Tested: The First-Ever All-Wheel-Drive Dodge Challenger

The Dodge Challenger has been enjoying its niche in the pony car market. While its crosstown rivals Mustang and Camaro have gone smaller and more agile, the Challenger has continued to offer the only useful back seat in the class. Its consistency hasn’t left it stagnant, either. Sales have grown year after year by adding interesting options to the build sheet. Dodge gave us the brawny 6.4L Hemi, flashy throwback color options, a shaker hood, the brutish Hellcat, and soon the Demon. While those traditional muscle car cues of loud, in-your-face power helped the V8 Challengers earn respect on the street and strip, it was still the V6-powered Challengers that were earning the majority of sales. That should come as no surprise, because as much as we’d like to think that every 1970 Challenger that rolled off the Hamtramck line was a Hemi or a 440 Six-Pack, far more were produced with a slant six or a 318ci V8, and that product mix hasn’t changed.

As Dodge looked at ways to continue growth of the Challenger brand, a sales trend became immediately apparent. Buyers in the northern US have been scooping up all-wheel-drive (AWD) Chargers just as fast as the RWD models. Seizing the opportunity, Dodge engineers set to develop the Challenger GT, the first AWD Challenger and the only AWD vehicle in its class. To assemble the Challenger GT, Dodge engineers used the Charger’s AWD transmission and front axle along with the Charger’s police package suspension. The police car suspension is sturdy, returning a firm, comfortable ride on the highway. We spent hours on bad roads and we definitely felt the potholes and frost heaves, not as harshly as more track-focused cars, but enough to feel the GT was up to the task of taking on the worst of roads without bottoming out or upsetting the balance of the car.

2017 Dodge Challenger GT AWD

The ZF 8-speed automatic, the only transmission available, is programmed to work seamlessly. Even in manual mode, with shifts held off until near redline, power delivery is smooth. The low first gear and close ratio spacing combined with quick shifting squeeze every bit of available power out of the PentaStar. We venture that, lined up against an earlier production R/T with its five-speed auto, the 305hp V6s would hold its own. Due to its wide appeal, Dodge has made the V6/eight-speed powertrain the only combination available in the GT.

2017 Dodge Challenger GT AWD

For the proper AWD experience, Dodge invited us to Portland, Maine, to drive the GT on cold city streets, dirt roads, and into New Hampshire where the Team O’Neil Rally School lead us on drives that put the Michelin Primacy MXM4 all-season tires to the test. With a rally instructor from Team O’Neil sitting shotgun, we piloted the GT first in a 0-25mph acceleration test. It was easy to feel the wheelspin, and the yaw associated with poor traction, but the car clawed up to speed and stayed pointed straight thanks to the vehicle stability control. While the AWD system is part-time, allowing 100-percent of engine torque to go to the rear wheels, up to 38-percent of available torque is sent to the front if any one of a number of situations is met, including when the ambient temperature is below or near freezing, when the windshield wipers are on, when the transmission is in sport mode, or when wheel slip is detected.

Next we tried the GT on a skidpad covered in rutted snow. Here we got our first feel for the car’s application of power while cornering on a low-traction surface and were reminded how much fun it can be to drift even at low speed. The rear bias allows the GT to feel like a regular rear-drive Challenger, with added throttle rotating the car in the snow to go where it is pointed. On a slushy autocross we had even more fun, pitching the GT around corners and occasionally knocking into the snow bank that lined the course, things we definitely wouldn’t consider in a RWD pony car.

The Challenger GT offers consumers a choice they’ve never had from a pony car, and starting at $33,395, it brings a lot of equipment to the table, including the standard eight-speed auto and an available interior usually reserved for high performance V8 models. More choice in the automotive market is usually a good thing, especially if it means more buyers keeping the pony car market viable. While we’d love for a Hemi to find its way into an AWD Challenger, the GT as it stands is a compelling package that will only broaden the Challenger’s reach and bring more capability and utility to the class.

The Challenger’s pass-through trunk allows for snowboards and skis to fit easily, making the GT a viable choice for weekend trip to the mountains.
The Challenger’s pass-through trunk allows for snowboards and skis to fit easily, making the GT a viable choice for weekend trip to the mountains.
We had fun slinging the Challenger GT around a slushy autocross course that would have left a RWD car spinning its tires.
We had fun slinging the Challenger GT around a slushy autocross course that would have left a RWD car spinning its tires.
Source: hotrod.com

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