2021 Dodge Durango R/T Review: The Brotherhood Of Muscle Is Strong, Yet Thirsty

  • Yep, it's got a Hemi
  • Rear DVD entertainment center a big plus for keeping the kids entertained on all trips
  • Android-based Uconnect 5 a sight for sore eyes
  • Surprisingly roomy third row
  • Made for highways and quarter-miles
  • Destroyer Gray paint not for everyone
  • That Hemi is thirsty, even with cylinder deactivation
  • No front camera to help guide the driver into tight parking lots

SUVs and crossovers come in all sorts of flavors these days. While utility is still one of the main draws to any given model, just what consumers seek beyond the obvious is as varied as the 31 flavors of a Baskin-Robbins. Some desire the most luxury and technology possible, such as that of the Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV. Others prefer to cut all of that out for a bare-bones, get-the-job-done machine, like the base Ford Explorer.

Then, there are customers who need muscle of a different sort. For them, the "Brotherhood of Muscle" that is Dodge comes through with the Durango. The lower trim levels (SXT, GT and GT Plus) make do with Stellantis' famed Pentastar 3.5-liter V6 as their sole option, though not one to sneeze at. The Citadel trim level, which offers both the Pentastar and the 5.7-liter version of the more famous Hemi V8, focuses on mixing a bit of luxury with the brute strength.

Meanwhile, the heaviest hitters in the Durango family (for the 2021 model year, at least) — the 392 and the SRT Hellcat — ram it down the quarter-mile and the open road with over six liters of raw Hemi V8 power: 6.4 liters for the 392, 6.2 liters plus a 2.83-liter supercharger for the SRT Hellcat.

Alas, the SRT Hellcat was a one-year-only machine, leaving the 392 as the top dog for 2022. There's still plenty of V8 goodness in the Durango family, though, and it starts with the Durango R/T, like the one that recently spent the week with me in the Old Dominion of Virginia.

Yep, it's got a Hemi!

The 2021 Dodge Durango R/T is one of four models to offer a Hemi V8 under the hood, and one of three to have no other engine options aside from said-Hemi. Unlike the 392's aforementioned 6.4-liter naturally aspirated version with 485 stallions in the stable, or the wild SRT Hellcat's 6.2-liter supercharged iron fist with 710 buff thunderhorses ready to beast all over the backstretch at Talladega, the R/T and R/T Plus make do with the 5.7-liter naturally aspirated engine. With 360 ponies and 390 lb.-ft. of torque at the ready, though, this muscle SUV can still go, dropping the hammer to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds, and tripping the lights at the end of the quarter-mile in 15 seconds.

Like all 2021 Durangos bar the SRT Hellcat (which is rear-drive only), the R/T can be had with rear- or all-wheel drive, with this particular Destroyer Gray example adopting the latter. Guiding the herd of muscle to all four 20x10-inch Hyperblack aluminum wheels — wrapped in Pirelli Verde Zeros — is an eight-speed automatic, while Stellantis' Multi-Displacement System does its best to keep fuel use down on the open road.

Alas, and especially with rising fuel prices still in the news, those horses are still plenty thirsty. In-town, the EPA estimates 14 miles will be logged per gallon, while 22 miles per gallon (mpg) can be expected on the highway; combined mpg is 17. As most of my driving was in-town, though, the best I managed was 13.4 mpg. Adding to the pain, my mom likely wasn't expecting to face $45 to fill half of the 24.6-gallon fuel tank when she offered to pay for gas after taking her to work on the final morning the Durango R/T was with me. Even with her employee discounts knocking off $1.05, and fuel prices back then being $4.36/gallon before the discount, it still hurt to see that on the receipt; it likely hurts even more now with regular approaching, if already crossing into, $5/gallon.

A Durango R/T movie theatre

Sometimes, the view outside the 2021 Durango R/T (or the sound of the Hemi V8) isn't enough to keep the kids in the back entertained. For $1,995, though, there can be another option to prevent potential fights in the second and third rows: the Rear DVD Entertainment Center. By checking this box, the Durango gains a Blu-Ray-compatible DVD player in the front center console, a set of video and audio ports in the sides of the front seats, and a pair of small flip-up screens planted in the rear portion of said-seats. A remote and two pairs of Uconnect-branded wireless headphones complete this entertainment system. Alas, I didn't get a chance to try this out in my driveway, as I didn't have any DVDs to play on it. Rival family haulers from Dodge's Stellantis siblings are already embracing baked-in streaming services like Amazon Video.

I did get to try out the third-row seating, though, and was surprised by how roomy it was with the second-row seats up. It helps that those seats can only fold forward for extra cargo room/provide easy access to the third row; thus, no one squeezing out third-row occupants. That said, I am 5-foot-6 with kinda short legs, so your mileage will vary. The third row in the Durango R/T mainly belongs to kids, short adults, and pets.

Room for all of the groceries, and more

Of course, whether you're rolling through town with the family to shop for groceries or heading across the country to Disneyland, you gotta have room for all of your belongings. With all of the seats up, 17.5 cubic feet of cargo room is available for daily errands. As seen above, the space is enough for a weekly shop. The automatic tailgate is nice, too, though there isn't a button on the tailgate itself to bring it down.

Speaking of, the tailgate can detect when something is likely to damage it, preventing it from closing or opening. I discovered this while shooting the Durango R/T at Draper Valley Overlook in Pulaski County, Virginia, where the sensors picked up "something," even though there was nothing there to cause the tailgate to not close; maybe they though the nearby bench was closer than where it was.

With the third row down, that 17.5 cubic feet grows to 43.4 cubic feet, which I made use of to haul away some things from my home that no longer sparked joy to my life. If I needed even more room, though, I could've dropped the second row seating to gain a total of 85.1 cubic feet. That's enough room for a Hellephant V8 crate engine, a set of drag radials, and all the tools you might need to get everything installed on your eight-second Challenger R/T Widebody drag car project. Or maybe several bags for a big trip.

Uconnect 5 takes OEM infotainment to the next level

The 2021 Dodge Durango R/T comes with a lot of tech goodies as standard, including a rear back-up camera, front and rear parking assist, automatic headlight levelling, and keyless entry. The $2,395 Technology Group package includes advanced braking assist, lane-departure warning and adaptive cruise control among its additions. A handsome seven-inch cluster display and 10.1-inch touchscreen provide all the infotainment anyone needs. And of course, the touchscreen comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as a trial of the SiriusXM Guardian safety and security system to protect you and yours whenever the need arises.

Alas, there were a few things lacking on this Durango I would've liked to have had, like a heads-up display and — just as, if not more, important — a front camera for helping guide this lumbering beast into tight parking spaces. Thankfully for the latter, the front clip of the SUV is just low and short enough for me to see the way through, but only just.

However, you might not want to always have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto on the 10.1-inch screen. Not after giving Uconnect 5 a try. Based on Android Oreo, the newest version of Uconnect is easy on the eyes. It looks a lot like Android Auto, though different enough to stand on its own from Big Daddy Google's own offering. Who knew all anyone had to do to get consumers to use their OEM infotainment systems was to drop BlackBerry for Android? It also helps that the Atlantis architecture running Uconnect 5 is as buff as the stallions pulling this wagon down the road, thanks to the Samsung 50K MIPS processor with 64 GB of solid-state storage and 6 GB of RAM holding it down under the Ultra HD display. I know that I'll be using the new OEM system more often in any Stellantis product going forward. 

Durango looks good at 25

Just a quarter-century ago, Dodge delivered its first Durango models to the world. That machine, based on the Dodge Dakota with bits from then-Chrysler Corporation's minivan parts bin, was a muscle SUV from the start, thanks to the 4.7-liter and successor 5.7-liter Magnum V8, as well as the R/T's 5.9-liter Magnum V8. Though a handsome child in its first iteration, the Durango would go through its awkward phase early in its second generation between 2004 and 2006, before a facelift fixed things somewhat for the 2007 model year into the final year in 2009.

After a year-long break, the third and current-gen Durango emerged in late 2010 for the 2011 model year, casting off its Dakota past by sharing its present with the Jeep Grand Cherokee. The 2014 model year introduced a refreshed face and sportier looks to an already potent package.

It's taken 25 years, then, before you can have a Durango R/T like this one, which came with the $4,995 Tow N Go towing package (which I never made use of, since I didn't have anything to tow), for a total sticker of $67,142; base price for the R/T is $48,927. Some may love the Destroyer Gray paint (a $395 option), but most owners won't be thrilled visiting gas stations for this SUV's fuel habits, especially in the days of rising prices at the pump. Throw in the push for electrification on all sides, and there will come a day when the last of the V8s roars out of the assembly line, followed by the silence of absurd electric power (which Dodge is definitely down for starting in 2024).

Perhaps the Durango will see a fourth, completely electric, generation by the end of the 2020s. Perhaps this is the end of the line for this muscle SUV. Either way, we should definitely raise a glass for this member of the "Brotherhood of Muscle," for we'll never see the likes of this machine ever again.