With Independence Day this weekend, we thought it would be an ideal time to take a look at some of the most “American” cars on sale today. Sure, it would be easy to throw together a list of muscle cars and pickup trucks, but, like it or not, the United States isn’t the birthplace of the V8 engine or 4-wheel-drive (that would be France and the Netherlands, respectively), and anyway, that would have been too easy. Instead, when trying to define American culture, we’ve been drawn to the wide breadth of automobiles that have helped define our car culture. After being born from a nation’s version of youngest-child-style frustration (our revolution), the U.S. was initially kept afloat by—and then thrived because of—our penchant to innovate.
No, we didn’t invent 4WD cars. However, we did create the first great civilian example of that technology with the Willys Jeep. V8s didn’t originate Stateside, either, but with Ford’s flathead V8, suddenly there was an affordable mass-market V8 available. Our car culture has been shaped by a number of vehicles. Here are the ten new ones we find to be most quintessentially American.
10. If you had to select a single car body style to represent America, the hardworking, plain-and-simple pickup truck would be a good choice. And the world of pickup trucks in America has a king: the Ford F-150. As the bestselling vehicle in the U.S. for the last 32 years and the best-selling pickup in the U.S. for 43 years (not to mention the best-selling vehicle in our neighbor to the north, Canada), Ford’s primary breadwinner and its sales help drive and reflect the American economy. Having held to its traditional form and function for decades, the F-150 has had to evolve to maintain its dominance in the face of improving competition, and the thirteenth-generation 2015 Ford F150 marked a huge shift with its extensive use of aluminum. Our reviewer Dan Roth gave it consistently high marks, particularly for performance, tech, and safety, which shouldn’t be surprising given its 2015 North American Truck of the Year award.
9. Nothing quite says historic like the Chevrolet Suburban. This modern-day, super-size SUV has one of the richest histories of any vehicle in production today. Originally developed for the U.S. National Guard in 1933, the Suburban name has remained a staple for American automotives. That’s 82 years of continuous production. The Suburban’s longstanding popularity can be attributed to its military service. Production of the original wagon-on-truck-frame style was repurposed as a military transport vehicle following the outbreak of WWII. Twelve model generations later, the Suburban can still seat 8 passengers with plenty of room to spare. Nowadays, the 2015 Suburban may seem a little excessive, as the market for full-size, body-on-frame SUVs continues to dwindle, but the Suburban continues to find its place—in spite of its size. Big, proud, and historically engrained, the Suburban remains a quintessential part of the American automotive marketplace.
8. The story of the American Revolution is well known, especially around these parts (Boston). The story of the American Automotive Revolution, however, can be summed up in two words: Ford Taurus. Not to be confused with the Taunus, sold by Ford in Europe as far back as the early 1940s, the Taurus is an all-American car that broke away from a distinctly American manufacturing process. The Model T proved the efficiency of the moving assembly line, allowing Ford to put the world on wheels. Fast forward almost 60 years, though, and American automobile manufacturing was better known for producing products that were overweight and with too little technology. With the Taurus, Ford began to design and create cars as a whole, rather than just the sum of its parts. The all-American “Team Taurus” included exterior and interior designers who worked in tandem, focusing on build quality and aerodynamics, to bring a truly revolutionary car to market. Ford has produced the Taurus for almost 30 years, eclipsing even the Model T’s 18-year run. Today’s 2015 Ford Taurus is as American a car as ever and, should you disagree, the 365-hp Taurus SHO may be able to change your mind.
7. America is a big place. It’s undeniable; with 3.8 million square miles, our great outdoors make us the fourth largest country in the world. When you have all that ground to cover, you’re going to need a great tow vehicle. With a class-leading maximum towing capacity right around 31,000 pounds, the 2016 Ram 3500 will have you covered. Let’s put that into perspective. A capacity of 31,000 pounds means that a new Ram 3500 could help you move 16 bison (America’s largest mammal), about 160 fully grown American men, or roughly 2,215 bald eagles. So when you’re planning your next long haul from New York’s Adirondacks (our largest State Park) to Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias (our largest National Park), be sure to grab the keys to a Ram 3500. The real question for this impressive dually is just how you’re going to fit all that weight into your trailer.
6. The Chevrolet Impala has long been General Motors’ attempt to bring the American dream to the masses. Originally introduced in 1958 as a high-end Bel-Air trim, the Impala has been among the most popular cars available on the market year after year (with a few years off here and there). The Impala had quickly achieved mass adoption and, in 1965, set an all-time industry sales record at more than a million units sold. This record has yet to be surpassed. Today, the Impala is still going strong, even as full-size sedans seem to be going out of style. And though Chris Wardlaw questions the relevance of full-size sedans in his Test Drive Review, he still thinks the 2015 Impala offers enough to be considered.
5. Whether you love it or hate it, feel free to credit the Ford Explorer with America’s love of SUVs. Sure, the XJ Jeep Cherokee may have beaten it out of the gate, but from the beginning of the Explorer’s production run until the end of the XJ’s, Ford outsold the Jeep more than two to one. Although history may remember it as the centerpiece to one of the biggest recall fiascos in automotive history (and helping to soil an almost 100-year-old corporate relationship) with the Firestone tire controversy, the Explorer nonetheless became an icon of American car culture. It had a starring role in the original “Jurassic Park.” It was rugged enough to get you off the beaten path, but refined enough to take the kids to soccer practice. Finally, Ford modified the Explorer recipe in 2011, creating a unibody SUV worthy of the being the North American Truck of the Year.
4. Since combining forces, FCA has looked to make Dodge its marquee American performance vehicle lineup. Although it hasn’t sold as well as the Ford Mustang and the Camaro, the 2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat still beats the hell out of most anything you’ll find for sale on dealer lots performance-wise. The Challenger has a rich past, having been Chrysler’s answer to the performance numbers the Mustang and Camaro pumped out in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The Challenger was raised again in 2008 to renew the three-way American pony-car rivalry, but the 2015 Challenger Hellcat has since stolen the show with its crazy 707-hp numbers. The 2015 Challenger raised the bar for the American performance coupe to an unheard of level. What can be more American than a 6.2-liter V8 spewing ridiculously high power?
3. Americans take immense and understandable pride in the efforts early explorers made to reach and chart the full extent of our 48 contiguous states. The most impressive fact about their accomplishment? They did it all without a single Jeep Wrangler. The Wrangler and its 4-wheel drive offer an unsurpassed tool for exploring America, fully capable of dressed-up events in the city, but also better equipped to explore off-road than any other vehicle in American dealerships. The Jeep’s removable top and doors mean you can bring a little of the adventure of off-roading back to the road, too, as long you’ve got convertible weather, and the improved sound system in the 2015 Jeep Wrangler will let you share your tunes with any group, from you and your special someone to a remote campground’s whole population. Aaron Cole wishes the new Wrangler offered better safety options and ratings, but also calls it the solar system’s most capable SUV.
2. Is it a stretch to call the Tesla Model S a vehicle quintessential to the American auto industry? Sure, Tesla Motors more resembles a Silicon Valley tech company than your typical auto manufacturer. And sure, Tesla hasn’t yet proven it can viably meet the demand, or expectations, or price point for its vehicles to be adopted en masse. But, the Model S has demonstrated that an all-electric vehicle can have comparable (and even superior) quality, style, and performance to non-electric vehicles. The 2015 Model S P85D demonstrates that above all else. Producing an absolutely insane amount of horsepower and torque (and we mean insane for any car, not just an EV), the Model S P85D is just Tesla’s latest attempt at establishing itself as a legitimate American auto contender. The Model S is the only vehicle on this list that does not have a deep and robust history behind it, but we include it as an acknowledgment of the potential future of the American auto industry.
1. What new car would we call the most quintessentially American vehicle? We could, and probably will, argue for a number of different cars over time, but given what’s already appeared on this list, we have to select the 2015 Ford Mustang this particular time. Driving enthusiasts and the auto press are generally thrilled with the current crop of performance cars as well as the auto biz’s recently renewed interest in power, noise, and tire smoke. While the ’50s jump-started a nascent American car culture focused on customization and speed, the huge and ongoing impact of the pony car on American roads began with the launch of the Ford Mustang in early 1964 at that year’s New York World’s Fair. The Mustang has given the car world lots to be thankful for over the years, from inspiring competitors like the Chevy Camaro, Dodge Challenger, and Pontiac Firebird to motivating and mobilizing Ken Block through his lunatic Gymkhana Seven to giving us the track-focused Ford Shelby GT350 and its 5.2-liter flat-crank V8. Not all the Mustang’s inspirational outcomes have been genius (we’re lookin’ at you, Robert Matthew Van Winkle), but the journey has usually been fun. And the Mustang’s journey has been a long one, lasting 50 years in continuous solid-axle production to finally become a global car with an independent rear suspension in 2015. And sales are good, even among supposedly car-averse millennials, though they apparently prefer the efficient turbo 4-cylinder to the beefier 5.0-liter V8. The Mustang has a long and very colorful past, but we suspect it also has a very bright future.
We hope you like our picks for this list, but please let us know if we missed anything. And if you’re driving on any American road this July 4th, odds are good you’ll see some of the cars here. Drive safely, and enjoy the fireworks!
What car do you think is the most quintessentially American?
-John Harrington, Matt Smith, and Steve Halloran
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