This Classic American AWD Muscle Car Has Even More Confidence.
The last time I did a 180 in my car in the snow, I was 18. The ground was covered with slippery white powder with a layer of ice underneath. I was driving a friend and my little sister to school; a rabbit crossed the road and I instinctively braked. My 1977 Dodge Aspen spun around and ended up facing the other way. It was a matter of luck that no one else was on that stretch of country road and that we didn’t hit a tree.
I learned from that experience, however. I made it my mission to learn how to steer out of a fishtail and how to recognize when I needed to drive with extra caution. Some of that comes with age, of course – more years under my (seat)belt improved my reaction time, experience, and judgment.
Now that I’ve lived in the southern half of the country for the last 18 years, my snow and ice driving edge has dulled. When I had the opportunity to drive the new Dodge Challenger GT with All Wheel Drive on the snowy roads of Maine and New Hampshire, I could not have been more excited. The Challenger is Dodge’s classic two-door couple muscle car, an iconic part of the American car landscape.
Don’t You Love a Car You Can Take Anywhere? Challenger GT Masters Pavement, Dirt and Snow
When I awoke in my hotel room in downtown Portland (what a cozy town!), I opened the curtains to discover a fleet of Challengers in every color arrayed along the curb, ready to drive. Go Mango, Green Go, Tor Red, Contusion Blue, and Yellow Jacket made up a rainbow punctuated in 305 horsepower.
My driving partner and I, the entertaining and witty Micah Muzio from Kelley Blue Book, took to the road. He drove first because I wanted to get a feel for the car from the passenger seat so I could take some notes. Micah did some filming with his attachable GoPro, and we stopped a few times to adjust the angle, giving me a chance to check out other parts of the car.
Finally! My Turn at the Wheel of This Red Beauty
Halfway through the drive, I took over the wheel. We were at a tiny rest stop apparently famous for its homemade whoopee pies. Sadly, none were left by the time we got there.
Strapping in, I pulled out onto the route, Micah navigating. I was surprised by the smooth takeoff of the Challenger GT – I guess I expected a jerky pop from the iconic muscle car. Several times, I tested the pickup and braking action of the Challenger, getting a feel for the merging and stopping power. Incidentally, the new Challenger was built with the suspension from the Dodge Charger All Wheel Drive pursuit sedan.
Resisting Temptation and Flying Under the Radar (Literally)
In a small town in New Hampshire, a county police officer appeared in my rear view mirror in a 30 MPH zone, and I minded my Ps and Qs for several miles. Maybe choosing the red Challenger wasn’t the best for flying under the radar. Literally. Luckily, my good behavior saved me from getting a ticket.
We traversed the upper northeast across paved roads, snowy roads, indeterminate black ice, and even a dirt road covered in powder. In other words, many of the typical conditions a driver in a wintry part of the country would encounter. Roughly 100 miles later, we arrived at Club Motorsports in Tamworth, New Hampshire.
At the track, Dodge had set up a skid pad (a circular area in the snow to practice spinning and fishtailing), a rally track (sharp turns to get a feel for steering out of the turns in the snow) and a straightaway to feel the acceleration. The skid pad was my favorite part, because I could spin the car all the way around, if I wanted, on the slippery snow.
I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I hadn’t lost my touch with winter driving and the Challenger’s Vehicle Dynamic Control made it very easy to steer away from the skid and back on track. Wyatt Knox, a professional driver from Team O’Neil Rally School, taught me to look in the direction I wanted the car to go and the car would follow my lead. Wyatt is a multiple-time rally champion driver, so I was lucky to have him in my car.
The Challenger: Engineered by Women (Yup!)
If you watch the annual Barrett-Jackson automotive auction every year, like I do, you’d see a parade of muscle cars. The market is going crazy for them, and the Challenger is no exception. Conceived in 1958, Dodge’s most enduring coupe is in its fourth generation.
But lest you think this is man’s car with a label like “muscle car,” consider this: the chief engineer is a woman, and her team is made up of several women, too. Allison Rahm (pronounced “Ram,” like the FCA truck division) trained to be a mechanical engineer at University of Windsor before moving across the border and joining Dodge 20 years ago. She says that she loves the control and extra traction and stability. She says you can be confident in the Challenger’s abilities.
“It also makes me look good,” she laughs. “I don’t want to just drive an appliance. I want style. It does everything and it’s still a reflection of my personality.”
All Wheel Drive Makes the Challenger Even More Capable
For 2017, the Challenger GT has a key update: All Wheel Drive. As Allison and brand manager Ben Lyon explained in our pre-drive meeting, the car is Rear Wheel Drive when you want it and All Wheel Drive when you need it.
To clarify, the all wheel drive kicks in when certain conditions are met:
- The outside temperature
- The windshield wipers are operating
- You accelerate quickly (to pass, for example).
As a driver, you wouldn’t notice the transition from rear wheel drive to all wheel drive. It’s smooth and seamless.
What It’s Like to Drive The Challenger GT AWD.
Pressing my foot on the accelerator felt very natural and comfortable, as did the brake. I felt the true power of the Challenger on the straightaway at Club Motorsports. It plowed through the slush and snow as well as the twists and turns of the rally course. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a big fan of manual transmission (so embarrassing for a gearhead!). I prefer automatic with paddle shifters, which is what the Challenger GT features.
Alison told us the Challenger offered confidence, and I felt that confidence as I navigated both the roads and motorsport courses. When it was Micah’s turn to take to the snow, I explored the other cars on site and found places to store my keys, my garage door opener, my phone charger, and my purse. By the time we returned to the hotel in Portland, I didn’t want to let my Challenger go. I pictured my 7-year-old son in the back seat in his booster and I felt comfortable that this could be a car that grew up with us.
For this much power and versatility, especially if you live in the northern states, the price is fair: the base price is $33,395, and the GT I drove has a sticker price of $39,765, including a power sunroof and GT Interior package with premium seats and sound system.
What You Need To Know: 2017 Dodge Challenger GT
- Two door couple muscle car
- Bucket seats cradle the driver and passenger with settings to control comfort
- Back seats have plenty of leg room for kids and adults
- Trunk is spacious, with room for skis, hockey/ football/ basketball gear, four suitcases for a road trip, and a whole lot of groceries from Costco.
- Cupholders: two in the console and one in each door
- Fuel economy: 18/27 mpg (EPA City/Highway)
- Engine: 305 hp, V6, eight-speed automatic
A Few of the Options Buyers Can Choose:
- For $95, you can add an engine block heater that warms the engine and engine oil to make it easier to start in cold weather and reduces startup wear.
- Driver Convenience Group: The Blind Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Path Detection systems combine to help you see in typical blind spots. Blind Spot Monitoring helps when you make lane changes while driving, and Rear Cross Path Detection helps when you are reversing in parking lot situations.
- GT Interior Package:
- 506-Watt Amplifier
- 9 Speakers with Subwoofer
- Leather Performance Steering Wheel
- Sound Group II
- Suede / Nappa Performance Seats
Our Dodge Challenger GT Playlist
When I climbed into the car in Maine, a classic rock Sirius station was on, and Micah and I decided we liked it and left it on for the rest of the day; it was a perfect fit.
Disclosure: I was a guest of Dodge for this test drive. Travel and accommodations were provided, but opinions and playlist are all my own.