No one expects all-wheel drive to turn the Dodge Challenger into a WRX STI-slaying corner carver. No, the benefit is a little extra bite on slippery surfaces. I’m not convinced it’s superior to a set of snow tires, but it definitely hasn’t lost the personality that makes a Challenger so much fun.
(Full disclosure: I asked Dodge to let me try a Challenger, any Challenger, before I drove the 840 horsepower Demon. So they sent me this AWD V6 with a full tank of gas.)
Put on your oven mitts and get ready for a hot take: American car customers’ obsession with all-wheel drive is dumb.
“I need it for the winter,” you say.
No, what you need are the right tires.
“It handles so much better,” you say.
It’s great on some cars, but what really you need is driving school.
Yet here we are, it’s 2017 and you can buy a Dodge Challenger muscle car with AWD because buyers are crazy over the concept of capability, even if they may or may not understand it.
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Well, that, and Dodge needed something tangible to reignite the appeal of its geriatric coupe since we can’t all afford the $80,000 Demon.
If a lack of AWD was the only thing holding you back from buying a Challenger, I think you should re-evaluate your decision making. But if you want a Challenger and feel compelled to saddle it with an extra 157 pounds of drivetrain, the V6 AWD version of this car does not suck.
What Is It?
Some would say this iteration of the Challenger is barely a muscle car at all, with its dinky 305-horsepower V6 pushing 4,000-plus pounds of iron around through all four wheels. But today’s Challenger was designed to do the same thing as it forefather in 1970: be a decent daily driver that makes you feel like a fuckin’ boss behind that enormous hood. And in that regard, it delivers.
Besides, the 2017 Challenger GT makes as much power as some big-block HEMIs from the OG Challenger’s era, and puts it to the ground with significantly greater efficiency. So suck on that, grandpa.
Did I have you going for a second there? The fact that a big, healthy naturally aspirated V8 simply sweats excellence remains a universal truth. But the V6 makes up for its shortcomings in the shock-and-awe department with a helpful bump in fuel economy and it’s still solidly “not slow.”
I actually managed to turn an efficiency average of better than 28 mpg from Los Angeles to Mammoth Lakes and back. That’s over 600 miles of highway cruising, half of which was uphill and very, very fast.
The Challenger V6 is not just a viable daily driver, it’s big enough to be a damn decent family car. And hey, if AWD is what it takes to trick your car-averse significant other into letting you buy a muscle car, maybe I should be giving Dodge more credit for the concept after all.
Why Does It Matter?
As a gentle-driving meathead-mobile, the Challenger GT AWD is something of a paradox. It’s in-your-face but also easy to use, all-weather capable and I’m serious when I say it’s surprisingly practical for a two-door coupe.
I highly doubt history will look back at this “first all-wheel drive muscle car” with any particular reverence, but for now, the Challenger AWD is a unique combination of retro-aggro styling and four driving wheels.
What Stands Out
That AWD system can be locked on by putting the car in Sport Mode. But otherwise, the front axle will simply (and seamlessly) engage when the car’s traction control system deems it necessary. I didn’t really notice the car hooking up its front wheels while we went barreling down forest roads, and I guess that’s the point.
But to answer a more burning question, you can still chirp tires with an enthusiastic parking lot exit.
Besides its gloriously true-to-heritage exterior, which I’m still not sick of a decade after its introduction, the most striking thing about a Challenger without a V8 is how ridiculously large it is inside.
The trunk seems deep enough to swallow more cargo than the back of a Chevy Suburban, and the rear seats are thrones compared to what’s in a Mustang or Camaro.
Dodge-parent Fiat Chrysler’s Uconnect infotainment system continues to be one of the most refreshingly idiot-proof and well-appointed interfaces in cars in general, and the shapes and placements of everything in this car’s cabin is pretty much on-point across the board.
The Challenger is basically just a roof rack away from being able to take two couples on a ski trip. Cargo space is abundant and now everybody who thinks all-wheel drive is an instant “easy-driving” button has a reason to be excited.
Have enough people complained about the dashboard material of this car? I only bring it up again because it’s one of the few things I could find to complain about in the Challenger’s cockpit, and I got angry about it all over again when I climbed into a Mazda3 and realized the economy car’s dashboard had superior quality to the Challenger’s.
There also seemed to be odd lump in the part of the seat where your lower back lands. I couldn’t figure out how to iron it out with the controller, and it forced me to sit with a little arch in my spine I wasn’t crazy about.
The only other problem I couldn’t get over was the size of the Challenger’s sun visors, or lack thereof. They’re only long enough to cover a third of the side windows, which, damnit, isn’t enough for riding into the desert sunset.
Despite its somewhat unwieldy length (almost 200 inches tip to tail!) the Challenger AWD’s power steering is so high-strung that the car’s really pretty easy to putter between parking spaces.
As you look out over the car’s expansive bow and throw an elbow out the sliver-thin side window, the Challenger still does a great job of making you feel like the star of your own movie. And if that doesn’t turn you on a little, you’re probably not walking into a Dodge dealer in the first place.
This engine’s 305 HP is sufficient for merging or quick squirts through yellow lights, and the eight-speed automatic transmission pretty much stays behind its curtain of mystery until you start messing with the paddle shifters. I do not recommend doing that; eight gears is too many to fuck with, and pushing these little pieces of plastic is more frustrating than fun.
The Challenger looks like a bruiser, but the V6 is a cruiser. And the AWD version, about 160 pounds heavier than its rear-drive equivalent, is an especially gentle giant with a factory-claimed quarter mile time of just under 15 seconds. You won’t enjoy what happens if you provoke other cars into a drag race, and that’s obviously the biggest gap in the Challenger V6 AWD’s muscle car credentials.
The car has some grip around corners, but all-wheel drive can only fight two-tons of mass sliding on skinny all-season tires for so long. I had trouble getting the hang of where the car would break traction under extremely mean cornering, as it seemed to understeer somewhat inconsistently.
Sport Mode, which locks the car in AWD mode, seemed to make the car more predictable. But as far as tossing the Challenger around, on pavement and dirt, I never found myself thinking I’d rather be in this than a regular rear-drive variant.
Steering feel is fine, but it’s not memorably direct or precise. The electric system that makes it so easy to park sucks some of the connectedness away from the wheel when you’re making your stuntman audition videos. But how often are you going to turn in a Dodge Challenger anyway? No vehicle this size likes to be flicked, though even without a V8 the Challenger definitely doesn’t feel slow, despite the deplorable quarter mile claim. There’s plenty of pulling power as you’re getting onto the highway, and the car feels completely planted at open-highway warp speeds.
When you get a second to take your eyes off the road, there are sheets and sheets of data points you can look at regarding g forces, fluid temperatures, and other fun information you can’t do anything with. Did you know this car comes with no less than six infotainment screens that are just static pictures of the car’s exterior? The color doesn’t match the car you’re in, which I found irritating, but it’s there.
The Challenger GT AWD has no problem cruising fast, but it didn’t feel like it was particularly comfortable driving hard. Stick to highways and stay off the autocross course and you’ll enjoy driving this car a lot more.
Who’s it for?
The Dodge Challenger is unapologetically big and brash, so I’d forgive you for writing it off as the official car of adult adolescents who do karate in their garage. But the dose of self-confidence and excitement this thing gives you, even at a slow-traffic trolling speed, is pretty addictive. You should try a taste before you knock it too much.
That said, the V6 AWD is as mass-appeal as this model line is going to get. And despite the car’s imposing size and aggressive demeanor, you do not have to be a flat-brim’d brohan or weird bachelor uncle to appreciate this car or enjoy its personality.
Honestly, the car’s so stable at speed and has such an impressive payload capacity that the only thing keeping it from being a great family road trip car is the minor inconvenience of having to fold the front seat to let people get into the back.
Put another way: the Challenger GT AWD is for anybody who’s willing to trade easy parallel parking and some in-town fuel economy for an old-school Americana vibe and cruiser comfort to match. I guess you could say that for any Challenger, the AWD just lets you drive a little deeper into bad weather.
First, forget AWD on the Challenger’s two biggest competitors, the Mustang and Camaro. They don’t have it.
The cheapest AWD Challenger is about $33,000. Ours rang up at about $41,000 with navigation, a sunroof, a suite of driver safety aids and an exceptionally sparkly red paint job. That’s a lot of money for anything, but let’s shop around and see what other AWD coupes cost about the same.
An Infiniti Q60 3.0 AWD is around $46,000 with more power, but less cargo room. A Mercedes C400 4Matic is $44,000, but down on power and size. It costs a whopping $60,000 to step up to a more equivalent E-Class.
A Cadillac ATS AWD starts at $37,000 with a much smaller engine than the Challenger’s that makes similar power, but the Caddy creeps up to $45,000 if you want a V6.
None of those cars are a Dodge Challenger, though. And as dumb as that sounds, that means something, because the Challenger is the last real retro American asphalt eater you can buy right now. If that’s what you want, it’s your only option.
Of all the cars on sale in 2017 I still think the Challenger offers one of the best balances between what’s fun and what’s actually going to be viable for your daily life.
It looks like a caricature and rolls with a strut at any speed. Even the plucky V6 had me digging up excuses to go for a drive. And when you need to get something done, the trunk swallows more groceries/sports gear/Home Depot haulage than most compact crossovers.
The AWD version is more of an expansion on the car’s practical aspect than its performance. I’m not convinced the front drive axle is better than a good set of tires on a rear-drive car, but with right rubber and AWD, this Challenger would be a bad-weather beast. Just be careful going over snow banks, since you’re still liable to get high-centered on speed bumps in this barge.