A couple of weeks ago McTaggart sweet talked the boys at the local Dodge dealer to let him take a new 2017 Dodge Challenger GT out for a spin. Well unbeknownst to him, the people at Dodge had sent one here to BangShift eastern world HQ and I had its reins for a week. YOU CAN SEE MCTAG’S STORY HERE
While my opinion of the car fell pretty much inline with his, there’s one thing that nags me even to this moment. Why did they build this car? When we consider what all-wheel-drive means in the automotive world it is kind of interesting. On one hand (and admittedly it is the much smaller hand) we think about machines like the Nissan GT-R or exotics like the Ferrari FF, the Subaru WRX, and the late Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. With its monster 4,000+lb curb weight and 300hp V6 engine, this car is certainly not attempting to be in league with those things. That makes us think about the other end of the AWD spectrum which includes the compact SUVs that every mom in America is clamoring for, things like Volvo wagons, Audis, and other SUVs that are designed for general transportation purposes. Moving people and things, usually with some sort of a video playing on the headrest. This car being a two door is not in that category. So what the heck is this thing supposed to be?
Of course there is a third option which would be appealing to people who live in places like New England, Michigan, Minnesota, and other cold weather states. Those people who would love to have a “muscle car” but are too nervous about what happens in the winter when you try to get to work, to the store, etc. While we understand appealing to that market, we also understand that it is a niche. Manufacturers like Subaru have long had a hammerlock on markets like New England and secondly people seem to have forgotten that adding snow tires, legitimate snow tires to any vehicle can pretty much make it heroic in the winter.
The Challenger is a familiar and good looking car. Exterior styling has not changed much over the years. The GT that we drove rolled on 19″ wheels and wore 235/55/R19 Michelin all-weather performance tires. The 235 tires don’t give the car a very aggressive look and the AWD does give the car a bit more altitude than it has in its typical 2WD stock form. While it does not look awkward per se, you do not get much of a performance vibe from the car if you know what you are looking at. The completely flat faced wheels are also a slightly different look than what we are used to seeing on these cars.
The car rode and drove the same as every two wheel drive Challenger we have driven. Interestingly enough we came home from a trip after spending a few days in a Challenger R/T rental car to drive this so the back to back was very fresh. Obviously there is no comparing the power of the two but handling and driving wise? Unless someone told us that this car was AWD we would not have known. That’s either a good thing or damning it with faint praise. On dry roads there’s no difference. We did not get a late season snowfall to really let us try out the traction and control of the AWD system.
The 3.6L V6 engine is a respectable if not screamy little thing and with it’s 306hp, it gets the car down the road. The eight speed Torqueflite automatic is superb as it has been in everything we have ever driven with one installed. The 8-speed is what makes the small engine OK in this otherwise large car. If it were hooked to a four speed automatic things would be very different. Keeping the revs up and keeping them tightly bunched on gear changes makes the most of the engine’s power. The Challenger GT we drove had the Super Track Pack button which allows access to some “performance tuning” parameters. You can set things up the way you like them. It also gave us access to the launch control which McTag could not use. We did. Fun? Kind of. It is not the type of thing that pins you in your seat and has you screaming for your mom but it put smiles on the face of the family when we gave it a test or two on a quiet backroad.
The interior of the car was what we would expect from this model. Comfortable, good room for the kids in back and the infotainment system is about the best in the business currently. Our car was equipped with the $995 GT Interior Package which meant a leather “performance” steering wheel, the 9-speaker stereo that includes a subwoofer, and a 506 watt amp. We’re not sure how we feel about the red seat inserts and the red on the door panels does not seem like it would age well stylistically. Our opinion.
So at the end of the day? This is clearly a car for someone who wants the looks of the Challenger, the attitude of the Challenger and the economy/piece of mind of a more “reasonable” car. The sticker price on this machine was $39,765 with over $6,000 of it coming in option packages. Things like a technology group with adaptive cruise control, a aforementioned GT interior package, the driver convenience group with HID lights and remote start, and a sun roof all added to the cost. The base price of the car is $33,395.
We’ll be very interested to see how this GT package sells over the next year or two. For the forward thinking Mopar collector, this may be a model to look at. We feel that it will have trouble breaking through to the typical buyers of AWD cars who are looking at them for reasons of practicality. Not because this is a bad or impractical car but the Challenge name denotes performance, muscle, and speed. It does not denote winter weather performance, go anywhere toughness, or billy goat like traction. Attracting buyers from the segments we talked about above will be difficult and we don’t think that performance minded AWD buyers will find enough meat on the bones of the GT to buy them.
It is a good car but one that we believe is answering a question no one really asked.