The Dodge Challenger now comes with all-wheel drive. That’s an unusual offering for a modern-day muscle car. Most are rear-wheel-drive only, but not the 2017 Dodge Challenger GT. This is a 305-horsepower, all-wheel-drive two-door that breaks the rules in more ways than one.
Performance and Predictability No Matter Where You Drive
It’s tempting to consider the Challenger GT a grand gesture to performance car enthusiasts, those who throw their cars into tight turns with high-speed abandon. The reality is slightly more practical. Dodge realized it was losing a broad swath of customers in cold-weather areas who wanted a modern muscle-car coupe but needed all-weather traction.
Six Cylinders, Four Wheels and Two Doors
The Challenger GT comes in one well-equipped version, with an optional interior upgrade package. Muscle-car purists might be disappointed to learn that the all-wheel-drive Challenger is only available with a 3.6-liter V6 engine and not a Hemi V8. The disappointment won’t last. With 305 horsepower and 268 pound-feet of torque, the V6 generates plenty of power to push the big coupe in a hurry.
The V6 pairs with an eight-speed automatic transmission, which drivers can shift manually via the console shifter or with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Engine and transmission response is further enhanced by engaging Sport mode, a standard feature on the Challenger GT that lets the engine rev higher and the transmission make snappier shifts. For performance-oriented drivers, the Challenger GT offers three modes of stability control, including a “full-off” mode that lets the back tires slide around more in turns and gives drivers enough leash to get themselves in trouble.
The Challenger’s included Performance Pages software allows a deeper dive into the car’s potential, allowing drivers to tailor parameters such as engine, transmission and steering response. There’s even a “launch control” feature that’s meant for the dragstrip, but it will unleash the racer lurking in every driver.
All-wheel drive adds weight to a car and typically extracts a fuel economy penalty. Dodge officials say the Challenger’s all-wheel-drive system — which is based on the same system in the Charger, and originates from Charger police vehicles — adds less than 200 pounds. The Challenger GT returns an estimated 21 mpg combined (18 city/27 highway), 2 mpg less than a rear-wheel-drive model.
Smart All-Wheel Drive
The Challenger’s all-wheel-drive system keeps the car in rear-drive mode during “normal” driving. When out for a drive on dry roads, for example, the front axle is disconnected to help save fuel. An army of sensors sends various types of data — on factors such as how fast the wheels are spinning, how much the car is rotating in a turn, and even what the temperature is outside — to the all-wheel system’s processor, which can instruct the transfer case to engage the front wheels and add traction. It all happens seamlessly and with lightning speed, even on the slick, snowy roads where we test-drove the Challenger GT.
From a standstill, or even carrying a little bit of speed into a turn, the Challenger GT will let the rear wheels gently slip, giving the driver a little sense of its muscle-car playfulness before adding a love bite on the rear brakes and letting the front wheels straighten the car out. It happens so fast and smoothly you’ll hardly notice it, something that will increase your confidence when driving in slippery conditions.
In fact, if anything undermines that confidence, it’s the relatively skinny Michelin all-season tires fitted from the factory. They worked fine on our drive, even as we cut loose with a series of donuts and quick turns on a large patch of snow. But a set of wider winter tires would’ve given us more assurance while trying to explore the Challenger GT’s handling limits. There is no optional winter wheel-tire snow package, but most snowbelt buyers will probably buy a set anyway.
The active transfer case controls how much engine power, if any, is shared between the front and rear wheels, but determined drivers can force a workaround by engaging Sport mode, which defaults to full-time all-wheel drive.
Balancing Burnouts and Responsibility
The Challenger GT’s secret weapon is its interior space. It’s a very roomy car inside, much more so than you’d think by looking at the car’s broad rear flanks and narrow side window profile. With class-leading passenger and cargo space, this is an easy car in which to fit two child seats in the rear and a full load of ski equipment in the trunk (which a Dodge official demonstrated for us from personal experience). It just as easily converts to four-adult seating for a night on the town. If you need something family-practical but that still stirs your soul, you could do worse.
Rear seat access is better than in competitors such the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang, although wide, heavy doors enable access, and that makes for a bit of tight maneuvering in close parking quarters. The Challenger GT’s rear seat also offers an actual middle seat, and not just a bump intended to pass for a passenger space.
The 2017 Dodge Challenger GT can be equipped with premium leather seating, heated and ventilated front seats, and even a heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel — a generous set of comforts for a big muscle coupe.
A Connected Coupe
Just as generous are the Challenger GT’s technology features, which center around an 8.4-inch touchscreen and Dodge’s Uconnect infotainment system. Bluetooth phone and audio streaming come standard, as do Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and a six-speaker Alpine audio system. The Challenger GT offers a variety of options, including navigation and a unique GT Interior package that mixes in suede with the leather seats, a sport steering wheel and an upgraded nine-speaker Alpine audio system.
In other words, this Challenger has all the technology you’ll find in the average family sedan along with the sure-footed traction of all-wheel drive. Does that make it a great family car? Not necessarily, but this version of the Challenger is about as close as you’re going to get.