The 2018 Dodge Challenger's new GT trim level — the first Challenger with all-wheel drive — doesn’t have the muscle to be a proper muscle car, but what it gives up in power, it gains in all-weather traction.
Versus the competition:
There are no direct equivalents to the GT, as no American company offers all-wheel drive on a sports coupe, and foreign luxury brands charge a lot more money for a much smaller car.
I can’t help but wonder if the car pictured here is a solution to a problem nobody had. On one hand, owning a retro-styled muscle car is a ton of fun, with the looks, speed and cachet you can get from driving a beastly sports car. On the other hand, it comes with tradeoffs owners have traditionally expected and lived with — they aren’t efficient, outward visibility is poor and they’re … disadvantaged in the snow.
Well, the folks at Dodge decided to tackle that last compromise with the 2017 Dodge Challenger GT, billed as the world’s first winter-ready muscle car. It features the all-wheel-drive system that’s available in the Charger sedan (the Challenger sits on a shortened Charger chassis) mated to a stout 3.6-liter V-6 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission. Dodge even held the launch party for this car in the middle of a Maine winter to prove you can drive it through ice and snow successfully. But in transitioning to an all-weather coupe, will the Challenger lose some of its muscle and street cred?
Grip — Anytime, Anywhere
There’s nothing different about the Challenger GT from the outside. It looks like any other Dodge Challenger, with big, 19-inch wheels and — in our test car — Green Go nuclear verdant paint. The only clue that this isn’t a standard rear-wheel-drive Challenger is the subtle GT badge on the fenders. You can’t even tell it sits a little bit higher than a normal Chally, so slight is the difference.
It’s when you’re driving in terrible conditions that the AWD makes its presence known. The standard 3.6-liter V-6 makes a decent 305 horsepower and is the only engine offered (for some reason you can’t get a V-8 with AWD). In the rear-wheel-drive Challenger, the V-6 is a reasonably efficient engine that moves the car with acceptable, if not exactly HEMI-level performance-tuned, speed.
The last one we tested, as part of our Small-Engine Muscle Car Challenge, went from zero-to-60 mph in 6.3 seconds — not exactly hair-on-fire levels of speed. It was the slowest of the “small-engine” coupes we tested. The AWD’s extra weight doesn’t help that, but SRT-level speed isn’t exactly the Challenger GT’s mission.
Grip is what it’s all about. Specifically, grip anytime, anywhere. Rainy? Snowy? Icy? Doesn’t matter, the Challenger will keep you pointed straight and get you moving. The AWD makes itself known most in straight-line acceleration. There’s very little wheel slippage in the rear when you plant the accelerator on a slippery road. It accelerates swiftly, with little sideways fishtailing. If you turn while accelerating from a dead stop, this will kick the tail out until the stability control catches you, so it’s still possible to get into trouble despite the additional traction.
The difference the AWD makes in inclement weather, though, is rather remarkable. I was fortunate enough to experience a moderate snowstorm during my week with the Challenger GT, one that would have been extremely hazardous had I been driving an over-powered, RWD muscle car with performance tires. Yet the GT powered on through everything, allowing me to accelerate confidently from stoplights with nary a squirrely movement from the back end.
In dry conditions, however, the Challenger V-6 isn’t all that entertaining. It feels heavy and ponderous, not as willing to dance on a twisty back road as competing muscle cars. The acceleration that feels so quick in slippery conditions isn’t impressive, the brakes aren’t that strong when bringing the car back to a halt, and the super-thick steering wheel doesn’t transmit much information about what the tires or suspension are doing when you’re rounding bends. For people seeking a big, comfortable, stylish coupe, this will be just fine. For buyers wanting an actual sports car, a HEMI-powered Hellcat this ain’t.
Of course, AWD will not help you stop in slippery conditions; your tires are far more important for that. The Michelin Primacy all-season rubber on the Dodge Challenger GT does a decent job of handling slippery conditions, but adding true winter tires to this package each fall would indeed transform the Challenger from a three-season tourer to a capable-year-round coupe.
This is something no other reasonably priced sports coupe on the market can claim. In order to get that kind of all-weather capability in a coupe, you have to go to the German luxury brands, where BMW or Audi will be happy to sell you a much smaller car for a lot more money.
You Coulda Had a V-8
The fact that you can’t get V-8s with the Challenger GT’s AWD is truly unfortunate, as that more powerful motor would wake up this sleepy touring car nicely. The AWD system is available in the Charger Pursuit police car with the V-8, so we know the chassis can support it, but Dodge says that this is where the volume is in the market, so this is where they’re positioning the AWD Challenger.
Fuel economy for the GT, rated by the EPA at 18/27/21 city/highway/combined, is dead even with the 3.7-liter six-piston powered Ford Mustang but behind the 22/31/25 mpg Chevrolet Camaro with its standard turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. My observed fuel economy for the week was a rather modest 17.2 mpg, though that admittedly did not include much highway driving, and slick roads aren’t efficiency’s friend.
A Child of the ’70s
Inside the Dodge Challenger, nothing has changed from the last time we sampled one, aside from a mild update to the Uconnect multimedia system. The design of the dash, doors, seats and console is still retro-themed, inspired by the 1971 Challenger in its shapes, gauges, buttons and even the shifter. While the Mustang and Camaro have embraced modernity with a few hints of nostalgic design, the Challenger remains unabashedly throwback in all its forms, outside and in. If you’re a fan of classic American muscle cars, this is awesome — you can buy a car that looks 90 percent like a classic but has all the modern conveniences, safety, efficiency and reliability of a 21st century automobile.
The interior is comfortable, as one would expect from a car this size. The only difference in the GT is the hump in the front passenger’s footwell to accommodate the AWD system, but it doesn’t eat up much room.
This car really is cavernous inside — more of a grand touring coupe than a true sports car thanks to its width and height. This means you can take along three friends in relative comfort, with nobody complaining about cramped headroom in the back or a lack of width for wider folks.
Add the optional moonroof and the headroom situation changes, with several inches eaten out of it, so it’s best for taller drivers to skip that option. The Challenger’s outward visibility is also the best of the Detroit Three muscle cars, with tall windows and an upright profile, contrasting dramatically with the Camaro’s bunkerlike, gun-slit glass all around.
One area in which the Dodge Challenger continues to shine is onboard multimedia technology. My test car featured a standard 8.4-inch touchscreen with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The latest update to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Uconnect makes things even better, with slightly revised icons for better visibility but maintaining the super-easy-to-use layout and lightning-quick functionality that I’ve come to enjoy. The available navigation system is also one of the few ones out there that allows you to push a button and say, “Navigate to [your destination address],” and it gets the destination right almost every time. An available 18-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system is pretty kickin’, with a subwoofer you’ll need to dial down in order to not distort any music you’re playing.
My test car had a lot of other latest-and-greatest electronic features as well, including automatic high beams, rain-sensitive wipers, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blind spot detection, cross-traffic alert, bi-xenon headlights, keyless entry, remote start and more. The Dodge Challenger may look pretty retro, but it’s a fully modern automobile under the skin.
Looking Good Doesn’t Come Cheap
The AWD adds more than a little bit to the base price of a Challenger V-6: The GT rings in at $34,490 including destination charge. That’s a surprising $6,400 more than the base Challenger SXT V-6, though it does include more standard equipment than the lesser model, including leather interior, heated and cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel with power tilt and telescope, an 8.4-inch touchscreen and a standard six-speaker Alpine audio system. My car featured a number of option packages, too, including the Technology Group, Driver Convenience Group, GT Interior Package, Harman Kardon Premium Sound Group and Uconnect 8.4 with navigation, for a grand total of $39,465.
While it’s a stretch to call the Dodge Challenger GT a muscle car given it’s not all that muscular in V-6 form, one can indeed call it an excellent all-weather personal coupe. For a number of Challenger buyers, especially those living in snowy northern climes, that will likely be enough.