Drive Time: No snow job; Challenger gets AWD
February 17, 2017
The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Hard Rock 4-by-4 carried me west Thursday morning through Loveland and on up to the Ellis Ranch just this side of The Dam Store near the entrance to the Big Thompson Canyon.
Awaiting me and others at the ranch were officials of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles; they had hoped for snow on the ground.
They were there to introduce us to the new all-wheel-drive edition of the 2017 Dodge Challenger muscle cars, and, oh, my, how great that would have been to drive those in the snow and over the ice.
The day, though, turned out to be bright, sunny and 65 degrees. In the absence of winter weather, we drove the Challenger GT V-6 AWD models on dirt trails over the ranch's rolling hills.
The Ellis property, on the north side of U.S. 34, is a longtime working horse ranch now known for its event center and wedding park. In fact, Jan and I were there 18 months ago for the wedding of granddaughter Nicole Wells to Matt Ward.
This four-wheel spin by Dodge lends the Challenger an edge in its keen competition with muscle-coupe rivals Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro, neither of which offer all-wheel drive. The three performance models, which date back to the mid- to late-1960s, are rear-wheel based.
All-wheel-drive configuration is particularly important to Colorado, where its consumers often demand it to endure sometimes treacherous winter driving conditions. In many other parts of the country, it is less necessary.
Benjamin Lyon, Dodge Challenger specialist for FCA, drew a line across the center of a map of the United States, then pointed to the northern half as much interested in an AWD Challenger. "The southern half, with its year-round mild weather, is little concerned with the feature," he said.
Asked what other areas would be as demanding as Colorado for AWD, Lyon said, "The northeastern states."
With an active transfer case and front-axle disconnect, the Challenger GT will be equipped with the same system as that used in the bigger Dodge Charger AWD. The GT's 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 delivers 305 horsepower and 268 lb.-ft. of torque, mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive will not be available with the more powerful V-8 Challengers.
Riding with me about the ranch land was Kelley Enright, Midwest Region communications manager for FCA. "These GTs will be among featured products for us at the Denver Auto Show (April 5-9)," she said.
Identifying them won't be simple. There will be no AWD indicator on the exterior of the coupes. The only tipoff will be a small GT designation along the side of the Challengers.
The AWD addition cuts 3 miles per gallon highway fuel mileage off the V-6 models, from 30 mpg to 27.
"The GT seamlessly transitions between rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive with no driver intervention," Lyon said. Under normal conditions, the front axle is disengaged and torque is directed to the rear wheels. With the slightest slip, the system automatically engages the front axle in AWD mode.
Beginning base price for the Challenger GT is $33,395, plus $1,095 destination charge.
The GT model I drove, finished in mango orange exterior with nappa leather performance seats, carried a sticker price of $38,965. Its add-ons included automatic high-beam headlamps, rain-sensitive wipers, adaptive speed control, forward-collision warning, blind-spot and rear cross-path detection, remote start, leather steering wheel, nine speakers with subwoofer and Uconnect 8.4 GPS navigation. It is built in Brampton, Ontario, Canada.
— Bud Wells, a native of Wray, is a former Page 1 editor of the Denver Post and has reviewed automobiles for the past 40 years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.