A full one-fourth of Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 sedans roll off the dealer's lot with an all-wheel-drive system, allowing customers in colder climes to enjoy powerful American muscle year-round. But would the extra fuss and weight of a spare driveline neuter America's most popular large, rear-wheel-drive sedans? Chrysler invited me to northern Michigan, where there's still enough snow on the ground, to find out.
For the 2013 Charger, the new AWD Sport package is offered on the SXT and SXT Plus models (for $1,395), as well as the R/T and R/T Plus (for $1,195). Ticking the box allows you a unique black grille, 19-inch polished aluminum wheels – which look distinctly bland – and, for the first time in Charger AWD history, paddle shifters with a sport mode for the transmission.
On top of this, what initially appeared to be a joke aimed at millennials, is the inclusion of the Beats By Dre audio system. Not being one for baggy pants, drum popping bass, and preposterous oversized headphones, I developed concerns of alienation for myself and others. As it happens, those concerns were unfounded, as it’s one of the best audio systems I’ve heard, and my opinion turned a 180 quicker than Snoop Dogg Lion passing a Cheetos factory outlet. Usually costing $995, coming standard on the AWD Sport package makes it bread well spent.
Things follow suit with the Chrysler 300 Glacier, including glossy black accents and chrome emphases, and a spirited use of Piano Black interior colorings, carbon-fiber trimmings and, like the Charger, the paddle shifters with sport mode. Suggested retail comes in at $36,845 (excluding $995 destination).
Both the Charger AWD Sport and 300 Glacier adopt a new cold-air induction system and sport-tuned exhaust, making the 3.6-liter V-6 models pump out 300 hp. And it would only be right for both machines to be available with the brutish 370-hp, 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, as well.
Unique in the segment is the AWD’s active transfer case with front axle disconnect. Effectively, the system can automatically disengage making the car fully rear-wheel drive when AWD is not required. The benefit of this system is that it aids efficiency, allowing both the Charger AWD Sport and 300 Glacier to boast class-leading fuel economy of up to 26 mpg highway.
Chrysler makes much of the cars' “automatic” nature, meaning there is no driver intervention required to go from RWD to AWD. Personally, I’d prefer a dial on the center console where I can choose based on my desired driving preference, rather than rely entirely on the car to make the decision for me.
The big difference with the AWD system on the 300 and the Charger compared to much of the competition is it’s mated to a car that comes standard with rear-wheel drive. Sedans like the Buick LaCrosse or Ford Taurus have their AWD system meshed to a front-wheel drive layout.
While both methods achieve the same results – helping traction and grip in suboptimal conditions — having an AWD car that is biased towards the rear allows for more spirited winter driving. With a stab of the gas pedal, you get a brief burst of rear-wheel power, putting the car into a controlled drift before the stability control leaps in to rein you back. In the LaCrosse, a stab of throttle simply initiates the front wheels to slide, eliminating the opportunity for any hooligan-like behaviors.
What I enjoyed most while driving the AWD Charger and 300 at Chrysler’s winter testing facility - somewhere very far north and very cold - was that they maintained the fun expected from a muscular American rear-wheel drive sedan. And while they ensured enjoyment, they still adhered to the demands of a winter vehicle. Even on an ice rink the size of a football field, there was no way to spin out. It would simply slide across the ice as gracefully as Torvill and Dean. On snow-covered roads, the system would allow you to hang the backend out in comfort, knowing that the stability control was keeping your excitement (and talent) in check.
But for those in the frozen north, the Charger and 300 are genuinely good product that blends the cars’ notoriety for being a powerful RWD sedan with the comfort of winter livability. And with a whip featuring a sound system by Dr. Dre himself, what’s not to love?