2017 Dodge Challenger GT: An AWD Cure for the Muscle Car Conundrum

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2017 Dodge Challenger GT

2017 Dodge Challenger GT in ToRed | Nick Kurczewski/Autos Cheat Sheet

The Dodge Demon is getting all the hype, but the Challenger GT might have just revolutionized the muscle car market in a way no lightweight, performance-crazed, supercharged Hemi ever could. The 2017 Dodge Challenger GT takes all the looks and most of the muscle you’d want in an American performance coupe, then blends in the convenience and practicality of all-wheel drive.

This is a car that could save marriages, ladies and gentlemen. Suddenly, the argument to own an American muscle machine has become that much simpler.

The Challenger GT still looks like a true muscle car, so don’t worry. About the only thing that announces the GT as the all-wheel-drive model are teeny-tiny “GT” emblems on the front fenders. This incognito approach is quite cool, and it could sway some buyers who want the “sensible” version but don’t necessarily need to announce it to the world.

From there on out, this is the same old-school Challenger we’ve come to know and love. The latest Mustang and Camaro still play the retro-themed styling game, though the Challenger seems to be aging the best amongst the three. Design is highly subjective, of course, so feel free to disagree; yet, for a car that has been with us for a few years now, the Challenger’s brawny lines still look great.

2017 Dodge Challenger GT

2017 Dodge Challenger GT in Yellow Jacket | Nick Kurczewski/Autos Cheat Sheet

And yes, if you want to go crazy with colors, you can do so. Exterior hues like Go Mango, Yellow Jacket, Green Go, and TorRed are all available. So too is a subtle body stripe package for only $395. The Challenger still looks great, and the GT doesn’t mess with a good thing. Our biggest knock is that a lack of hood scoops gives the game away that this isn’t a Hemi-powered Dodge muscle car. Which it isn’t.

A bitter dispute at a dealership between a sensible SUV or a menacing sports car has just been blurred by this Dodge coupe. While there is nothing mind-blowingly new beneath the sheet metal, the combination of a stout 305 horsepower V6 and AWD hardware suddenly makes the argument for owning a Challenger that much stronger.

2017 Dodge Challenger GT in the snow

Nothing tests out an AWD system like a good New England winter | Nick Kurczewski/Autos Cheat Sheet

Diehards will bemoan the fact that this model isn’t available with a V8. And yes, you also have to cope with the eight-speed automatic. Sorry, but the Challenger’s close cousin, the Charger sedan, proved that purists who want a Hemi aren’t bothered with adding AWD. Meanwhile, customers tempted by the Charger’s available AWD opted to stick with the less expensive, base Pentastar V6.

Dodge Challenger GT engine

The Challenger’s 3.6 liter Pentastar V6 | Nick Kurczewski/Autos Cheat Sheet

Taking this lesson and applying it to the Challenger, Dodge knew that customers hunting for a practical muscle machine were probably the same folks who’d rather have the lower cost of the six-cylinder engine. And you know what, it’s not a terrible trade-off.

The V6 and eight-speed automatic are a seamless match. The added AWD system works perfectly with this powertrain. But when you’re really gunning it, you’re going to know this is not a Hemi. The V6 sounds meaner than it ultimately proves to be.

Inside and up front, you have a pair of big comfortable seats, plenty of shoulder room, and crummy visibility, especially when looking rearward. Even more reason to choose the optional Driver Convenience Package ($1,095), which includes blind spot monitors and rear cross-traffic alerts. We know — this sounds superfluous in a muscle car.

an old Plymouth

An old Plymouth | Pixabay

But take a gander at those old Plymouth Roadrunners and ‘Cudas from the 1960s and you’ll notice one thing – they all have bigger windows and much thinner roof pillars. So, trust us, get the options that make the most sense and allow you to see out of your Challenger GT.

Rear seat room is fine for two adults of shorter stature, and for shorter drives. The Uconnect infotainment system is incredibly easy to use and intuitive. It’s not the most elegant system out there, and the oversized buttons and graphics can appear like they were developed for a toddler with mittens on. But it works and isn’t distracting, so we’ll forego fancy aesthetics for usability any day.

Dodge Challenger GT interior

Inside, it’s everything you’d expect from a Challenger | Nick Kurczewski/Autos Cheat Sheet

However, there still isn’t a load of room in the back. This Challenger might have AWD, but it’s hardly a replacement for a Chrysler Pacifica minivan. But we’re happy Dodge has kept the Challenger updated with improved infotainment systems and safety/convenience features.

Other than the addition of standard all-wheel drive, the Challenger GT comes with stability and traction control, a full complement of front, side, and side-curtain airbags, along with a rearview camera and parking sensors. Available safety features include rear cross-traffic alerts, blind spot monitors, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, automatic high beams, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.

Oh yes, and ventilated front seats — possibly the best invention ever — are part of the GT Interior Package ($995) that also includes a 506-watt Alpine nine-speaker audio system, along with a leather wrapped steering wheel. Even when fitted with every available safety option, the Challenger GT is still one heck of a bargain, but it’s too bad you must choose amongst so many optional packages to get the best stuff. Stand-alone options are nearly nonexistent.

The Dodge Challenger GT

The Challenger GT plays in the snow | Nick Kurczewski/Autos Cheat Sheet

Punch the gas and the Challenger GT has a solid snarl, one that could almost be mistaken for a V8. Ultimate acceleration gives the game away, however; on empty highways, when squeezing the accelerator for an extra jolt of power, there simply isn’t anything close to the urgency and momentum found in the brawnier Hemi models. We wanted to hit 100 miles per hour — just because — and the wait before approaching a tight oncoming corner was, shall we say, a little longer than anticipated.

We made it, barely.

Far more impressive is how the Challenger GT tackles slippery conditions, particularly a snow-covered series of driving challenges awaiting us at Club Motorsports in Tamworth, New Hampshire.

Cars stuck in snow

The Challenger GT powered through the snow | Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Straight-line acceleration tests and a snowy skid-pad were entertaining, but it was the wintry mini road course that got our juices flowing. There is something extremely weird about barreling into piles of snow, knowing you’re behind the wheel of a Dodge Challenger. It shouldn’t work, and your brain keeps telling you something bad is about to happen. Yet, the Challenger GT keeps rolling and kicking up mounds of snow in its wake.

In normal driving conditions, power is sent to the rear wheels. That also applies when you have the steering wheel cranked hard in any direction. Straighten things out, and the Challenger GT finds the grip to get you moving again.

While the muscle car world remains smitten with anything related to the Dodge Demon, the Challenger GT manages to sneak under the radar and steal the limelight (if only briefly). We hope this formula proves successful, because the prospect of all-wheel-drive Mustangs and Camaros is incredibly intriguing.

Dodge Charger in TorRed

TorRed stands out in the white landscape | Nick Kurczewski/Autos Cheat Sheet

Will American performance fans be willing to give the Challenger GT a chance? The Charger sedan with AWD isn’t exactly a sales sensation, and we already mentioned how the Hemi-AWD combo flopped.

Dodge Challenger GT in the snow

What’s better than a muscle car in snow? An AWD muscle car in snow. | Nick Kurczewski/Autos Cheat Sheet

The ride and handling of the Challenger GT is performance-oriented while also being nicely relaxed for longer drives. Strangely enough, our GT felt less soft and wallowy in corners than some more potent Challenger models we’ve driven. Credit is due to the lighter V6 engine in the nose, which is significantly lighter than those big, bad 707-horsepower Hellcats.

This is a muscle car that could open the genre to an entirely new client base. Dodge is certainly hoping that it will, obviously. While it might seem like a niche player for now, we’re keeping close tabs on the sales charts. If the Challenger GT gains serious traction, the American muscle car market could be changed in a way that will shade the impact of any Demon, Shelby, or ZL1.

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