Durango Hellcats, Charger Redeyes and Challenger Super Stocks — oh my. Dodge’s 2021 lineup may be leaner, but it packs the horsepower.
The next model year marks a new phase for the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV brand as it focuses on high-profit performance vehicles, said Tim Kuniskis, FCA’s head of passenger vehicles in North America. Gone are the Journey crossovers and Caravan minivans in favor of more supercharged engine options to satisfy a loyal niche group of customers. Pricing for the vehicles has not been announced.
“2021 marks the year that we’ve distilled our models to the highest levels of performance across our entire lineup,” Kuniskis said ahead of a virtual event on Thursday showcasing updates to the vehicles. “Three muscle cars you think you may know all about, but we continue to keep them fresh, keep the surprises coming by embracing our strength and giving our passionate, engaged and very vocal performance enthusiasts exactly what they want: more performance.”
Hot off its tie with Kia for the highest-ranking brand in new-car quality, according to J.D. Power, Dodge is positioning itself as the Porsche of FCA, said Karl Brauer, an auto analyst and executive publisher at Kelley Blue book, especially as Fiat Chrysler looks to merge with French automaker Groupe PSA, maker of Peugeot and Citroën. Combined, they would have 13 brands — more than any other worldwide automaker.
“The reason Porsche can be what it is is because there are so many brands under the Volkswagen AG flag,” Brauer said. “They can handle all other needs like fuel efficiency and volume, so Porsche can be focused on being a performance brand, not sell as many cars and move up in quality scores.
“Dodge is getting rid of the Darts, Stratuses, some of these old cars to focus on just performance. All those buyers love that Dodge is focused on performance, and they’re starting to benefit from the customers they have developed over the past five-plus years.”
In that time, Dodge has nearly doubled its horsepower levels and the number of gears in vehicle transmissions. It also has added performance variances to appeal to a wider range of customers, and its core vehicles exist so that individuals and families can grow within the brand.
“We could have used those investments and added much higher levels of driver convenience and technology,” Kuniskis said. “But I think if I spoke to every Dodge intender and gave them the option, ‘Do you want tech for tech’s sake or tech for performance sake?’ I think everyone is going to take the power. It’s just who they are.”
Leading the way of the new Dodge are updates to the three-row Durango, including a refresh of the interiors and exterior. Joining the Challenger and Charger, the muscle car for families gets its own Hellcat engine for the first time. Dodge’s most powerful SUV, the 6.2 liter Hemi V-8 engine with an eight-speed automatic transmission delivers 710 horsepower and 645 pound-feet of torque. The vehicle can accelerate to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds and has a top speed of 180 mph.
The Durango SRT Hellcat, however, is only available for the 2021 model year. Come 2022, the Hellcat does not meet evaporative emission regulations for the Durango’s platform, though it will be able to continue on other vehicles. Orders will open in the fourth quarter for the Durango Hellcat with production set to launch in January. The six-month run is expected produce fewer than 2,000 vehicles, Kuniskis said.
The 2021 Durango also gets a Challenger-inspired driver-centric cockpit with updates to the instrument panel, door panels and center console. A new 10.5-inch infotainment screen will support the redesigned Uconnect 5 Android-powered software that is customizable and comes enabled with Amazon.com Inc.’s Alexa voice-control assistant. The system also has a redesigned street-racing technology dashboard to access details on vehicle performance such as g-force gauges, configurable drive modes and race options to adjust revolutions per minute.
Exterior styling updates provide a forward-leaning profile reflective of the Charger Widebody with new headlamps, grille, hood and rear spoiler. The Durango R/T with a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 engine also offers a new Tow N Go package that can pull up to 8,700 pounds. Dealer orders for most Durango options begin this summer for arrivals in the fall.
Meanwhile, although their architecture and design are based on the Chrysler LX platform that debuted for the 2005 model year, Dodge continues to find new ways to keep the Challenger and Charger of interest. In 2019, Charger sales increased 21% year-over-year and had its best fourth quarter since 2007. Challenger sales fell 9% for the year.
“They cultivate a kind of image, and there’s a steady flow of customers for what those vehicles represent,” Brauer said. “What they consider timeless is that performance-oriented muscular image. That’s what they want, and I would add of the vehicles that most consistently and successfully do that, those three models (including the Durango) come to mind.”
Dodge seeks to up the ante by offering the Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye for the first time. Its V-8 engine packs 797 horsepower and 707 pound-feet of torque with a top speed of 203 mph. It offers 0.3 more liters, an additional fuel pump and larger induction box for greater airflow than the original Hellcat. The four-door widebody with 3.5 inches added from fender flares comes standard. Orders begin this fall with deliveries beginning early next year.
And the Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye also gets a revised calibration in 2021 in an effort to delier 807 horsepower. The two-door SRT Super Shock coupe accelerates to 60 mph in 3.25 seconds and has a 168 mph top speed. A standard widebody frame supports the 18-inch-by-11-inch wheels. Orders begin this summer with production beginning in Brampton, Ontario, this fall.
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