Performance

The Dodge Challenger plays its trump card: all-wheel drive

awd dodge challenger

 (Dodge)

Perennially stuck in third place behind the Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro in sales and enthusiast comparisons, the Dodge Challenger is doing something unconventional for a muscle coupe. It's adding all-wheel drive.

It's a new feature for Detroit's pony cars – none of the three have ever had it – and it could be a game-changer. Called the Challenger GT, the Dodge launches this winter for a starting price of $34,490.

The Challenger GT comes with the Pentastar 3.6-liter V6 rated at 305 horsepower and 268 pound-feet of torque. It teams with an eight-speed TorqueFlight automatic transmission and is estimated to get 18 miles per gallon in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. An FCA spokesperson said no manual transmission or V8 models will be offered on the all-wheel-drive Challenger. It will be on display in January at the Detroit auto show.

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All-wheel drive is a widely expected addition for the Challenger. The coupe shares underpinnings with the four-door Charger, which offers an all-wheel drive variant and the cars have similar powertrain offerings (the AWD Charger is also V6 and automatic only). Naturally, the Challenger borrows the Charger's AWD system and during regular driving conditions, the front axle disengages and full torque goes to the back wheels, allowing the Challenger to function as a rear-wheel drive car. It automatically goes back to AWD when more traction is needed. Handling is also fortified with a vehicle dynamic control system. Conversely, the electronic stability control has three modes and can be switched off for drift-happy enthusiasts.

The GT has features familiar to other Challenger and Dodge owners, including an 8.4-inch touchscreen radio, Performance Pages (accessible through the Super Trak Pack button), and paddle shifters. A Sport Mode changes shift points to improve acceleration. It all rolls on 19-inch wheels wrapped in all-season rubber. The exterior gets a hood bulge, LED head- and taillights, and a decklid spoiler.

The Challenger GT also offers a $995-interior package different than RWD models, adding Nappa leather, Alcantara suede seats, a nine-speaker Alpine audio system, performance steering wheel, and more.

All of that is just window dressing. It's all-wheel drive that could be a difference-maker for consumers. The Challenger won't likely be able to take down the Mustang, which will finish 2016 as the pony car sales king. It's moved 98,868 units through November, well ahead of the second-place Camaro's 65,705 sales. The Challenger is right behind the Chevy, with 59,176. All-wheel drive might be enough to edge it ahead of the Bow-Tie bruiser in '17, upending the traditional pecking order. The Motor City muscle coupe wars just escalated. Rapidly.