When Dodge showed off a Challenger GT concept awhile back, there was hope that we’d see an all-wheel drive, wide-bodied, V8-powered Challenger that would be a boss at the track. That didn’t happen.
But before you go and click away, the Challenger GT is a significant car and it feels a void that could be quite lucrative for the performance brand. What Dodge brought to market is the right tool for the right job. That job is year-round Challenger fun.
All-wheel drive is a primary purchase consideration for people who live where it snows, whether or not they actually need the all-wheel drive. People who walk into a Dodge dealership looking at a Challenger cross-shop with the Charger because of the all-wheel drive. It turns out many end up buying the Charger for that reason.
In fact, according to Dodge, the number one cross shop for the Challenger is the Charger. The number one cross shop for the Charger is the Challenger. I guess Dodge should be glad that either way, they walk out of the dealership with one of their products, but there has to be a better way.
Enter the Challenger GT. For the 17 states where over half the vehicles are purchased with all-wheel drive, the Challenger GT allows you to get a muscle car without making a sacrifice.
“But what about the V8?”
Well, here’s the thing. I’m not sure entirely how large the market it for someone buying a two-door, all-wheel drive muscle coupe. In order to entice the most buyers, Dodge went with the Pentastar V6 as the engine in the GT. It’s 305 horsepower is truly plenty for nearly all driving situations. Also, over half the people who buy the Challenger and Charger buy it with the V6.
So what conclusions can we draw from our first drive experience on the snow-covered roads of Maine and northern New Hampshire?
The V6 Challenger GT is now the base V6 car in my eyes. If you walk into a dealership wanting a V6 Challenger, buy the GT. Full stop. Well, at least if you live where it snows.
The standard equipment of the GT is higher than that of the other V6 models. Standard features include niceties like premium Nappa leather with heating and ventilation. An 8.4-inch Uconnect screen is on hand — a new design for this year — and includes Google’s Android Auto and Apple’s Car Play support right out of the box. You don’t need to get navigation if you’d prefer to use your phone and still have the slick integration those systems offer.
Additional standard features include the Super Track Pak settings that allow you to configure the setup of the car, and a fully-defeatable electronic stability control with a Sport setting.
Again, all of those features are optional extras on other V6 Challengers.
The available options are also smart choices. There’s a brand-new GT Interior Package that includes the comfortable seats lifted straight from the SRT models, plus a steering wheel that feels like it was borrowed from a Hellcat. At $995 it’s already a deal before you add in a premium Alpine stereo.
Other Challenger features that we like are available, include a technology package with HID headlights, automatic high-beam control, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, and emergency brake warning. It’s all good stuff that make the care safer and more enjoyable during the day-to-day grind.
Lastly there’s a premium Harman Kardon stereo with a gajillion speakers if you want it. If you get option box crazy, you’re still under $40,000 with everything.
The Challenger is quite refined at this point, and it feels like what you’d expect from a $40,000 car. The fit and finish is respectable. The materials you touch, including the dash, are made of a soft material. The all-black interior of our particular car was a bit dreary because I don’t like interiors that dark, but that’s fixed by selecting a different interior color.
What I mean to say is that it’s everything you’d expect from a modern Challenger. If you like the Challenger, you’ll like this car. If you don’t like the Challenger, this probably isn’t going to win you over.
Driving the Challenger GT is like driving a normal Challenger in the day-to-day driving. You can’t feel when the car is powering all four wheels or just the rears — but there is a display that shows you. The car still feels heavy, but the 200 pounds that are added for the all-wheel drive system, bigger wheels and bigger brakes aren’t noticeable. Neither is the less than an inch increase in ride height.
To make a Challenger GT, Dodge started with the heavy-duty suspension from the Dodge Charger Pursuit. It does make the car ride stiffer than the other V6 Challengers, and on some of the frost heaves on our drive route made the ride quite bumpy, the trade off is the car corners a little flatter than before. Plus, if you want to go full Dukes of Hazard the suspension will hold up to the shenanigans better.
Speaking of shenanigans, we ended up at Club Motorsport in New Hampshire to drive the Challenger GT on the race track. The folks from Team O’Neil Rally School were there to make sure we weren’t complete doofuses behind the wheel and show us the way around a snow-covered autocross that was set up.
There was about 5 to 6-inches of snow on the ground on the track itself, with drifts to each side from where they plowed the course. It’s not a normal situation that I’d want to drive a Challenger, or any rear-drive car, in.
To Dodge’s credit, they kept the factory Michelin all-seasons on the wheels. Some manufacturers to improve performance on drive events in the snow will install snow tires. Kudos to Dodge for keeping their restraint and letting us experience the car as the customer would from the showroom floor.
The power shifting from the front to the rear is pretty seamless. The only time the car would understeer terribly is when I would screw something up. The car maintains a rear power bias, so whether tackling the skidpad or autocross, the car only really uses to front wheels to get you out of trouble.
The biggest thing that lets the Challenger down in the really deep stuff is the ride height. Additionally, there’s a chin spoiler up front — which is on all Challengers — that acts as a mini snow plow when you get into the drifts. Don’t get me wrong, the car is extremely capable in the nasty stuff, but it’s not a Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Fuel economy does take a bit of a hit with the all-wheel drive system. The Challenger GT is rated at 27 miles-per-gallon on the highway compared to the normal car’s 30 mpg. The ZF 8-speed automatic transmission works well here, as it does in nearly everything we drive that has it. Yes, it’s sad there’s no manual transmission option, but the take rate is so slow that it’d be silly to offer it on a car that they’re trying to get to appeal to the most people possible.
The whole thing starts at $33,395 — before the $1,095 destination charger — and strikes us as good value. While it’s a bit more than the $27,190 than a base SXT, the extra standard equipment justifies the price. The extra capability pushes it over the top.
If you’re looking for a two-door car with decent power and all-wheel drive, you don’t really have a lot of options. Those options are even fewer when you rule out the premium luxury brands. The Dodge Challenger GT is for someone who wants to drive a great-looking muscle car, but still wants to go skiing on the weekend or lives someplace where it snows, but doesn’t want to give up their fun car to do it.