet of torque | Eight-speed automatic transmission | Rear-wheel drive with optional on-demand four-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 360 hp @ 5,150 rpm
- Torque: 390 lb-ft @ 4,250 rpm
- 0-60 mph: 7.1 seconds
- Top Speed: 118 mph
- Ground Clearance: 8.1 inches
- Quick Take: It's a V-8 Durango, and a window on humanity.
To understand our experience we must first understand the hardware. It all begins in Brampton, Ontario, where the Durango Pursuit rolls off the same assembly line as its Charger Pursuit sibling. The regular electrical system is upgraded with a 220-amp alternator, an 800 CCA (cold cranking amp) battery from the Ram Cummins Diesel, and heavy duty wiring harness to support aftermarket lights, sirens, and other accessories. The stripped-down interior has cloth seats, vinyl floormats, and a simplistic center console on which everything from rifle racks to laptop holders can be mounted. Other unique police-spec interior touches include red and white auxiliary dome lights and front seats with carved-out bolsters to accommodate officers' duty belts.
Don't look for a cop motor here. The optional 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 (the venerable 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 is standard) is identical to the civilian unit, though it's bolstered by extra oil and transmission coolers and a durable water pump. Likewise the eight-speed automatic transmission is the same as the normal SUV. The mechanical upgrades are rounded out with speed-rated tires, a unique front fascia with special brake cooling ducts, and a certified speedometer. Zero to 60 times with the V-8 lie in the low-seven-second range, and top speed is limited to 118 mph.
That part of the transformation takes place in house—at this point, the $36K Durango Pursuit still just looks like the basest of base models from the outside, with the exception of the high-flow grille from the R/T and SRT models. So it then heads to the nearby Mopar upfit center for ordered extras like emergency lights, siren and public-address systems, gun racks, A-pillar spotlights, push bars, prisoner partitions, and even bulletproof armor and glass meeting NIJ Level III standards. Agencies often use local shops to create their patrol vehicles as well, and Dodge produces a technical guide to help them build out the Durango Pursuit to meet any imaginable need.
What's cool here is that in many ways, the Dodge Durango Pursuit follows the old cruiser formula of building on a big V-8 family car. It's pretty much a Dodge Durango Citadel—that's the $44,000 mid-upper trim, with extras like heated leather captain's chairs, automatic three-zone climate control, and an Alpine stereo system—stripped down to a bare interior and strengthened with those engine and electrical upgrades. The normal options tree doesn't apply here, either. Departments can add skid plates and heavy-duty tow packages, two additions that are usually off limits on the Citadel or R/T from which the Pursuit borrows its high-flow grille. The police version can also be had with a genuine two-speed transfer case instead of the single-speed AWD system on most other trims.
If you wanted to grab a used police car for a silly project in ten years the way people enjoy messing with old Crown Victoria Interceptors or Caprice 9C1s, you could do much worse than a Durango Pursuit. From a driving perspective, none of the changes make any measurable difference around town except in wind noise, and generally speaking a rear-wheel-drive V-8 Durango isn't a bad time at all. Whatever weight the prisoner partition, lighting, and push bar add are negligible for the Hemi. It's hard to overstate how right it feels to hear those eight cylinders thrum in a police car. Just really classic stuff. The only disappointment is that it doesn't feel (and in fact isn't) faster or meaner than its streetwear counterpart, especially considering something like the Explorer-based Ford Interceptor Utility will do 137 mph. And the 180-mph Durango SRT? That'll walk away from the Pursuit.
We know, it's not as cool as a hot-rodded sedan. But cops are buying SUVs for the same reasons we all are. "Similar to the retail market, law enforcement has been transitioning into SUVs, primarily driven by the increased amount of equipment personnel are required to have with them as they do their job," FCA Police and Emergency Response Vehicles Manager David Callery told us. Today's saloons just aren't cutting it.
The Highs and the Lows
As a police officer warned us at the outset of the review, fellow drivers are never happy to see a police car—be it because they want to speed, or they've got an expired something, or there's a warrant out for their arrest, or because they simply don't like the aura of intimidation cast by those red and blue lights. Even when they're off, those lights are still a magnet for strong feelings. A self-evident observation, yes, but one you don't think about when you're driving the target of those feelings. Liveried in this generic cop uniform, the Durango could've easily belonged to any local agency even though the word "POLICE" is absent on the side.
We'll start with a lighter moment, like when a speeding Subaru WRX came flying down the highway in the left lane, easily doing 100 mph until the driver caught a glimpse of us on the right. We could actually see the pain on his face in our mirror as his body strained against the seatbelt in the massive braking effort. He then tucked in behind the Durango and remained at the exact legal speed limit before exiting the interstate in a few miles. That was just one of countless speeders chastened during our test drive.
That was the fun part. Markedly less fun was having four young guys in a Honda Fit roll past, lower their windows, and give us the finger (yes, all four individual middle fingers) for literally no reason. The Durango Pursuit also prompted random shouts of anger or frustration from others, along with more indecent hand gestures we never knew existed.
No one likes to see a cop in their rearview mirror, whether you've done something wrong or not. No one.
It's a sharp reminder that of all the social problems facing our country, the tension between civilians and police is among the most palpable. We're not here to get into the politics, but at the same time, the complexities of life we euphemistically group under "politics" are impossible to avoid for police (or anyone driving a police car, for that matter). Wheeling around in a Durango Pursuit won't give you a crystal clear view of the thin blue line. What it will do is provide a tiny window into the fraught exchanges police officers—and their cruisers—have with the public on a daily basis.
There were happy moments, too. People thanked us for our service at stoplights and gas stations. (Talk about a guilt trip.) Little kids looked at the car's lights and decals with genuine admiration and at its barred rear windows with gleeful terror; it was the hit of the school drop-off line. During one visit to the grocery store, an older man walked up to report that his bicycle had just been stolen while he was inside shopping. After handling the awkward conversation to explain we couldn't actually help him, we let him borrow our phone to call the real police and get the help he deserved.
Durango Does the Work
Enthusiasts understand that great cars evoke real emotions in people, but for the unobsessed majority, even a rolling work of art is nothing more than a means of transportation between Points A and B. But police cars are in a league of their own in terms of the positive and negative reactions they draw—not because of what they look like, exactly, but because of what they represent. That's never more obvious than when you're in the driver's seat.
Unfortunately, for the rest of us that often clouds understanding of and appreciation for what these cruisers actually are: great cars. The 2020 Dodge Durango Pursuit is basic and overengineered and unlike any new car we've driven, in its entirely functional approach to performance. Beyond the spec sheet, it's one of the most capable-feeling SUVs you (can't) buy; there's a mental trick to the cop-spec parts that makes it feel up to any challenge in civilian life. After all, it does everything for officers—protects them, carries their gear, gets them home safely at the end of the shift. In that regard, you might say it's the most important car of all.
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