Review: Winter weather no obstacle for 2018 Dodge Challenger GT AWD
Big, heavy car handles surprisingly well for its size
Winter is supposed to be the great equalizer.
A beat-up old pickup powers through 15 centimetres of snow while the sports car is left high-centred and stranded. A light turns green and the little old lady in a four-cylinder CUV surges confidently across the slush-slathered intersection while the hot-shoe in the muscle car sits scrabbling for traction.
This Dodge Challenger didn't get that memo. It was my ride through a week of filthy February weather and nothing came close to stopping me, let alone dusting me at the lights. All-wheel drive makes all the difference.
While it's not uncommon these days to find AWD on performance cars – remember the 320-horsepower Dodge Stealth of the mid-1990s? – that trend has until now bypassed traditional Detroit muscle cars. But while the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang remain resolutely rear-wheel drive, snow-belters can now own a Challenger driven by all four wheels.
Arguably, the Challenger that could most use AWD is the Hellcat. It's hellishly quick as is, but imagine how much quicker still it could be if it had AWD to fully deploy all 707 horsepower on launch. Ditto other V-8 versions of the Challenger with power outputs ranging between 372 hp and 485 hp.
Instead, AWD is offered only with the base 3.6-litre V-6. The junior engine's 305 hp and 268 lb-ft of torque aren't enough to need AWD assistance on a dry drag strip, but in a wet or wintry stop-light grand prix it likely makes the AWD-ized model the quickest Challenger of them all.
Rather than making AWD an option, Dodge created a distinct model with its own moniker: GT AWD. It's equipped and trimmed similarly to the SXT Plus but has its own 19-inch wheel/tire package, and adds standard performance steering and brakes, plus a quicker axle ratio. An eight-speed automatic is the only transmission. The base MSRP of $38,895 includes some unexpected amenities such as a heated and power-adjustable steering wheel, Nappa-leather-faced ventilated and heated seats and keyless entry with push-button start.
Technically, it wasn't a great challenge to add AWD: It's already available on the Charger sedan, which shares the same platform (hmm: on that basis, GM could easily AWD-ize the Camaro, which shares its architecture with the AWD-available Cadillac ATS).
The Dodge version is quite sophisticated. It normally operates in 100-per-cent RWD, automatically engaging the front wheels only when sensors determine that extra traction is needed. And even then, no more than 38 per cent of torque goes forward.
It works like a charm – theory fully delivered in practice. The AWD traction is seamlessly available when you need it, yet it avoids the nose-heaviness that often results when AWD is added to an RWD car. The GT still feels rear-wheel driven; you can even poke the tail out on slithery surfaces – although only if you want it to.
On clean, dry pavement, the handling is taut and balanced, directed by crisp steering. It doesn't carve a curve like a Camaro or Mustang. It's not one of those big cars that manages to "handle small." You always know it's a big, heavy car and the stock all-season tires aren't the last word in grip. But still, it's a big car that handles surprisingly well for its size.
It's also a big, heavy car that doesn't have to hide in the garage when the great equalizer comes calling.
- Base price/as tested: $38,895/$43,480
- Engine: 3.6-litre V-6
- Transmission/drive: Eight-speed automatic/all-wheel drive
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.8 city/ 8.7 hwy
- Alternatives: RWD: Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang. AWD: Audi A5, BMW 4 Series, Ford Focus, Subaru WRX, VW Golf R
The 1970-74 Challenger was a handsome thing and the modern reincarnation looks a lot like it … with middle-age spread. It's taller and longer than its predecessor by about 17 cm apiece, which makes this sporty coupe the same size – and weight – as a full-size sedan.
The bulky (for a sports car) build pays off inside with a (just) adult-size back seat and more front headroom than in Detroit rivals, even given the relatively lofty driving position that also enables decent visibility. The combination of 8.4-inch screen and conventional switchgear play together nicely, but the analog gauges in the main cluster are small and hard to read.
It's only a V-6, but consider this: The Challenger's 3.6-L base engine makes more power than a Mustang's 4.6-L V-8 did 10 years ago. Its 0-97 km/h time is a brisk but hardly brutal 6.3 seconds, according to Car and Driver. Detroit competitors' base models are quicker off the line – on a dry road, at least. Subjective driveability is fine, with solid launch, linear power delivery and laid-back highway cruising in eighth gear. Fuel consumption is reasonable, too, albeit about 7-per-cent higher than the RWD version.
The standard Uconnect display includes CarPlay, Android Auto and SiriusXM, while Navi and SiriusXM Travel Link are available and a WiFi hotspot will be soon. Optional driver aids include adaptive cruise, forward collision warning and blind-spot/rear-cross-traffic detection, but no lane-keeping assist or automatic emergency braking.
Although clearly bigger than a Mustang's or Camaro's trunk, we're surprised the Challenger has as much as 459 L in its caboose, but that's what the specs say. It's not a very usable shape, though.
Never mind the test-track numbers: This might be the quickest muscle coupe of them all when winter weather is at its worst.