When you look at the Dodge Challenger, it’s unlikely that your first reaction will be “practical.”
This isn’t a sensible four-door family sedan. It’s not a minivan or an SUV.
It’s a sinister-looking, retro-styled muscle car, a two-door performance coupe that recalls the gas-guzzling hot rods of the early-1970s.
But since its reintroduction as a 2009 model, the Challenger has always been among the most-functional sports coupes. Compared to its chief rivals — the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang — the Challenger has a spacious, family-friendly interior. This coupe’s upright silhouette and full-size dimensions provide unusually generous rear-seat accommodations, enough to fit two adults or three children in relative comfort.
Now, the Challenger has yet another advantage over its Detroit rivals: an available all-wheel-drive system.
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The Camaro, Mustang, and Challenger have historically offered only rear-wheel-drive. This setup delivers huge amounts of power to the pavement without affecting the steering. It also allows for burnouts — a proud American tradition of spinning the tires before roaring away in a cloud of tire smoke.
But when you’re driving in slippery conditions, you don’t want your tires to spin. You want four tires gripping the road, keeping the car confidently on course. That’s what Dodge promises with the Challenger GT, the only trim so far that offers all-wheel-drive.
If you’re used to Fords, the GT name might conjure up the image of a rip-roaring V8 engine, as you get from the Mustang GT. But the Challenger GT instead uses the Dodge’s base engine, a 3.6-liter V6 with a healthy 305 horsepower. This engine sounds smooth and accelerates the car quickly with minimal drama — for better or for worse.
There isn’t the throaty character of the famous Dodge Hemi V8, but it’s still a step up acoustically from the base four-cylinder engines in today’s Mustang and Camaro. Your neighbors will also appreciate that the V6 has less silence-shattering rumble than the Hemi.
There’s even decent gas mileage for a big, heavy, powerful vehicle. The EPA rates it at 21 miles per gallon in mixed driving, down from 23 mpg for the rear-wheel-drive V6 but still better than the most-efficient V8 Challenger’s 19 mpg. The tested Challenger GT averaged about 23 mpg during a weeklong test with mostly highway driving.
One complaint: The eight-speed automatic transmission occasionally stumbled during gentle stop-and-go driving. The Challenger also offers a manual transmission, but only with the V8.
Some buyers will also crave sharper handling. The Challenger is bigger than today’s Mustang and Camaro, which have gotten increasingly adept at corner-carving. The Dodge is composed but unmistakably bulkier.
Back inside, the Challenger’s dashboard is contemporary with a few retro-styling cues, such as the gear-selector and gauges. It’s neither aggressively old-school like a Mustang, nor so modern that the exterior would look out of place. It also enjoys user-friendly controls, including a big 8.4-inch touchscreen that now supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration.
The Challenger also boasts extra-comfortable front seats that are very supportive without being confining. There’s a decent view out for a sports car — much better than a Camaro — but you still make some concessions to style.
Dodge borrowed the Challenger’s all-wheel-drive system from the Charger sedan, the four-door version of the Challenger that has offered the system for more than a decade. The Charger also shares the Challenger’s wide range of powerful engines, modern yet menacing styling, and the extra practicality of four full-size doors.
Pricing for the 2018 Challenger starts at $28,640 for the SXT trim with rear-wheel-drive and the V6 engine. The tested GT starts at $35,340 with some extra amenities, including leather upholstery. Discounts are frequently available.
If you like the retro style of a Camaro or Mustang but would value a roomier interior and available all-wheel-drive, the Challenger is an increasingly appealing alternative.
Brady Holt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association.