2017 Dodge Challenger GT

All-wheel-drive is groundbreaking in this category, but does it break enough ground?

By MALCOLM GUNN
www.wheelbasemedia.com

For a car that burns the back tires as easily as the Dodge Challenger, a new all-wheel-drive option seems obvious, if not downright necessary.

By driving the front wheels as well as the rears, the car has enough grip to actually be useful when there’s snow on the ground.

The Challenger GT is the first of the pony-car group — that includes the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang — to drive all four wheels. This is indeed groundbreaking, but also incredibly frustratingly as the system is only available with the base V-6 and not with any of the V-8 models, which could really use the traction.

Dodge refers to the GT as an “all-wheel-drive American muscle coupe,” but Dodge is really only pushing all-wheel-drive as a way to make the V-6 Challenger more bearable — perhaps even useful — in winter climes.

Visually, Dodge is keeping the news pretty much to itself. There’s no big fender flairs or “AWD” call-out letters. In fact, distinguishing the GT from the rest of the Challenger pack could prove, uh, challenging, but standard fog lights, rear deck-lid spoiler and unique 19-inch “Hyper Black” wheels are giveaways. The specially tuned dual exhaust system also makes more of a rumble.

A Challenger that drives all four wheels does keep alive the Dodge tradition of creating unique specialty models. Count the 707-horsepower Hellcat and upcoming Demon among the models that cater to buyers who believe that “muscle”’ means a V-8 under the hood.

It’s undoubtedly a missed opportunity to only offer the 305-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6, especially when the 372-horsepower 5.7-liter V-8 can be had in the related all-wheel-drive Dodge Charger four-door sedan, although only authorized police departments can get it. Still, the hardware exists and would make an obvious transfer to the Challenger.

Adapting the Challenger for AWD duty includes installing the Charger’s Police Pursuit suspension and adjusting the spring rates and anti-roll bars for a softer ride. Most of the time, the GT functions in rear-wheel-drive and the driveshaft that transmits torque to the front wheels is disconnected to aid fuel economy.

When the rear wheels begin to slip, or during hard acceleration — or when the windshield wipers are activated, which presumes rain and therefore lessening traction — the front axle is automatically engaged.

The GT comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. A Sport mode speeds up the shifts — and holds each gear longer — but will likely negatively impact the fuel rating of 19 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway. The RWD V-6 model is rated at 19/30. The extra 200 pounds of AWD hardware is at least partly responsible for the GT’s poorer highway number, although it’s peculiar that the city number is unaffected when compared to the RWD model.

At a base price of $34,500, including destination charges, the GT is equipped with premium leather seat covers, heated and ventilated front seats (power-adjustable for the driver), heated power adjustable steering wheel, 276-watt audio system and backup assist. The GT rolls on modest 235/55-19 all-season tires.

Despite that, there’s a Super Track Pak button with launch control. When activated through the 8.4-inch touch-screen, launch control holds the car until 4,500 rpm is reached, at which point the GT accelerates as hard as possible, minimizing any traction loss. Bear in mind the V-6 makes a minivan-like 268 pound-feet of torque.

The Super Track Pak will also record your zero-to-60-mph times, reaction times, lap times and cornering G-forces.

The GT’s stability- and traction-control systems can be turned off completely if drifting around corners or performing donuts in empty snow-filled parking lots is your thing.

For an extra $1,000 you can add a GT interior package with leather and faux-suede front seats, a 506-watt Alpine audio system and a sportier steering wheel.

Even without a V-8, the GT clearly has more to offer buyers in wintry climes who actually want to make full use of their Challenger year-round. Whether Ford or Chevrolet respond in kind with AWD Mustang and Camaro models will likely hinge on how the market reacts to this new Dodge.

What you should know: 2017 Dodge Challenger GT

Type: Two-door, all-wheel-drive coupe

Engine (h.p.): 3.6-liter DOHC V-6 (305)

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Market position: Among the trio of North America-based pony cars, Dodge has broken ranks in creating the first all-wheel-drive model. It will be interesting to see if the Chevrolet Camaro and/or Ford Mustang follow suit.

Points:
• No major visual changes compared to other Challengers, so it will be difficult to spot.
• Lack of a V-8 version with AWD? The GT comes so close, but two cylinders short.
• Plenty of standard content is a smart move.
• Suspension designed to improve handling and ride quality.
• Dodge continues to wring plenty of mileage from a decade-old design.

Active safety: Blind-spot warning with cross-traffic alert (opt.); active cruise control (opt.); forward-collision warning (opt.)

MPG (city/hwy): 19/27

Base price (incl. destination): $34,500

By comparison:

Ford Mustang
Base price: $26,000
The granddaddy of the group’s engine picks range from 300-526 horses.

Chevrolet Camaro
Base price: $27,700
Impressive style and power make both coupe and convertibles popular choices.

Infiniti Q60
Base price: $39,000
Upper-range coupe is representative of similar models with available AWD.