Test Drive: 2018 Dodge Challenger GT AWD

What better way to brighten up a dreary winter than driving a searing yellow American pony car? And one that can confidently plow its way through deep snow, plus perform spectacular sideways antics when the conditions permit.

A pony car that can’t do burnouts and could see the taillights of a four-cylinder ’Stang or Camaro?

Say hello to the 2018 Challenger GT AWD, a wacky gift from Dodge for those with a sense of humour and love for winter. Starting at $38,895, the GT AWD comes only with a 305 hp 3.6L Pentastar V6 and eight-speed ZF-sourced automatic transmission. Tech, safety, and infotainment upgrades elevated this tester’s sticker to $43,380.

While the Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro have evolved into lean, mean fighting machines, this big ol’ redux Dodge Challenger still rides on the same LX bones it came with back in 2008 – a chassis that can trace its lineage to Mercedes-Benz sedans from the 90s. Making an AWD version of the Challenger was relatively simple – just borrow the hardware from its stablemate, the Charger SXT AWD.

Consequently, the Challenger GT AWD gets a raised ride height, and on these unfashionably smallish wheels wearing 55-series tires it looks a little odd, bordering on dorky. Can you call a bright yellow pony car jacked-up? Perhaps un-slammed or de-stanced is more appropriate. Whatever, it’s a pretty unique piece, and with winter in full wallop during this test week, it proved a highly functional and entertaining tool.

It should be noted that winter will be only time when a 1,861 kg V6 Challenger will soundly kick a Mustang GT or Camaro SS in the arse. In fact, come spring you might just want to put the Challenger GT AWD away. A pony car that can’t do burnouts and could see the taillights of a four-cylinder ’Stang or Camaro?

Dodge’s Challenger might be a dinosaur, but it is a pleasingly well sorted and refined dinosaur. The structure feels rock-solid and there’s nary a squeak or rattle within. The cabin is nicely isolated from outside noise, and while the dash is dated, here it benefits from FCA’s user-friendly 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen interface. The optional 18-speaker Harman Kardon audio kicks and the supportive front buckets are both heated and ventilated. The standard heated steering wheel is something every winter warrior needs.

The electric steering is very good, delivering fine weighting and a decent amount of feedback. All the better for tossing this nicely balanced chassis about in the quest for a few well-controlled slides. The brake pedal responds with a firm, linear feel.

While this GT AWD will never be a stop-light champ, the 305 hp V6 pulls well and makes a convincing growl while doing so. It generates 90 percent of its 268 lb-ft from 1,800 to 6,400 rpm so it always feels like there’s some shove underfoot. No complaints with the ZF-sourced eight-speed auto, either. It steps up its game in Sport mode and responds swiftly to paddle-shifter inputs.

The suspension absorbs small impacts well, but larger road variations reveal a stiff-legged ride that pitches and jostles – likely the result of maintaining taut body control with this higher-riding Challenger. Apparently Dodge snagged some police-duty bits from the Charger sedan for this GT AWD – heavy-duty springs, dampers, and anti-roll bars. It does handle much better than you’d expect. That long snout is eager to point into turns, and once there the car cuts a clean path with minimal body roll.

For such a huge car, packaging is pretty woeful – getting into the back seats requires some serious contortions, and once back there, leg room is in short supply. There’s lots of space up front, but the high beltline, thick pillars, and low roof make limited outward viewing. Well, what do you expect from an XXL redux muscle coupe? Better than the Camaro, though.

The AWD system adds 71 kg to the already portly V6 Challenger. It favours rear drive, with the ability to decouple the front axles for better fuel mileage. When conditions dictate, the system will seamlessly direct up to 38 percent of the torque to the front wheels. Select Sport mode or activate Manual mode via the shift paddle and AWD is activated.

In Normal mode this pony car will haul you down a deep snowy road with ease (on winter tires, of course), but switch to Sport and silly oversteer is there for the taking thanks to a lenient electronic stability control program. There is also a “full-off” setting for the ESC if you’re feeling particularly juvenile. Or have entered the GT in a rally.

Currently available on autoTRADER.ca

Standard features include heated front Nappa leather seats, 19-inch wheels wearing 235/55R19 all season tires, proximity key with push-button start, heated steering wheel, rear park assist, 8.4-inch Uconnect, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, SiriusXM, Dodge Performance Pages with launch control, Bluetooth, and power tilt/telescoping steering wheel. The $895 Technology Group adds adaptive cruise, auto high-beams, front collision warning, and rain-sensing wipers, while the $995 Driver Convenience Group bestows blind-spot and rear cross traffic detection, HID headlights, remote start, and body-coloured multi-function mirrors. Add $770 for updated Uconnect with navigation.

One might wonder why Dodge would go to the trouble of creating this Challenger with four driven wheels. Don’t folks who buy Challengers want V8 power? Not necessarily. The most popular Challenger drivetrain (in the US) is the V6/eight-speed auto combo, so making all-wheel-drive available will only broaden its appeal. And there’s no question, this oddball AWD Challenger has its charms.

2018 Dodge Challenger GT AWD
Engine Displacement: 3.6L
Engine Cylinders: V6
Peak Horsepower: 305 hp
Peak Torque: 268 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 12.8/8.7/11.0 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 453 L
2018 Dodge Challenger GT AWD
Base Price $38,895
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,795
Price as Tested $45,275
Optional Equipment $4,485 – Technology Group $895; Driver Convenience Group $995; Premium Sound Group $1500; body side stripes $325; Uconnect 4C with navigation $770
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.2
8 Styling
7 Powertrain
7 Quality
7 Comfort
5 Practicality
8 Drivability
8 Usability/Ergonomics
7 Fuel Economy
8 Features
7 Value