2017 Dodge Challenger GT First Drive: Don’t worry, it can still go sideways

– Portland, Maine

Welcome to the northeastern part of the United States, where much like most of Canada, it’s all-wheel drive pretty much all of the time. The roads are thick with Subarus, and other cars are virtually sales-proof if they aren't offered with some kind of xDrive, 4Matic, or similar variant.

Which is why the 2017 Dodge Challenger GT is the answer to a question that somebody must have asked at some point. After all, people up here don’t particularly enjoy sliding side-to-side in the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru line, as evidenced by how many varieties of all-wheel-drive wagon are lined up outside.

Yet the Challenger itself holds a cachet that strikes a chord with all of America, at least judging by the small-town New Hampshire residents who turned and waved at a 16-foot-long orange coupe rolling by the community theatre. An all-wheel-driven variant of this head-turning car actually might do well here.

The car also buys the Challenger a little more time before a fully redesigned version, supposedly based on the newest Alfa Romeos, bows early next decade.

2017 Dodge Challenger GT: First Drive
2017 Dodge Challenger GT: First Drive
2017 Dodge Challenger GT: First Drive
2017 Dodge Challenger GT: First Drive

The GT uses the all-wheel-drive system from the Charger and Chrysler 300 sedans, mated only to the 3.6-litre V6 and eight-speed automatic.

The GT uses the all-wheel-drive system from the Charger and Chrysler 300 sedans, mated only to the 3.6-litre V6 and eight-speed automatic. With 305 horsepower, progress isn’t exactly slow, but it lacks the expected muscle-car growl and bite off the line that can be had by selecting one of the V8-equipped Challengers that remain rear-drive only. Dodge officials don't seem to care as they say the majority of Challengers (and Chargers, for that matter) leave the factory with the ubiquitous Pentastar engine installed anyway.

Unlike the latest, slimmer versions of the Chevy Camaro and Ford Mustang, the V6-equipped Challengers channel classic – and long-dead – personal luxury coupes like a Thunderbird or a Monte Carlo. They’re big comfy couches of things that are just slightly less practical than a comparable sedan to give off a more indulgent vibe, something that on the surface appears to be more frivolous even if it can still take two car seats on the back bench (installed by a flexible parent, of course).

If only the ride were more comfortable over things that aren’t glass-smooth roads. A mere suggestion of broken pavement makes the Challenger GT clomp over the bumps, which gets very old very quickly. The 19-inch wheels fitted with all-season tires makes you wonder sometimes if anyone from Dodge drove this around Michigan’s city streets much before putting it on sale.

2017 Dodge Challenger GT: First Drive
2017 Dodge Challenger GT: First Drive
2017 Dodge Challenger GT: First Drive
2017 Dodge Challenger GT: First Drive

You're forever aware of its size, and its reflexes are decidedly more lax than its muscle-car counterparts.

The tradeoff isn’t in the handling, either. The GT drives like all Challengers do: big. That's not to say it's entirely ponderous or at all incompetent when there's a turn in the road. But you're forever aware of its size, and its reflexes are decidedly more lax than its muscle-car counterparts, let alone anything with a German badge glued to the front.

For the Challenger, Dodge’s engineers say they made minor alterations over the Charger and 300 though with some software alterations to the electronic stability control to accommodate the coupe’s shorter wheelbase and give the car a “sportier” edge. That's code for it being able to get more sideways than the sedans should you push it.

But on a closed, snow-covered circuit set up by Dodge at a New Hampshire track, the Challenger GT proved to be surprisingly capable, if still oaf-like at times. The all-wheel-drive system lets you kick the car out for a little sliding and snow-throwing action, but it's easy to move the overboosted steering too much in the opposite direction, thereby over-correcting and giving your arms a more serious workout than necessary. Unless you're trying for bigger biceps, which would make the Challenger the perfect car and you can stop scrolling here.

Think about the coupe market now, however, and the Challenger GT neatly fits in. While there is no comparable Camaro or Mustang, at $38,545 it starts off well below the asking price of a BMW 428i xDrive or Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic Coupe – pretty much the only other all-wheel drive two-doors on the market at the moment.

2017 Dodge Challenger GT: First Drive
2017 Dodge Challenger GT: First Drive
2017 Dodge Challenger GT: First Drive
2017 Dodge Challenger GT: First Drive

The Challenger GT is the only game in town if you want a large coupe that has all-wheel drive and also fits adults or kids in car seats in the back.

Loaded up with SRT-style sports seats, driver-assistance tech, and other niceties, you may push the price over the $45,000 mark, which is pricey for a car that doesn't feel that new. Every single aforementioned two-door has youth the Challenger doesn't, which comes to light when you're messing around with the cheap seat controls or wondering if something's wrong when the V6 is noticeably throbbing at idle.

To those who just understand the car, however, none of that will matter. You either get the Challenger or you don’t, same as it ever was.

To those who get it, the Challenger is the only game in town if you want a full-size coupe that doesn’t cost the earth to buy. And now the GT is the only game in town if you want a large coupe that has all-wheel drive and also fits adults or kids in car seats in the back. Which means you can now rationalize the purchase of a two-door car that's the same color as a highlighter to your spouse.

It sounds crazy enough to work.

 

Photos: Zac Estrada / Motor1.com

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