The 2017 Dodge Challenger GT is a muscle car for all conditions.A New England winter isn't exactly the ideal backdrop for a test drive of two-door muscle car, but that's exactly where we found ourselves with Dodge's latest Challenger GT.
Then again, Challenger GT isn't exactly your typical muscle car; whereas everything else in its segment is rear-wheel drive, the Challenger GT uses an all-wheel drive system borrowed from the Charger sedan. That means the GT can go where no Challenger has gone before — head-on into winter.
Old dog, new tricks
Put bluntly, the rear-wheel drive Challenger is awful in the snow. And we know this from first hand experience.
The first time we ever drove (or more accurately, attempted to drive) a Dodge Challenger was in the winter of 2009. Shortly after our Challenger R/T tester arrived in our driveway, Old Man Winter showed up and dropped a few inches of snow followed by a coating of ice. While just about everything else on the road managed to deal with the slick conditions, the Challenger couldn't even get out of its parking spot.
But Dodge is now addressing the Challenger's (and the entire pony car segment's) Achilles' heel with a new all-wheel drive option in the form of the GT. It may sound strange, but there is now a Challenger that you can drive year-round in cold-weather states.
How'd they do it?
The Challenger GT's recipe consists of a little of this and a little of that from the Dodge parts bin. The Challenger GT's all-wheel drive system is plucked from the Charger sedan while its suspension is lifted from the Charger Pursuit used by law enforcement agencies. But don't think of the Challenger GT as simply a Charger AWD with two fewer doors.
That's because Dodge engineers baked quite a bit of uniqueness into the Challenger GT's all-wheel drive system. Unlike the Charger, the Challenger GT's steering wheel acts sort of like an on-off switch for the all-wheel drive system. Keep the steering wheel straight and the Challenger GT will be happy to keep its AWD system activated. But turn the wheel and mash the gas and the Challenger GT's active transfer case sends more power to the back wheels, allowing for the kind of tail-out fun you'd expect from a Challenger.
In comparison, the Charger AWD maintains a pretty even front/rear power split no matter the situation, creating a lot more front-end push than you'd expect from a rear-wheel drive platform. It's actually pretty amazing how different the two cars feel on a slippery track.
But despite its rebellious side, the Challenger GT is actually quite easy to drive in winter conditions. Driven normally, the Challenger GT will plow through several inches of snow without a problem. That's because the Challenger GT's AWD system automatically activates when certain parameters are met, such as low ambient temperature or the detection of wheel slippage. Corner at a reasonable clip and the Challenger GT will keep all four wheels clawing.
It's only when you get a little more frisky with the throttle that the Challenger GT starts to behave like a typical muscle car. And even then, the AWD system makes it possible to power slide like a pro. And if things get too hairy, straightening the wheel is enough to activate the AWD and get things back on the straight and narrow.
In addition to our track testing, we also put several miles on the Challenger GT over the snow-covered roads of Maine and New Hampshire. Truth be told, it was actually a pretty strange sensation driving a Challenger through a New England winter. But it did it, and without any issues. Even when accelerating from a stop on slick roads, the Challenger GT never lost its composure. And for the record, the Challenger GT is only available from the factory with all-season tires; with a good set of snow tires, the Challenger GT would be even better suited for snowy climates.
The nuts and bolts
Looks-wise, there isn't much that visually differentiates the Challenger GT from a rear-wheel drive model. It sits about an inch higher, has a unique wheel design and some fender badges, but that's about all that helps the Challenger GT stand out from the crowd. Oh, and if you put it on a scale you'd see that the all-wheel drive system adds about 200 pounds to the equation, netting a curb weight somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,100 pounds.
Unfortunately a 3.6L V6 is the only weapon available to battle that extra bulk; the Challenger GT can't be had with a V8. Dodge says it went with the V6 to tap the largest pool of Challenger buyers. Similarly, the Dodge Charger AWD is now only available with a V6 (a V8 was offered with AWD in previous years).
While a V8 would certainly be a welcomed addition to the Challenger GT lineup, the V6 isn't bad. It delivers 305 horsepower and 268 lb-lt of torque, making it plenty peppy for everyday driving duties. Full horsepower doesn't come on until a lofty 6,350rpm, but more than 90 percent of the engine's torque is available from 1,800-6,400rpm, making it a pretty decent stoplight-to-stoplight kind of car. The soundtrack from the V6 was also a lot meaner than we expected.
In keeping with the whole mass appeal theme, the Challenger GT is only available with an eight-speed automatic transmission. But if you're only going to offer an automatic, this is the one to use. The so-called "TorqueFlite" auto operates seamlessly in the background, offering smooth and quick shifts through the range. Despite a wide selection of gears to choose from, we never experienced any excessive hunting from the unit. And if you want to take things into your own hands, steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters are available.
On the suspension front, the Challenger GT's cop car-inspired setup provides a nice mix of compliance and feel on normal roads — the Challenger GT rides slightly on the firm side, but it doesn't beat you up. However, the frost-heaved roads of New England aren't exactly what you'd call "normal." Over those kinds of rough surfaces the Challenger GT's short wheelbase and taught suspension result in a bumpy ride. But in the Challenger GT's defense, even a Cadillac might have felt uncomfortable over the kinds of roads we were traversing.
Steering is about what you'd expect — fairly light, but with a good linear feel. The Challenger GT's extra weight isn't readily noticeable, which is probably due to the fact that the added weight is down low in the car's chassis. Despite its extra inch of ride height, we didn't notice any extra body lean compared to a rear-wheel drive Challenger.
Our test car was fitted with the GT interior package which, among other things, includes sports seats from the Challenger SRT. Front seats proved comfortable with plenty of support. The optional seats also offered a good amount of side bolstering without feeling too tight. Alcantara center inserts helped with grip, but we'd prefer the durability of leather in a vehicle that will likely spend part of its life in slushy conditions.
The rest of the Challenger GT's interior is largely carryover, which means an accommodating trunk and seating for five thanks to a spacious back seat. In fact, Dodge bills the Challenger GT as the world's only five-passenger all-wheel drive coupe.
One thing that has changed for the 2017 Challenger GT is the adoption of Fiat Chrysler's latest Uconnect 4.0 infotainment system. The big news for Uconnect 4.0 is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility and a higher-resolution screen. We weren't able to do a deep dive into the system with our limited wheel time, but we can say the new screen is a massive leap forward over the outgoing unit in terms of resolution and clarity. It was also a snap to plug in our phone and utilize the CarPlay functionality.
The 2017 Challenger GT is rated at 18/27/21mpg city/highway/combined, which is down from the rear-wheel drive model's 19/30/23mpg ratings. However, our Challenger GT test car overachieved on a long stretch of mostly steady-state driving (with some stop and go mixed in), netting an average just below 30mpg.
Leftlane's bottom line
The 2017 Dodge Challenger GT is the closest we've come to having our cake and eating it too in the pony car segment.
The knocks against the Challenger GT are obvious — no V8 and no manual — but it's easily the most well-rounded vehicle in the class. If you want a stylish coupe that you can drive year-round, the 2017 Dodge Challenger GT is worthy of your consideration.
2017 Dodge Challenger GT base price, $33,395. As tested, $38,765.
Technology Group, $1,195; Driver Convenience Group, $1,095; GT Interior Package, $995; Compact spare tire, $195; Uconnect 8.4 NAV, $795; Destination, $1,095.
Photos by Drew Johnson.