2017 Dodge Challenger GT: Fun in the Snow With a Little Less Go
All-wheel drive is coming to the Challenger.
In the pony car race Mopar has historically trailed behind General Motors and Ford. However, that underdog status also gives it some wiggle room to experiment. Factory all-wheel drive on a Mustang or Camaro is nearly unfathomable, but you almost expect something like this from Dodge.
The addition of a transfer case could help bolster sales of the Challenger in less temperate climes and close the gap between it and the Camaro. However, many would have preferred that FCA somehow made use of the AWD package on the Charger Pursuit V8 reserved for law enforcement. Perhaps it’s saving that as a future ace in the hole, as the LX platform has a long way to go before retirement.
Instead of the V8 Hemi everyone was hoping for, the all-wheel-drive Challenger has the same Pentastar V6 found in the base SXT. The 3.6-liter that’s slotted into the GT is good for 305 horses, matching the 2017 Subaru WRX STI. Still, no one is seriously comparing the Challenger to the rally-inspired STI — despite their closeness in price.
The V6 is is teamed up with the expected ZF eight-speed automatic transmission and transfer case from the preexisting AWD Dodge Charger. With front axle disengagement, it’s essentially the same recipe as the all-wheel variant of the sedan. The only real difference is that the Challenger comes with a little extra horsepower, eight more foot pounds of torque, and two fewer doors.
In normal driving conditions, the front axle disconnects and the GT functions as a real-wheel-drive car. Anytime more traction is needed the front wheels rejoin the party and the Challenger is, once again, an all-wheel-drive vehicle. If that isn’t to your liking, you can adjust the electronic stability control to continuously send all of the power to the rear and make the extra money you spent for AWD utterly pointless.
Other features include the familiar UConnect 8.4-inch touchscreen display, paddle shifters, and Dodge’s Super Trak Pack button. Obviously, the vehicle’s 19-inch aluminum wheels come with all-season tires for handling snowy mountain roads. The interior has nappa leather, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, metal trimmed pedals, and a 276-watt Alpine stereo. For $995, you can get the GT Interior package that adds performance seats with microsuede and an even nicer stereo system.
The 2017 Challenger GT starts at $34,490. Dodge says production should begin in January, with deliveries starting shortly thereafter. That means customers won’t need to wait another year to get their all-wheel-drive pony car into “the powder.” Of course, there is nothing stopping anyone from buying a similarly powerful Mustang EcoBoost this very second and using the ten grand they saved to convert it into a rear-drive snow rally car. However, that option would lack the plush interior, upgraded sound system, and selectively helpful front axle.
[Images: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]
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A Mustang as a snow rally car? The back end is so fast it likes to go first around corners. As far as the AWD Challenger not having a hemi, the V6 already has 305 HP. You're going to need a light foot in the snow no matter how many axles are driven.
People like to knock the Challenger as an also ran to the Mustang and Camaro, but I have to wonder how many have actually had seat time in any. For the next few years I'm in a sweet spot of time where my two kids only need booster seats or are short enough that they can fit in the rear seat of pretty much any two door vehicle. Like I said, a short window of life where the vehicle qualities I need (room for a family of four, relative comfort, and cargo capacity) can match up with the vehicle qualities I want (FUN- not autocross handling, but on the other end of the scale from a minivan or CUV). And where we live in central PA there are hills and small municipalities that plow either too often or not enough depending on the tax base. It's hilly here, and its hilly everywhere we would drive (northeast to CT or SW to TN). Even without snow, we often drive on unfinished roads where AWD is the difference between an uneventful errand or an “adventure” with whiney kids and a nervous spouse. A few weeks ago I had the urge to drive a convertible so I headed to the local Chevy dealer and looked at a new Camaro. With the driver’s seat where I need to be, the Camaro doesn't have room for kids. My three-year-old had his knees up as high as I do I try to climb in his refrigerator box castle. So we went down to the road to the Ford dealer. The demographics in our area mean the Ford dealer has a VERY limited variety of vehicles for sale. There was ONE Mustang inside. Same situation with the seats as the Camaro. My take away is that while the Mustang and Camaro are probably excellent drivers cars, I will never know because I always need to be able to haul a passenger in the back seat. A Camaro that is fine for single folks, or a parent who never drives their kids anywhere, or people who think owning their dog is the same experience as me raising my children. We went back up the road to the Dodge dealer. Lucky for me and my 3 year old who likes most things I do, the first one we saw was a bright red Challenger Scat Pack. My kid had as much room as in my extended cab truck which we use as often as the Jeep with no complaints. I had so much fun I found myself thinking that I could replace my motorcycle with a Challenger. I never have time to ride the bike because of kids. With the Challenger I could enjoy the drive EVERY DAY. If I had any complaint, it was that I was always concerned I was going to break the tires loose. I hate buying tires. By the time I got back to the dealer, I liked the idea of the AWD Challenger GT more and more. I have driven the Pentastar 3.6 in a Charger Ralleye Edition matched to the 8-speed auto, and it's actually a really good setup. With that much gearing, decent shifting, and near-as-almost-to-that-it-doesn't-matter 300 hp to play with, it really didn't feel like I was driving a ONLY a V6. It was more fun than any of the V6 engine vehicles I have rented in the last couple years and it didn't have the lazy feeling you get from V8 when connected to an automatic. I could really enjoy the Pentastar drivetrain in the same way you can enjoy flogging a small displacement motorcycle at its limits, not your limits. And the LX platform AWD system only ever send 35% of its power to the front wheels so it maintains controllable understeer rather than pucker or pant-staining oversteer that almost all AWD and 4WD vehicle have. Throw some snow tires on it for winter weather and I don't see how you can lose. Our Jeep needs replaced regardless. I don’t buy without test driving, but I will be looking for a chance to drive a Challenger GT.