15. January 2013
You learn to drive in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s. You have a bona-fide muscle car, or you drive like you have one. You live in the U.S. Midwest or Northeast. You dread winter. You learn that unless you have massive quantities of something in your trunk—bricks, kitty litter—that when you get on the accelerator on a January day, the rear of your car is likely to (1) start rotating to where the front of your car ought to be or (2) not do much of anything because the rear wheels are spinning but there is no traction at all in that snow bank.
So here I am in a 2013 Dodge Charger. There is a 5.7-liter, 370-hp HEMI V8 under the hood. It produces 395-lb-ft of wheel-spinning torque. I’m at the Keweenaw Research Center (KRC), a research institute of Michigan Technological University, a test track located in the upper part of the Upper Peninsula. I’m on a 20° concrete inclined ramp. The car is at a stop. There is a strip of ice running up the ramp. Both right-side tires are on the ice. I depress the accelerator, and the car drives up the hill. I try it with the left-side tires. Same result. I drive to another section of the incline, where I put both rear tires on the ice. Again, at a stop. No running start. And the HEMI-powered Charger bites in and moves me up the ramp.
I drive over to a snow-covered autocross course. The cones are set up with multiple maneuvers, like double-lane changes. I figure that I am going to kill plenty of cones. It would be an exaggeration to say that it seemed like I was in a car at Disneyworld, where the vehicle is on rails. A slight exaggeration. In addition to the fact that there isn’t a heck of a lot of snow in Orlando in January. (Generally, the KRC gets about 250 inches of snow per season. This winter hasn’t cooperated when I’m there. It is also the day that that the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration reported that 2012 was the warmest year on record in the U.S.) But the Charger performed far better than I’m a driver.
Then it is over to a 300-foot diameter circular course. Then a 600-foot diameter snow-covered course. And physics being physics, when accelerating hard there is oversteering, but it is done at a rate such that it is readily corrected. Around and around and around the Charger goes.
I go back to garage that Chrysler has rented for the event. And I tell Steve Williams, chief engineer for the Chrysler 300 and the Dodge Charger, “That all-wheel-drive system is so good that the driving became boring.”
Mike Kirk, the Chrysler Axle & Driveline Engineering director, explains that the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger—both rear-wheel-drive cars—are available with an all-wheel drive system that combines an active Borg-Warner transfer case and front-axle-disconnect system, a combination, he says, that sets those cars apart from other offerings in their segments. The system directs up to 1,100 Nm to the front axle, or up to 38% of all torque generated, predicated on a variety of sensor inputs, ranging from windshield wiper usage to ambient temperature, from wheel speed to steering wheel use.
“We don’t send any more torque to the front than we need from a tractive perspective,” Kirk says.
He points out that because there is the front-axle-disconnect, when the system doesn’t need to be used, there aren’t the parasitic losses that would otherwise exist if the system was engaged throughout all driving conditions. This helps contribute to the fuel economy performance of both the HEMI (which can run in four-cylinder mode) and the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine (which has best-in-class city and highway fuel economy, 18/27 mpg).
While the AWD system has been available since the current-generation Charger and the 300 launched in 2011, both Chad Robertson, head of Dodge Brand Car Marketing, and Ed Del Otero, Chrysler Brand Large Car Marketing manager, say that the demand for AWD –equipped vehicles is going up significantly. Del Otero, for example, says that “AWD sold quicker than anything we had in stock,” and Robertson notes, “We had a 53% increase in AWD demand.”
Not only are both seeing the demand for AWD growing (and they’re addressing this by providing specific trim packages for the AWD offerings, as in the 300 Glacier and the Charger AWD Sport), but they are seeing the V6 engine becoming a mainstay: Robertson says that 68% of Chargers sold in 2012 had the Pentastar engine; 80% of 300s had it, according to Del Otero.
Back in the day, if you had a choice, you put your muscle car in the garage for the winter.
You don’t need to do that anymore.