When I first heard the idea of an all-wheel-drive Challenger I paused a little bit. I paused because the Challenger, like its competitors from Ford and Chevy, are the iconic muscle cars – V8, long hoods, long doors, rear wheel drive, burnouts, hell yea, and all that jazz. But the whole world has been fooled into thinking that all-wheel-drive is the best things since the internet. Some automotive companies remained in existence only because their whole line-up is AWD. Some iconic vehicles such as Mercedes’ AMG and BMW’s M are going with AWD, too.
Dodge says that offering the Challenger with all-wheel-drive is drummed up from data culled through sales and marketing research. They say that the most cross-shopped vehicle with the Challenger is the Charger, which has been available with AWD for some time, and that the sales of the AWD Chargers have been constantly increasing. The same goes for the V6 engine – it appeals to the largest group of buyers. So Dodge did the only thing that made sense – they made a V6 AWD Challenger.
While the era of big personal coupes has sadly passed, it is nice to know that there still are a few holdouts. Challenger may be a leader in that group. The car is big, comfortable, and smooth. It has a long hood, long doors, and is a rather large vehicle overall. That size carries over to the interior, where there is room for four real adults, five in a pinch. The trunk is equally spacious, with the split seats folding down for longer items.
The Challenger received an update two years ago, a big part of which focused on the interior. For 2017 the interior remains pretty much the same, with the high-resolution infotainment screen being the most visible difference. The seats are big and wide, with the driver’s being partially powered and the passenger getting the fully manual treatment. Those manual levers are awkwardly located too, which is a bit annoying. My biggest issue with the Challenger though was visibility. The thick A-pillars block a lot of vision, especially when going sideways (ha!), and the rear view mirrors are small.
Video: Peter Ciani at dealervideoshowroom.com
The 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 makes 305 horsepower at 6,350 rpm and 268 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,800 rpm. Ninety percent of that torque is available at just 1,800 rpm, which is easily felt in daily driving. That is a good amount of power and the Challenger GT does not feel under-powered, it just isn’t stupid-powered like the Hellcat. On the Challenger GT that power goes mostly to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic. Along with the AWD, the GT gets bigger brakes and its own suspension tuning. In all, the hardware adds about 200 pounds to the Challenger’s already hefty curb weight. It should be noted that the GT is still lighter than any of the V8 models.
While the AWD hardware has been a rather easy swap from the Charger, the tuning of the AWD system is where Dodge says they made a lot of changes. They say that in order to develop driving characteristics required of the sportier Challenger, it remains purely rear driven for most of the time. The system gets its input from a variety of places, such as ambient temperature, use of wipers, engagement of paddle shifters, selected driving mode, and then sends power to the front wheels as needed.
In order to show off its AWD prowess Dodge brought me to Club Motorsports, a newly constructed country club-like track in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. There, on a snow-covered karting track, they let me loose. While the traction control is not fully defeat-able, there is a Sport mode which is designed to save your ass in most cases but still allows for sideways action. In snow, on stock all-season tires, it allows for some serious sideways action and even for complete ownage, as displayed by other journalists who lacked proper car control skills. I admit it, I beached it on a snow bank too – if you don’t mess up you’re not trying hard enough. At least we were able to push it out and save ourselves the embarrassment of being yanked out by a RAM 3500.
The traction on snow, even with the factory all-season tires mounted to the car, kind of surprised everyone, even the local driving instructors. Braking from the four 235/55-19 Michelin Primacy MXM4 tires was surprisingly good, too. Not so great were the rather slow steering rack and sometimes delayed throttle applications. To properly hoon the Challenger GT around the karting track I found myself giving it gas, and sometimes just repeatedly tapping the pedal, earlier than I should have in order to trick it into doing what I wanted it to do. There also seemed to be a rather abrupt switch from understeer to oversteer, which may have been more visible in low traction hooning conditions than it would otherwise be experienced.
It should be noted that on snow tires this thing would be amazing. When asked why the demo cars were not equipped with snow tires, a Chrysler rep responded “because we’re selling cars and not tires.” Valid point. Still, it would have been interesting to see how much better it would be on snow tires.
The 2017 Dodge Challenger GT starts at $33,395. The GT interior package adds leather and Alcntara seats, nine-speaker Alpine audio, power bulge hood, LED front halo and rear taillights, and $995 to the sticker price. Destination fees are $1,095 for a total manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $35,485. It should be noted that for 2017 there are no V8 AWD Dodge Chargers, Chrysler 300s, and therefore Challengers. There is a 5.7-liter V8 AWD Charger police model with the old five-speed transmission and a column shifter.
The amount of proper large coupes on the market is rather small these days. Even smaller is the availability of those coupes with all-wheel-drive, which everyone in the north seems to want, and most of those are in the so-called premium market. With Challenger sales of 50,000 every year since 2013, Dodge thinks that this AWD V6 version will bring in a few more buyers. And I think they are right.
[Disclaimer: FCA invited us to New Hampshire to drive this vehicle. They paid for a nice hotel room in Portland, Maine, and provided a ton of food. Unless otherwise noted, all images copyright Kamil Kaluski/Hooniverse 2017.]