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Review: Dodge Challenger GT: Where’s the beef?

2017 Dodge Challenger GT AWD
The Dodge Challenger GT AWD may not pack the punch of its burlier Challenger siblings, but it’s the only one you can spin through the snow with confidence.
(FCA)

There are many reasons to desire a mighty American muscle car like the Dodge Challenger, Dodge Charger, Chevrolet Corvette or Ford Mustang GT.

They look great.

They sound awesome.

They peel out and lay rubber.

The higher you go in the trim lines, the more true these things become. At the top of the 2017 Dodge line-up, for example, is the 840 horsepower Challenger SRT Demon. It will go zero to 60 in 2.3 seconds, and peel the paint off your neighbor's mailbox.

The cars at the bottom of the muscle car heap are a little harder to explain, and at first glance the 2017 Dodge Challenger GT makes no sense.

Dodge is advertising it as a “heritage-inspired style without burning your budget.”

Translation: It's a muscle car with no muscle.

The two-door, four-passenger sedan is powered by a 3.6-liter V6 engine that makes 305 horsepower and 268 pound feet of torque. Really? On a burly-looking, big-shouldered brute like this, from the family that brought you the Hellcat and the Viper?

It’s all about the AWD

The answer is in the transmission. This 2017 Challenger is the first one ever to be offered with an all-wheel-drive transmission.

That’s great news for Dodge fans who live in places that get a lot of snow and ice. In those locations, the Challenger’s traditional big motor, mated to its traditional rear wheel drive transmission, would mean an all winter slip-n-slide.

The new combination makes the muscular styling, paired with a slightly less muscular engine, an all-weather, all-year AWD car.

It’s not as tail happy as the other Challengers, but it also gets better gas mileage than its muscle-bound brothers. According to the EPA, the GT AWD gets a fuel economy rating of 27 miles per gallon on the highway and 18 mpg in the city.

That compares favorably with the stats on the Hellcat, which gets 21 mpg on the highway and 13 mpg in the city, or the Demon, which may actually have to be measured in terms of gpm, or gallons per mile.

Dodge sells 15 different iterations of the Challenger. But for now it makes only one version of the Challenger AWD, and with only one powertrain. If you want all-wheel drive, you get the 3.6-liter V6, connected to the 8-speed automatic transmission.

Even then, it’s not a traditional all-wheel-drive system. Power is delivered to all four wheels only under extreme acceleration in normal driving mode, or when the driver is using the paddle shifters in Sport driving mode.

Standard features

  • Ventilated and heated front seats
  • Keyless entry
  • Electronic stability control and traction control
  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • Heated, leather steering wheel
  • Dual-zone climate control

Also standard is a back seat that may make this grand touring car feel not so grand for passengers, limited as it is in the leg room department.

But cup holders and plug-ins for devices will ease their pain, and the ample trunk will accommodate golf bags and plenty of luggage for grand touring out of town.

In the city, the comparably anemic engine is plenty peppy for block-to-block acceleration. In the canyons, the standard suspension is firm without being too stiff. When pushed, the car handles better than your average family sedan, and sticks to the road well under hard steering.

How the Challenger GT AWD stacks up

Challenger GT AWD

  • Engine: 3.6-liter V6
  • Horsepower: 305
  • Torque: 268
  • MSRP: $34,490
  • Street cred: Minimal

Challenger SRT Hellcat

  • Engine: 6.2-liter V8
  • Horsepower: 707
  • Torque: 650
  • MSRP $65,290
  • Street cred: Maximal

Options to customize the car, and the cost

The model I borrowed came with some extras, which came with some extra costs.

The very nice “Redline Tri-Coat” paint, which made the car look like a Hot Wheels vehicle, added $595 to the bottom line.

A “Technology Group” package, priced at $1,195, included rain-sensitive wipers, forward collision warning and adaptive speed control.

The $995 “GT Interior Package” delivered a “performance” steering wheel and pumped-up sound system.

In all, the options knocked the MSRP from a base price of $34,490 up to $40,555 for this model.

That’s considerably less than the cost of a Hellcat, Viper or Demon, even with all the extras, for a lot less heat under the hood.

But with the money saved, you can go to the drag strip at Irwindale Speedway, or drive through the snow to see one of the “Fast & Furious” movies, and leave the street screaming to the professionals.

2017 Dodge Challenger GT AWD

Times’ take: Mighty American muscle car, without the muscle

Highs: Great styling, now available with AWD

Lows: Too bad about the anemic engine

Vehicle type: Two-door, four-passenger coupe

Base price: $34,490

Price as tested: $40,555

Powertrain: 3.6-liter, V6 gas engine

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Horsepower: 305

Torque: 268 pound feet

EPA fuel economy rating: 18 city / 27 highway / 21 combined

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