PETOSKEY, MI – Automakers build a range of vehicles equipped to tackle snowy conditions, carry a load and keep driver and passengers comfortable and happy. It’s safe to say the Dodge Challenger GT AWD isn’t anywhere near the top of that list, but maybe it deserves to be.
On a winter power run to snowy Northern Michigan, we load four adults and ski equipment into the latest Challenger, one offering a segment-exclusive all-wheel-drive twist on the 2-door American muscle-car theme.
While the rear seatbacks will fold to handle skis and snowboards, we need the space for passengers so our waxed slats ride on window-mounted racks. Everything else for the weekend getaway goes in the big, deep trunk.
Access to the back seat isn’t easy, requiring tipping the front seatbacks, moving the front seats far forward on their tracks and playing limbo with the front shoulder harnesses. But once our riders settle into the cozy, bucket-like back seats, there are no complaints about comfort or inadequate legroom. The flip-down center armrest offers an extra measure of comfort, along with cupholders.
Our drive north comes on dry, open highways, the kind of miles the Challenger and its sedan sibling Charger (and relative Chrysler 300) eat up with ease, smoothness and comfort. Our trip is no exception, and we post a steady 24 mpg (9.8 L/100 km) despite having dual airfoils of skis hanging on each door window and a full load of adults on board. The AWD model is rated at 18 mpg city/27 highway/21 combined (13.6-8.7-11.2 L/100 km), 2 mpg (0.9 km/L) combined less than the standard rear-drive version.
The all-weather Challenger GT AWD comes with just one powertrain, a 3.6L, 305-hp, 268-lb.-ft. (363-Nm) V-6 mated to an 8-speed automatic. The drivetrain is rear-biased, so the vehicle still feels like a rear-drive muscle car in most driving conditions, sending 100% of the torque rearward. But when conditions warrant, the AWD system automatically engages the front axle via an active transfer case, without any need to punch a button.
We clearly are the outliers at our chosen ski destination as we roll up amid the SUVs and pickups in our snow-covered Contusion Blue coupe. The wide-opening doors, along with the protruding skis, mean we park a little wider than most, but it’s a big parking area so no one minds.
Snow is coming down hard as we take to the slopes, building up at rate of an inch or so an hour, and turning to near-blizzard white-out conditions when we finally call it quits for the day. We wheel the Challenger GT AWD into the loading area – again, we’re the anomaly among the other ski vehicles – and toss our gear into the trunk, skis on the racks and butts into the seats.
My navigator takes the initiative to identify the most direct route to the freeway, avoiding the lines of cars stacking up on the main routes. Normally when driving a car like this in a snowstorm we’d be wise to stick to the beaten path, but the Challenger GT AWD, fitted with stock all-season performance tires, sneers at the slick surfaces.
More than once the directions called for launching from a dead stop straight up a significant incline deep with unplowed snow, and the car barely spins its wheels during the ascent.
Once we break through to the freeway, it’s ice and hard-packed slippery stuff combined with high crosswinds and blowing snow, but unlike all the tall, wind-catching trucks and SUVs around us, the Challenger sits low in the lane and seems unperturbed by the weather. Credit the car’s Vehicle Dynamic Control management of front-to-rear torque, combined with stability control, with assuring great traction and keeping us on our chosen path.
As we power south, the weather breaks and we’re free and clear of the wintry mix for the final leg home, surprisingly having enjoyed one of our least-white-knuckle winter drives in a long time.
The Challenger GT AWD is on sale now, starting at $33,395 (plus $1,095 destination and handling charge); our tester listed at $38,075 with options including a Harman Kardon audio system ($1,595), power sunroof ($1,195) and UConnect navigation with an 8.4-in. (21-cm) touchscreen.
[email protected] @bobgritzinger