Many people love muscle cars because they represent the pinnacle of American-developed performance. European companies like Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari and Porsche build cars that can wind their way through small streets and roads, but American performance tends to be more about raw, straight-line speed.
What is a Muscle Car?
A muscle car usually refers to a two-door car with rear-wheel drive and lots of engine power. Historically, muscle cars were popular because they provided lots of speed at an affordable price. Interiors were basic in order to keep costs low. Because muscle cars were traditionally a midsize or a large car, they were more versatile than a tiny two-seat sports car. That way, muscle cars could spend Saturday night at the drag strip and Sunday morning driving the family to church.
The high point of the muscle car era came in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Carmakers stuffed monster V8s into affordable models and home mechanics were tuning their cars for even better performance. Then came the gas crisis. One thing muscle cars couldn’t do was achieve good fuel economy. Small cars became the vehicles of choice for many Americans and smaller engines began to displace the V8 engines in family cars. Fortunately, newer technologies like direct injection and turbocharging allow automakers to get impressive amounts of power out of smaller engines, which means modern muscle cars can combine the best of both worlds.
Modern Muscle Cars
Interestingly, it was in the midst of high gas prices that muscle cars came roaring back into American car culture. Starting with the introduction of the fifth generation Ford Mustang in 2005, car makers launched retro muscle cars like the Dodge Challenger, Dodge Charger and Chevrolet Camaro. All three cars have names with deep muscle car heritage, but the current models differ from their ancestors in several key ways.
For one, the new models’ base engines are no longer considered severely underpowered. The Camaro’s V6 makes 323 horsepower, while the Ford Mustang’s pumps out 305. Even more impressive is that with all that power, the Mustang manages to get up to an EPA-rated 19/29 mpg city/highway, and the Camaro can reach 18/27 mpg.
Another major difference is the interior features you can get in today’s muscle cars. Now you can option your muscle car with gadgets that are found in luxury cars. The Challenger, for example, is available with Dodge’s Uconnect infotainment system, which lets you control things like the stereo and Bluetooth phone system with voice commands. The Challenger can also be equipped with a 30-gigabyte hard drive that can hold almost 7,000 songs, and a Garmin-based navigation system that reviewers say is especially easy to use.
The best thing about modern muscle cars is that they’re still affordable. The Mustang and Camaro start at less than $23,400, while the Challenger starts at slightly less than $25,800.
Other American Performance Cars
Buying a traditional muscle car with its roots in the 1960s and 1970s isn’t the only way to get hardcore American speed and handling. The Chevrolet Corvette dates back to its introduction in 1953, and is well-known for having among the best performance per dollar of any car on the market. With a starting price of about $50,000, the Corvette is significantly more expensive than the base trims of most muscle cars, but compared with performance trims of muscle cars, like the nearly $54,500 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, its price looks much more reasonable.
If you want a combination of interior comfort, mind-blowing power and American muscle, you could consider a Cadillac CTS-V. Available in coupe, sedan or wagon body styles, this 556-horsepower monster is regarded as one of the best domestic performance cars, and has impressive interior luxury as well. Like the Corvette, the CTS-V is far more expensive than a muscle car, but its nearly $65,000 starting price includes blistering acceleration, more standard interior features than most luxury vehicles and impressive handling to boot. If you’re looking for legendary American iron wrapped in a more luxurious package than a muscle car can offer, the CTS-V is hard to beat.
No matter whether you choose your muscle car in an affordable, V6-powered base model or a rip-roaring high-performance trim, you’ll get the culmination of American motoring. Their legendary history, retro-cool looks and impressive performance can give them considerable appeal even when compared to the most advanced European sports cars.
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