DRIV­ING

Times Colonist - - Front Page - MALCOLM GUNN

For a car that burns the back tires as eas­ily as the Dodge Chal­lenger, a new all-wheel-drive op­tion seems ob­vi­ous, if not down­right nec­es­sary.

By driv­ing the front wheels as well as the rears, the car has enough grip to ac­tu­ally be use­ful when there’s snow on the ground.

The Chal­lenger GT is the first of the pony-car group — that in­cludes the Chevro­let Ca­maro and Ford Mus­tang — to drive all four wheels. This is in­deed ground­break­ing, but also in­cred­i­bly frus­trat­ing, as the sys­tem is only avail­able with the base V-6 and not with any of the V-8 mod­els, which could re­ally use the trac­tion.

Dodge refers to the GT as an “all-wheel-drive Amer­i­can muscle coupe,” but Dodge is re­ally only push­ing all-wheel-drive as a way to make the V-6 Chal­lenger more bear­able — per­haps even use­ful — in win­ter climes.

Vis­ually, Dodge is keep­ing the news pretty much to it­self. There’s no big fen­der flairs or “AWD” call-out letters. In fact, dis­tin­guish­ing the GT from the rest of the Chal­lenger pack could prove, uh, chal­leng­ing, but stan­dard fog lights, rear deck-lid spoiler and unique 19-inch “Hy­per Black” wheels are give­aways. The spe­cially tuned dual ex­haust sys­tem also makes more of a rumble.

A Chal­lenger that drives all four wheels does keep alive the Dodge tra­di­tion of cre­at­ing unique spe­cialty mod­els. Count the 707-horse­power Hell­cat and up­com­ing 840-horse­power De­mon among the mod­els that cater to buy­ers who be­lieve that “muscle”’ means a V-8 un­der the hood.

It’s un­doubt­edly a missed op­por­tu­nity to only of­fer the 305-horse­power 3.6-litre V-6, es­pe­cially when the 372-horse­power 5.7-litre V-8 can be had in the re­lated all-wheel-drive Dodge Charger four-door sedan, al­though only au­tho­rized po­lice de­part­ments can get it. Still, the hard­ware ex­ists and would make an ob­vi­ous trans­fer to the Chal­lenger.

Adapt­ing the Chal­lenger for AWD duty in­cludes in­stalling the Charger’s Po­lice Pur­suit sus­pen­sion and ad­just­ing the spring rates and anti-roll bars for a softer ride. Most of the time, the GT func­tions in rear-wheel-drive and the drive­shaft that trans­mits torque to the front wheels is dis­con­nected to aid fuel econ­omy.

When the rear wheels be­gin to slip, or dur­ing hard ac­cel­er­a­tion — or when the wind­shield wipers are ac­ti­vated, which pre­sumes rain and there­fore less­en­ing trac­tion — the front axle is au­to­mat­i­cally en­gaged.

The GT comes with an eight-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion with steer­ing­wheel-mounted pad­dle shifters. A Sport mode speeds up the shifts — and holds each gear longer — but will likely neg­a­tively im­pact the fuel-con­sump­tion rat­ing of 12.8 l/100 km in the city and 8.7 on the high­way. The RWD V-6 model is rated at 12.4/7.8. The ex­tra 90 kilo­grams of AWD hard­ware is at least partly re­spon­si­ble for the GT’s poorer num­bers.

At a base price of $40,600, in­clud­ing des­ti­na­tion charges, the GT is equipped with pre­mium leather seat cov­ers, heated and ven­ti­lated front seats (power-ad­justable for the driver), heated power ad­justable steer­ing wheel, 276-watt audio sys­tem and backup as­sist. The GT rolls on mod­est 235/55-19 all-sea­son tires.

De­spite that, there’s a Su­per Track Pak but­ton with launch con­trol. When ac­ti­vated through the 21.3-cen­time­tre touch­screen, launch con­trol holds the car un­til 4,500 rpm is reached, at which point the GT ac­cel­er­ates as hard as pos­si­ble, min­i­miz­ing any trac­tion loss. Bear in mind the V-6 makes only a mini­van-like 268 pound-feet of torque.

The Su­per Track Pak will also record your zero-to-100-km/h times, re­ac­tion times, lap times and cor­ner­ing G-forces.

The GT’s sta­bil­ity- and trac­tion­con­trol sys­tems can be turned off completely if drift­ing around cor­ners or per­form­ing dough­nuts in empty snow­filled park­ing lots is your thing.

For an ex­tra $1,400, you can add a GT in­te­rior pack­age with leather and faux-suede front seats, a 506-watt Alpine audio sys­tem and a sportier steer­ing wheel.

Even with­out a V-8, the GT clearly has more to of­fer buy­ers in win­try climes who ac­tu­ally want to make full use of their Chal­lenger year-round. Whether Ford or Chevro­let re­spond in kind with AWD Mus­tang and Ca­maro mod­els will likely hinge on how the mar­ket re­acts to this new Dodge.

THE SPEC SHEET

Type: Two-door, all-wheel-drive coupe En­gine (h.p.): 3.6-litre DOHC V-6 (305) Trans­mis­sion: Eight-speed au­to­matic Mar­ket po­si­tion: Among the trio of North Amer­ica-based pony cars, Dodge has bro­ken ranks in cre­at­ing the first all-wheel-drive model. It will be in­ter­est­ing to see if the Chevro­let Ca­maro and/or Ford Mus­tang fol­low suit. Points: No ma­jor vis­ual changes com­pared with other Chal­lengers, so it will be dif­fi­cult to spot. • Lack of a V-8 ver­sion with AWD? The GT comes so close, but two cylin­ders short. • Plenty of stan­dard con­tent is a smart move. • Sus­pen­sion de­signed to im­prove han­dling and ride qual­ity. • Dodge con­tin­ues to wring plenty of mileage from a decade-old de­sign. Ac­tive safety: Blind-spot warn­ing with crosstraf­fic alert (opt.); ac­tive cruise con­trol (opt.); for­ward-col­li­sion warn­ing (opt.) Fuel econ­omy, L/100 km (city/hwy) 12.8/8.7 Base price (incl. des­ti­na­tion) $40,600

Buying the all-wheel-drive ver­sion of the Chal­lenger GT means you’ll get the V-6 en­gine in­stead of the V-8.

The GT comes with an eight-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion with steer­ing-wheel-mounted pad­dle shifters.

The Chal­lenger’s fold-down rear seat makes all the dif­fer­ence when it comes to car­ry­ing bulky cargo.

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