If you’ve been longing for a muscle car, but you’ve (A) ignored everything we’ve written about winter tires and (B) are still afraid of the snow, the 2017 Dodge Challenger GT is your car.
The Dodge Challenger is a decade old, but somehow, FCA keeps coming up with variations that keep it fresh and exciting.
First it was the introduction of the solid Pentastar V-6 in 2011, making a base model Challenger downright desirable. Then came the major overhaul of the interior and the 707hp Hellcat in 2015. For this year, Dodge introduced this car, the all-wheel drive Challenger GT, making a muscle car a truly feasible option for places where it snows.
Unfortunately, the average Joe and/or Jane seems to institutionally ignore winter tires, convinced that the drivetrain is more important than the rubber for winter traction. Be that as it may, the all-wheel drive Challenger GT has definite merits, and a proven sales strategy in the top half of the United States. Dodge laid the groundwork with the 2015 Dodge Charger SXT, which shares the identical AWD drivetrain.
Like the Charger SXT, the only way to get all-wheel drive is with the 305hp Pentastar V-6. You see faces collapse with the idea that the V-8 isn’t available with AWD like it is on the police-only Charger Pursuit, but really, the V-6 is a terrific engine.
It benefits greatly from the Super Track Pack feature, which offers launch control and a range of telemetry functions like zero to 60 and quarter mile times. The GT also has three-mode electronic stability control, which you can turn off completely for some snow drifting fun.
During normal driving, and even a bit of spirited launch, the Charger SXT/Challenger GT’s active transfer case and front-axle disconnect provide a distinct rear-drive performance and handling characteristics, which people who buy a Challenger should be interested in. The front axle is completely disengaged, and 100 percent of the 305hp V-6’s torque goes straight to the rear wheels.
When the road surface turns sloppy, though, the active transfer case engages the front axle, providing much better grip to pull you through snowy conditions. Doing so can’t be abrupt. It only works if the transition from rear-drive to all-wheel drive is seamless, and is.
Unfortunately, the weather here in New England has been disturbingly mild this February, with temperatures in the 70s, but we did have a chance to drive the Challenger GT in central Maine when there was still snow on the ground. We got to experience the system in snow about a foot deep in spots, deep ruts that would definitely cause a panic in a rear-drive car like this, fitted with the all-season tires that come on the GT as standard equipment.
We flogged the Challenger GT through three different courses: a skidpad, an autocross, and a straight-line acceleration course. What’s abundantly clear is that the moment the front axle engages, the Challenger GT is using all four wheels to churn through the slop. On a straight line course, the rear wheels spin for a revolution or two, and then the front wheels pick up the slack, accelerating hard through the snow. In a slow loop around the autocross course, the driveline does the same thing, hauling the car through the deep muck remarkably well.
Where you start to realize all-wheel drive’s limitations, though, is when you carry some speed and attempt to turn or stop. Turning is different, but not necessarily better with all wheel drive at speed. You do as much steering with the throttle as you do the steering wheel, which is true with a rear-drive Challenger, too. It just feels different with the front wheels engaged.
VIDEO: Check out our drive with Rachael Holt from NESN Fuel:
At the end of the drag course, when you need to scrub all that speed off and come to a stop, all-wheel drive is completely irrelevant. The all-season tires struggle to maintain grip and the ABS pulsates hard to slow you to a stop.
So as well as a Challenger GT can accelerate with all-wheel drive, not equipping one with winter tires only scratches the surface of its capabilities. With the right tires, you’re limited only by ground clearance.
The basic configuration of the Challenger GT — two door, five-seat sport coupe with all-wheel drive — isn’t unheard of in the automotive marketplace, but the price is. An all-wheel drive BMW 430i xDrive starts at $45,145. The Audi A5 is less expensive at $41,200, but you won’t be carrying adults for long in the tiny back seat.
The beauty of the Challenger GT is two-fold: First, the sticker price of a well-equipped Challenger GT is around $36,000, which essentially puts it in the same price range as the V-8-powered Challenger R/T with the same equipment.
Second, the room inside is remarkable. Two six-foot tall adults can comfortably sit in the back seat, with normal sized adults comfortably seated in the front. There’s a truly generous amount of headroom, and legroom isn’t bad either. You can’t say that about a 4 Series or an A5, nor can you say it about a Chevrolet Camaro or Ford Mustang, neither of which have the same driveline option.
The other notable feature nobody ever talks about is the cargo volume. Nobody’s buying a car like this for the size of the trunk, but it’s enormous, and worth comparing. Not only does the Challenger GT’s 16.2 cubic foot trunk dwarf the Camaro’s 9.1 cubic feet, and the Mustang’s 13.5, it’s bigger than the Lincoln MKZ’s 15.4 cubic foot cargo area.
With the sizeable rear seat and huge trunk, the Challenger — in any trim level — is honestly an option for anyone with kids big enough to buckle their own seatbelts.
Frankly, if we were spending our own money, we’d opt for the fantastic Dodge Challenger R/T with 375hp and rear drive, and put a few bucks toward a set of exceptionally good winter tires. But it still wouldn’t be the equal of the Challenger GT with winter tires. It would be the height of entertainment to take a winter-tire shod Challenger GT to the mountains with stability control turned off and pull away from a Subaru Forester with the LED taillights wagging.
2017 Dodge Challenger GT
Base price: $33,590 (plus $1,095 destination charge)
Price as tested, $37,695
“Challenger” Body Stripes: $395
Technology Group (includes automatic high beams, forward collision warning, rain sensing wipers): $1,195
Harmon/Kardon Premium Sound Group: $1,595
- All-wheel drive traction
- Truly usable back seat
- Enormous trunk
- Lack of V-8 option
- Spare tire delete in Harmon/Kardon stereo option
- Lack of a winter tire package