Over the past few decades, competing automakers in Europe and Asia have developed their own reputations for superiority. German cars have become synonymous with luxury and precision, while Italian cars deliver excitement and emotion. Sweden’s Volvos offer the best in safety, and England provides sumptuous style. Across the Pacific, the major Japanese automakers have built their reputation on reliability and longevity, while Kia and Hyundai of Korea now provide top-flight quality at great value. While foreign automakers tend to focus their approaches in ways that bear out these specific reputations, America remains a bastion of variety.
From Henry Ford’s Model T to the Willys MB, and from the Plymouth Roadrunner to the Chevy Volt, the United States has a proud automotive history. For over 100 years, American auto manufacturers have lived on the cutting edge of performance, efficiency, and technology, from the thunderous V8 power of the 1960s and ‘70s to the blistering speed of modern day twin-turbo V6s. Not all experiments result in overnight success (like Chrysler’s turbine engines and Chevrolet’s EV1), but they lay the groundwork for continued excellence. This Independence Day weekend, we’re looking at new cars that best display that wide-ranging and uniquely American level of success.
10. We intended to include a paragraph about the Tesla Model S’s cutting-edge tech and efficiency on this list, but then the news broke about a horrible accident that killed Joshua D. Brown, a former Navy SEAL, while his Model S was in Autopilot mode on a Florida divided highway May 7. Founder Elon Musk has already addressed “A Tragic Loss” via a post on Tesla’s website, noting that this was the first known fatality in more than 130 million miles of driving with Autopilot. We extend our sympathies to Joshua Brown’s family and friends and look forward to a clearer explanation of what actually happened and caused the accident. Until then we’ll keep our eyes on the road and focus on nine other top-notch American cars.
9. Dodge’s Hellcat engines have been around for two years now, and their 707 hp is still as impressive as ever. There are reasons why Ford’s Shelby GT350 or Chevrolet’s Camaro could be considered better cars overall, but in terms of horsepower numbers, the Dodge Challenger Hellcat and Dodge Charger Hellcat are still at the top. And despite those insane power figures, the Dodge Charger still maintains a feeling of sensibility. If you’re the type to want 707 hp in your daily driver, the Charger offers enough comfort, space, and cargo volume to be as practical as any other midsize sedan. And this versatility has made the Charger a favorite for everyone from law enforcement to rental-car agencies and auto enthusiasts everywhere.
8. Cadillac has long been emblematic of American auto luxury. The brand is looking to rejuvenate that effort with the introduction of the Cadillac CT6, its new premier luxury model. Now sitting atop the Cadillac lineup, above the ATS, CTS, and XTS, the CT6 brings Cadillac’s classic angular style cues back to the forefront of luxury. The CT6 has a unique aluminum-structured body that’s as long as a BMW 7 Series (measuring around 204 inches long) but lighter than a 5 Series. The CT6 also offers three engine choices, including a 3.0-liter 404-hp twin-turbo V6. With this balance of power, size, and luxury, Cadillac’s making a real attempt to reclaim the luxury auto crown.
7. Chrysler delivered the first modern minivans when it launched the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager in late 1983. Those models got re-badged into a number of others, including the Chrysler Town & Country, and those models combined have outsold all other minivans in the U.S. since their debut. But Honda and Toyota each have a newer minivan that’s put a blemish on the Town & Country’s shine and a dent in its sales. The Odyssey offers Honda reliability and efficiency, and the vacuum added to it for 2014 has been well received. Toyota’s Sienna also has strong reliability and is the first and only minivan available with all-wheel drive. Many seem to like the new Chrysler Pacifica’s looks, and it offers significantly more power than the Odyssey and Sienna. It doesn’t yet have AWD, but Chrysler says the platform was designed to accommodate AWD, and it does offer a built-in vacuum, not to mention an abundance of entertainment options for those in the second row. And the world’s first hybrid minivan will arrive wearing a Pacifica badge later this year.
6. There are plenty of superlatives to throw around when talking about the Jeep Wrangler. The 4×4 traces its roots to World War II, holds the record for highest altitude attained by a 4-wheeled vehicle, enjoyed a starring role in “Jurassic Park,” and is a yearly resident on numerous “best resale value” lists. So, when it came time to draw up our top 10 All-American All-Stars, the Wrangler was a shoe-in. Jeep’s most distinctive vehicle will likely take you further off the beaten path than any other car on this list, but beyond it’s off-road capabilities, it’s perfect for letting some sun and fresh air in on the way to your 4th of July barbecue, thanks to its removable Freedom top. Once you’ve arrived, you can keep the tunes turned up by using your Jeep as one big 6-speaker sound system.
5. The 2015 Mustang‘s independent rear suspension marked a huge change for the original pony car, and worldwide sales suggest that change was a good idea. The 2016 model year has given us a more potent pony car in the form of the Ford Shelby GT350. It uses a 5.2-liter 526-hp V8 engine that has a bit of old technology now used primarily in racing cars: a flat-plane crankshaft. This video details the differences between the GT350’s flat-plane crank and the more common crossplane crankshaft, but a flat-plane crank is lighter and can be revved higher than a crossplane one, which must be counterweighted – though a flat crank also tends to produce a lot more vibration and noise. Another advanced bit of tech featured on the GT350? Carbon fiber wheels, each of which cuts 13 pounds of unsprung weight. The GT350’s distinctive sound, the first-ever standard carbon fiber wheels on a production car, and 0-to-60 times in the 3.5-to-4.4-second range make this car a star we can’t wait to see–and hear–on the track.
4. The never-ending horsepower wars feature bigger numbers than ever these days (thank you, Hellcats), and with a newer, faster version of Ford’s Mustang hitting the streets for 2016, Chevrolet needed to boost the performance of its pony car. The Chevrolet Camaro was redesigned for 2016, with the flagship SS trim getting the 6.2-liter 455-hp LT1 V8 it shares with the Chevrolet Corvette. But Chevy just announced the 2017 Camaro ZL1, which will apparently get a supercharged 6.2-liter LT4 V8 that produces 640 hp and 640 lb-ft of torque, making it the most powerful production Camaro ever. A fully automatic soft-top convertible version that can be opened or closed at up to 30 mph will be offered, an available Chevrolet Performance Data Recorder can log video and performance data, and that recorder has a Valet Mode for peace of mind while you’re out on the town. We’re confident we won’t be the only ones watching when the inevitable showdown videos pitting this new Camaro against the Shelby GT350 arrive on YouTube.
3. We could say plenty of great things about Ford’s F-150. The F-150 rivals just about every pickup out there in terms of payload and hauling ability. Its 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 offers some of the best fuel economy available in a gasoline-powered truck. And with its recent transition to an all-aluminum body, the F-150 is one of the lightest full-size pickups available. It’s no wonder the Silverado’s advertisements have been a concentrated smear campaign against the strength of aluminum for a couple years running. But the F-150’s sales numbers speak for themselves: not only has it been the best-selling pickup truck on the market, but it’s been the best-selling vehicle in America since 1981. And there’s very little reason to see that changing soon.
2. No American car combines performance and pedigree like the Chevrolet Corvette. Introduced in 1953, the Corvette didn’t receive a V8 engine until 1955. In 1963, the second-generation “Stingray” was unveiled, complete with an independent rear suspension, a split rear window (for 1963 only), and astronauts as pitchmen. All potential competitors were left in the dust. America’s best front-engine, rear-wheel-drive sports car has remained unchallenged in its superiority for over 50 years, with only a few short-lived rivals popping up, namely the Dodge Viper and the low-production Shelby Cobra. So if you’re shopping for a car that will reflect the best America has to offer, take a good luck at the new C7 Corvette. You’re not likely to find anything better.
1. You’re not likely to find anything better, that is, unless you’re one of the lucky few in line to buy a 2017 Ford GT. When it comes to American exceptionalism, few cars tell the story as well as the Ford GT. Unveiled in 2015, the impetus for America’s latest and greatest supercar was clear. Fifty years after sweeping a 1-2-3 finish at Le Mans with the Mk II Ford GT40, Ford headed back and again took 1st place. And while a 2nd-place Ferrari spoiled Ford’s opportunity to cross the line in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd again, the 2017 GT has nonetheless been considered a success, winning its class and adding 3rd- and 4th-place finishes to boot. Le Mans requires LMGT-class racecars to be built on production-car platforms, meaning roughly 250 GTs will be made per year. Prices are expected to live somewhere north of $400,000. Compare that to the $22 million the winning ’66 GT40 fetched at auction, of course, and it seems like a fair price to pay for a world-class champion supercar.
What new American All-Star would you most like to drive?
–John Harrington, Matt Smith, and Steve Halloran
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