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by Patrick Rall in January 2017 (5)
I was invited to take a trip with Dodge to drive the new 2017 Challenger GT, the first two-door muscle car with all-wheel drive, in Portland, Maine. Almost as though it was arranged by Dodge, a snowstorm rolled into town on the evening wheen we arrived, blanketing the area in deep snow and creating the ideal road conditions for testing a car built for winter weather.
My drive time in the 2017 Dodge Challenger GT began downtown around 9am on a Tuesday morning. Hard snow had been falling since midnight or so, and it was still coming down when we got into our AWD muscle cars; snow removal had led to little more than slushy intersections. These wet, sloppy conditions were no problem for the Challenger GT, but the conditions were mild enough that most rear-drive Challengers would have been able to get around just as smoothly.
Once we got to the outskirts, we began to see more snow on the roads, and by the time we got away from the city on our trip to northern New Hampshire, the 2017 Challenger GT’s all-wheel drive system began to come into play. Then there were no more wet roads, and all of the pavement was buried under inches of packed snow. The only vehicles on the roads were pickup trucks, SUVs, and Subarus, as portions of some roads were deeply enough buried that they would have been impassable for a vehicle without 4WD or AWD.
Fortunately, we were driving the first ever all-wheel drive muscle coupe and the Dodge Challenger GT’s advanced AWD system was ready for the challenge…even with the standard all-season tires.
The AWD system of the Challenger GT engages automatically, for different reasons. If the Challenger’s computer system senses freezing temperatures, or the windshield wipers are turned on, AWD engages. Activating the Sport Mode engages the AWD system for improved traction while pushing the car to its limits; and wheel speed sensors can trigger the AWD system in the case of a sudden loss of traction. Otherwise, the Challenger GT AWD system disengages the front axle for improved fuel economy numbers.
Since I was driving the 2017 Dodge Challenger GT in temperatures well below freezing in hard snow (with the wipers on most of the time), the AWD system was likely always engaged while taking our trip through Maine and New Hampshire – and we needed it.
Our destination was Club Motorsports, a road racing facility in northern New Hampshire, and getting there required us to drive through some very rural areas. The further we drove, the more rural the roads, and as the roads got to be more rural, they got to be covered in more and more snow. At times, there were stretches of road which had barely been cleared of snow and along those messy roads, we saw more than one vehicle which likely had all-wheel drive stuck in the deep snow.
There was one particular section in New Hampshire where the roads were snow covered with some substantial hills while being so narrow that two cars couldn’t comfortable pass going opposite directions. While driving one up one steep, narrow road, a huge plow truck came down the hill. He wasn’t going to stop for us, so we pulled the Challenger into the deep snow along the side of road, coming to a stop as the truck blasted by. Although the snow was deep enough to pack into the lower grille opening, the AWD system of the Challenger GT allowed us to effortlessly pull back onto the plowed portion of the road and make our way up the slippery hill without breaking a sweat.
After more than an hour of driving on snow-covered roads, we arrived at Club Motorsports to see what the AWD Challenger GT could do in a safe environment. While the long drive on snowy public roads allowed us to test the car’s ability to traverse slick roads, that exercise was all about being safe. However, when we got to the track facility, we had a chance to push the car to its limits in an area where we didn’t have anything to hit.
Club Motorsports had three areas set up for us to test the 2017 Dodge Challenger GT and in addition to the track surface being covered in snow, the track management team constantly kept grooming the snow – packing it down to maintain a steadily snow-covered test surface all day long. We had a chance to test the AWD Challenger on a long straightaway, a big, open skidpad and a tight autocross course. At no point while on any of the Club Motorsports grounds did I see an inch off pavement and thanks to the continuing snowfall, the snow stayed fairly deep all day long.
The snow-covered straightaway offered us a chance to test the acceleration capabilities of the Dodge Challenger GT in snow; the AWD muscle car didn’t have any problems getting up to normal driving speeds in snow that had to be 6-8 inches deep. Then again, a rear wheel drive car will push through deep snow on a smooth, flat surface, so the real test would come on the autocross course, which had a series of tight turns combined with uphill and downhill areas – all of which were buried in the same 6-8 inches of snow (if not more).
Once again, the AWD Challenger GT had no problem driving around the autocross course in a normal manner, but driving in a normal manner isn’t why we came to a racing facility, so we worked to see just how far the Challenger GT could be pushed. With the help from some instructors from the O’Neill Rally School, we spent a few hours drifting the AWD Dodge muscle car around the snow-covered track. If we got too deep into a corner or got too greedy with our drift – planting the back end into deep snow – the AWD Challenger effortlessly pulled itself right back out.
To get an idea of how much of difference the AWD made in the Challenger, Dodge also provided us with a Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro to drive on the autocross track. Driving one of them began with clearing the snow around the cars, as they wouldn’t drive out of the falling snow on their own; once you were on the track, you had to be careful not to spin out on the turns. The Mustang and Camaro had to be driven very slowly and carefully, while the Challenger could be driven as hard as we wanted without any real concern of getting stuck.
The 2017 Dodge Challenger GT is a beast in deep snow, without killing the muscle car feel. The system has a rear-drive bias in most conditions, so you can still kick the rear end out like a rear-wheel drive car – which was perfectly displayed on the autocross course. The balance preserves the muscle car feel; basically, it drives just like a rear wheel drive V6 Challenger, until you need to front wheels to get to work – at which point it adds varying levels of AWD support.
While the Challenger GT “only” has the Pentastar V6, 305 horsepower makes this Dodge muscle car lots of fun to drive. Sure, it doesn’t pack the same power as the Hemi V8s, but compared to the majority of AWD cars on the market today, the Challenger GT has far more power and far more muscle car character.
The 2017 Dodge Challenger GT was not set up to be a high performance traction monster, but to serve as a great daily driver all year long in areas with heavy snowfall, or for those folks who spend their summers driving a Hemi-powered Challenger. The new AWD Challenger GT could serve as a far more comfortable, far more exciting and far more familiar winter vehicle than a compact sedan or crossover with AWD.
If you live somewhere that gets heavy snowfall in the winter and you have been driving an SUV simply because it is AWD or 4WD, the Dodge Challenger GT offers you the chance to enjoy the modern Mopar muscle car styling and interior in the worst conditions.
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