How to make a boring SUV sing

There’s an old hot-rod car culture adage, “there’s no replacement for displacement.” The Dodge Durango is one of the most mundane, boring, average and unremarkable SUV’s on the market and it’s one of our least favorite in the segment. So what happens when you replace the boring V6 with a snarling 5.7-liter V8? Well, it goes from zero to hero, that’s what happens! Rated at a modest 360hp, the telling 390ft-lb of torque means that it actually feels quicker than advertised. Torque is what you really feel leaving a stoplight and this R/T leaves stoplights with authority and the accompanying V8 rumble is music to our ears.

Even with such a glorious engine, this Durango is not without its faults. We’ve never been a fan of the design, but the R/T treatment makes things a bit more appealing to look at. Inside, there are some nice materials and touches, but thin plastics give it an overall cheap feel. With a starting price of over $46,000 for the AWD version, there’s room for interior improvement. We dig the available red leather seats, but the embroidered ‘R/T’ on the seatback is a bit much. The plastic “aluminum” trim on the dash not only feels low-end, it just looks cheap. There’s also a mashup of too many different textures and finishes.

The infotainment system is good; we have no complaints about FCA’s Uconnect system. There are a ton of apps and available features in the somewhat cluttered menus. However, Android Auto and Apple Carplay connectivity mean your mobile device becomes a part of the experience. There are plenty of connections, outlets and entertainment features, including available 9-inch rear-seat LCD displays. There’s plenty of tech in here to go around and keep the whole family entertained.

Not only the family will be entertained, the driver will be as well. The willing engine is paired to a competent handling platform and an exceptional 8-speed automatic with steering wheel mounted paddles. The shift feel and directness of this gearbox has made the word “automatic” less of a dirty word in many FCA vehicles and is just as capable here. Having the wrong gearbox, or even just gearbox calibration, can ruin the best engine. But here, it actually ADDS to the experience instead of taking away.

Unfortunately, all that fun comes at a price at the gas pumps. Rated at 14mpg City, 22mpg Highway, we never saw anything close to those numbers – mainly because it’s so much fun to put your right foot down! You find yourself dipping into the throttle and, just because it feels so good, snicking down a couple gears all the time! If anyone ever doubted the power of a great engine, it was able to make us like a Durango – that’s powerful stuff.

When you put the Durango R/T into the context of the SUV marketplace, it fills a special niche. There are tons of bland, boring choices – some of which are just as fast, many of which have just as much room and even more features. But there’s something about the hot-rod feeling that makes this special and, if 360hp isn’t enough for you, an extra $16,000 will buy you the mental Durango SRT with 475hp. The fact that Dodge is giving us the hopped up examples of one of the most boring cars ever made is a testament to the commitment Dodge has made to performance and pleasing enthusiasts. You may have to visit the gas pumps more often, but you’ll sound really good powering away from them!