The day started like any other. I woke up, checked my emails, and went about my morning. This particular morning though, I had a pleasant surprise. Dodge was looking to host a winter driving event here at Club Motorsports with their new AWD Challenger GT.
As you can imagine, this peaked my interest. After some back and forth with emails, we finally had a face to face meeting with Dodge. We showed them the course and got an idea of what they were looking for. They wanted to showcase their new rear biased AWD system for journalists by driving in various winter scenarios.
Being in the White Mountains of New Hampshire at the end of January, we could definitely fulfill their requirements. When talking with the engineers about whether they planned on putting snow tires on the cars for these tests, they said they would not be. They would come with the all season tires that they were designed with. Being a native to the northeast, I had my reservations, but hey, it’s their show and we will do as they request!
I had a bit of a different perspective on the car itself. For one, I am used to driving in the snow, unlike some of the journalists coming to test the car. Two, I helped set up and drive the course.
Let the testing begin!
Now, coming from a AWD background with Audi and Subaru, I had a certain expectation set in mind going into this. This was a bit of a double edged sword. On one hand, I was happy to hear the system that Dodge has in place on the Challenger (as well as the Charger) is predominately rear wheel biased in the power application. So, in the turns, it carries the driving characteristics of a rear wheel drive car, but with the stability of an AWD car. I first went off driving it like I would and Audi or Subaru and this left me slightly disappointed. It tended to understeer, then with too much throttle input you could quickly induce snap oversteer.
With that said, I changed tactics. I started to treat it as a rear wheel drive vehicle and the handling fell right into place while driving on course. When you reached a certain steering angle, as well as applied an adequate amount of throttle input, you could consistently and predictably drive this car with the throttle. The more I drove the Challenger, the more I grew to like it.
Now, let me circle back around to the driving conditions and tires. My fear was as we continued to chew up the snowy surface, drivability would be an issue. The freshly packed snow from the daily groomer had a chance to sit overnight and become a decently hard surface. But after many laps of drifting a 2 ton vehicle around the course, you will inevitably get some ruts and powder build up on the edges. To my surprise, the all season tires in combination with the AWD system on the Challenger did really, really well. Did some of them get stuck? Of course, but usually it was because there was an extreme off course event and the car was high centered on a snowbank. (car was stuck on the chassis on the snowbank). In this case, snow tires would not help anyways.
We had two competitor cars at the track for comparison as well: a new Mustang and Camaro. Both rear wheel drive and both with all season tires. To say that traction was dismal is an understatement. These cars were getting stuck quite often. I think even if they had snow tires, people would still be able to see the differences between the Challenger’s all wheel drive capabilities and driving dynamics. We just wouldn't have had to dig them out from being stuck nearly as often. They got stuck so often that we ended up just leaving them in the paddock area towards the end of the week.
Over the course of the week, the new Challenger GT got to see quite a bit in varying winter driving conditions. We went from a Nor’Easter on the first day with snow and poor visibility to ice, cold, wind, and sun. Each day brought something new for the journalists to experience.
As the week progressed, the winter courses took the toll of being driven hard on repeatedly. This resulted in a loose top coat of granulated snow anywhere from 6” to over 12” on some areas of the courses. While it occasionally slowed the cars down when hitting these areas, I was impressed to see the Challenger power through. All season tires to boot.
Another thing that I personally found impressive was the lack of squeaks or rattles from the interior, especially once the courses got some use. The main paddock area is not paved yet, and towards the end of the week the vehicles had gotten down to the base gravel in some of the turns. Enough so, that we had to reroute part of the course to unused snowy areas. Additionally, some of the transitional areas were rough and getting a little rutted. These cars went over these areas with no flexing or unpleasant sounds. The suspension is stiff, yet not unforgiving. The cabin on these vehicles is not a bad place to be. Good materials, infotainment system, and build quality are evident. If I had one criticism, it is the lack of auto up feature on the windows (it has auto down, but no auto up feature). That seems like a bit of an oversight on Dodge’s part, but if that is all I have for complaints, I’d say they are doing very well. I’m far from a brand loyalist, and when I see a good car, I recognize it for that fact.
At the end of the day, I’d say the new Challenger GT has earned its stripes. In a seemingly endless sea of mediocre AWD systems out there, they seemed to have really done their homework. Hat tip to you Dodge, keep up the good work. Now, lets see about fitting a V8 under that hood.