Spring is creeping across the country, while snow and ice are losing their grip on America. Fortunately, there were still plenty of winter’s fingerprints in Canada not too long ago when Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brought automotive test drivers north to size up the automakers’ All-Wheel Drive and winter driving systems.
At a winter test track outside bitterly cold Montreal, the automaker family offered up nearly their entire vehicle line for evaluation for a collection of auto journalists sent to see how well the machines stood up to black ice, low grip and other winter driving scenarios both off-road and at speed. Front and center was the performance capabilities of the companies’ All-Wheel Driving systems.
The difference between AWD and four-wheel drive relies mainly on the amount of technology built into each system. Four-wheel drive improves on front wheel drive by taking the power to all four wheels, improving grip and providing a more stable ride over snow, ice, off-road terrain, etc.
All-Wheel Drive is a more modern and advanced system that uses some amount of artificial intelligence to control the amount drive going to the wheels individually. The most advanced AWL systems available use a computer in difficult driving conditions to sense which wheel has the best grip. Once the system reads which wheel(s) have the most stable contact patch, AWL sends torque that way — balancing the power between gripping and slipping wheels to keep the car moving forward. AWL keeps the process going, calculating in microseconds and continually adjusting power distribution.
Related: Buick Rolls AWD Across Its Line
While any number of the Jeeps and Dodge trucks standing by were more than able to deal with winter driving conditions both on track and off-road, I opted to test the best AWD performance vehicles on the scene. The 2015 Dodge Charger Rallye trim level packs less raging power than the new Charger Hellcat, it still offers a roaring HEMI V8 and that same essential winter driving tool – AWD.
The Montreal test track allowed ample space to open the throttle a bit on the well-packed snow and ice, in between wide circle turns and straight line stops and starts. As I hit the gas on the straights and in the wider, rimshot turns, I could feel the AI within the big, loud Charger’s AWD system balancing and rebalancing the V8 power. I could let the end out when I wanted for a bit of drifting, but — with deft use of the throttle and a light touch on the steering wheel — the Charger Rallye never spun or lost its way on its test runs.
My favorite vehicle of the day — and the finest performer even on an icy track — was the latest edition of the Chrysler 300. I admit I’ve always liked the 300 and consider it the finest performing vehicle in the line (with the exception of aspiring, though affordable supercar, the aforementioned Hellcat). For whatever reason, this particular car speaks to me. It feels good under me. My driving skills relate well to it. It feels comfortable, speedy and well-balanced. I would own one.
But, the question on that blustery, snowy day was how well the sophisticated luxury sports sedan would stand up to 50 mph speeds on inches of snow crammed atop packed ice.
With the Chrysler AWD systems on full as part of the car’s all-weather driving package, the 300 was just as deft, entertaining and exiting to drive — flirting with 50 mph down the straightaways in full-on slick conditions.
This Chrysler / Dodge / Jeep event (and other like it) prove clearly that the AWD technology is so far along that residents of any winter states in the U.S. or Canada would be foolish to opt for makes and models that don’t offer it’s winter defying smarts.