Hit the gas and let the awd do its work
HOUGHTON, Mich. -- The sudden wind gusts kicked up a barrier of snow as I maneuvered a 2013 Dodge Charger with all-wheel drive around Chrysler's winter testing grounds in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
With visibility spotty at best, I could feel my survival instincts taking hold. I rounded each snow-covered curve with a sinking sensation in my stomach usually reserved for roller coasters.
I could hear the Charger's tires churning in the packed snow while making my rounds on the circular course. Several times, I thought I'd spin out.
Instead of slowing down, I was encouraged by the Chrysler engineer accompanying me to hit the gas even more.
I obliged, letting the awd do its work. Just when I thought the car would rush wildly out of control, the back end corrected itself and kept me on the track.
The automaker highlighted the winter handling prowess of the 2013 awd Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger in early January during a driving program for the press at the Keweenaw Research Center, an outpost of Michigan Technological University.
The sedans have a rear-wheel-drive-based awd system that sends up to 38 percent of the torque to the front wheels to reinforce handling when conditions call for it, according to Chrysler.
Chrysler has used the site for more than 10 years, rolling out vehicles in ice and snow in the winter or gravel in warmer months. Vehicles are stress-tested there to find out how safety systems such as antilock brakes and awd interact in freezing, slippery environments.
The center has several courses that send vehicles, while gliding on packed snow with all-season tires, through demanding handling tests such as slaloms.
Another area of the layout has a long icy stretch similar to an ice rink that shows how vehicles react to driving with all four wheels on ice. This portion of the course also had ice patches where I was instructed to put two tires on ice -- first on the passenger side, followed by other combinations -- then accelerate despite limited traction.
The ice area also has a set of hills of varying steepness with ice strips to further push vehicles -- and your senses. The hills didn't look steep, but it felt like I was going to tumble out of my seat while driving up them.
Vehicles are taxed to their limits at Keweenaw.
Sometimes, engineers soak a car, then freeze it at temperatures as low as 30 below zero to find out how the vehicle responds to ice buildup, said Mike Kirk, Chrysler's director of powertrain axle, driveline and manual transmission engineering.
"You'll be amazed how much ice accumulates under a vehicle when you're in a constant situation like up here or Canada, in particular, where every day for two months, there's always slush on the roads," Kirk said.
The company also runs vehicles from other automakers through the courses to see how Chrysler's cars fare against the competition.
The simulations, Kirk says, are all about problem solving.
"What we do often find when we bring up the car the first time is that the car isn't nearly as dynamic as we want it to be because the systems haven't been integrated with each other," Kirk said. "In the Charger awd, the majority of work on triggers, that turn on all-wheel drive and turn off all-wheel drive, was developed here."
After my adventure in the UP, I'll never look at a snowy road the same again. When the next snowstorm strikes Detroit, I'll try to take it easy on the accelerator.
You can reach Vince Bond Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org. -- Follow Vince on