Little more than a decade ago, the label “American” wasn’t exactly a term of pride when it came to cars. Vehicles like the Pontiac Aztec, the Chrysler Sebring and the Cadillac Catera made you want to either bury your head in the sand or drive to your nearest Toyota dealership and ask for automotive asylum. But, thankfully, times have changed — in a big way. Not only is reliability up, but to our everlasting joy, bristling power, cutting edge technology, a litany of amenities and gaze-worthy sheet metal are now present in volumes — and for more than just a handful of models.
Across segments, American cars are no longer less expensive alternatives to their foreign counterparts, and cross-shopping from German to American is no longer a far-fetched reality. The fact that last year, Motor Trend‘s best driver’s car was a Chevy Camaro Z/28 was proof that we were once again an automotive superpower. And in honor of American steeds, we’ve selected the best and most coveted, including one of the best sports cars in the world, a German-beating performance family sedan and a hot hatch extraordinaire.
2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
If America had its own version of a fire-breathing Godzilla on wheels, it’s the Z06. It has the performance of a supercar costing three times its price — making it easily worthy of a top place on this list. The amped-up ‘Vette gets to 60 mph from a standstill as fast as a Ferrari F12berlinetta (3.1 seconds), tops out at 185 mph and rips out your cheekbones with an insane 1.17 lateral G’s. Matching 650 numbers for horsepower and torque can also be kept in check with the addition of pit-bull bite from the optional carbon-ceramic brakes, and the Z07 Performance package also adds humongous Michelin Pilot Sport Cups and adjustable aerodynamics.
2016 Ford Shelby Mustang GT350R
American muscle car lovers, this is the evolution of homegrown power. With a monstrous dose of track capability, the GT350R eclipses the solely straight-line rockets of old. It not only gets over 500 horsepower and over 400 lb-ft of torque from its 5.2-liter V8, it also gets upgraded bushings, ball joints, anti-roll bars and MagneRide suspension that adapts to road conditions, track programming and improved downforce. Oh, and let’s not forget the super-light, super-exclusive carbon fiber wheels. Expect this American shredder to put the fear into just about anything out there.
2015 Cadillac CTS-V
If you can find a better American sports sedan that also doubles as a slick family sedan, let us know. The CTS-V has everything going for it in the looks-and-cooks department. Driven by a slightly less powerful version of the Z06’s engine, the clean-cut CTS-V rockets to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds (just about a second slower than the Corvette Z06) with a top speed of — get this — 200 mph. It has M5s and E63 AMGs quaking in their brakes. 640 horsepower and 630 lb-ft are more than enough for this four-door rocket sled that just so happens to get luxe appointments worthy of an American sports sedan and the aggressive looks to match.
2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat
The Charger Hellcat will send your kids’ milkshakes straight to the rear windshield when you gun it at the light, thanks to 707 horsepower at the rear wheels from a big supercharged 6.2-liter V8. Don’t expect to drive this sucker gingerly, since it was made for destruction — making your commute the equivalent of a shuttle launch. Proof? 0-60 comes in 3.4 seconds, more than enough time to get you in a helluva lot of trouble. It’s the world’s most powerful production sedan, and it’s made right here in the good ol’ US of A.
2016 Chevrolet Camaro
If the fourth-generation Camaro could see what it’s become in the form of the sixth-generation car, it would weep with joy. Smaller, faster and tighter, it makes the Camaro more than just a great American pony car — it’s a sports coupe that both looks and drives the part. On the already-proven GM Alpha platform that undergirds the Caddy CTS and ATS, the new Camaro is shorter, narrower and lower than its predecessor, as well as 200 pounds lighter. And along with the 335 horsepower V6 and the 455 horsepower V8, the new Camaro will get a 2-liter turbocharged engine that spits out 275 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, making the small displacement car quick.
2015 Tesla Model S P85D
Tesla has shifted its perception as a slick-looking environmental darling to that of a silent, vicious sports car-killer. It boasts a 0-60 time of a positively blistering 3.1 seconds from its combined 691 horsepower, 686 lb-ft electric motors that power all four wheels (and the low mounted batteries parked between the wheels). The car is alarmingly fast and has a 270-mile all-electric range. It’s the unsuspected supercar that just so happens to shun fossil fuels.
2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT
Who needs a $100K BMW X5 M when you can get nearly the same performance from the Grand Cherokee SRT for less than 2/3 the price? The Grand Cherokee SRT provides SUV space with sports car performance and grip — the 475 horsepower 6.4-liter V8 delivers monster power to all four wheels and hustles to 60 mph in a mind-blowing 4.6 seconds (only half a second slower than the X5 M). The 5,331-pound beast comes to an authoritative halt thanks to Brembo brakes and chunky Pirelli P Zero sticky rubber. The interior gets real carbon fiber, hugging buckets and great ergonomics. It has comfort and power to match the big German boys, minus the bank-breaking price and the standard pretense.
2015 Ford Fiesta ST
We dare you to find this much fun in a car for less than $23K. The turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder is a delightful mill that spits out 197 horsepower, and for a 2,745-pound car, that’s ample oomph to get it to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds. You also get racy Recaro front buckets for track days and a slick six-speed manual tranny that makes the trip that much more entertaining. It’s one compact car that, rather than sending you to see the Sandman, gets your pulse racing and your endorphins pumping.
2016 Chevrolet Malibu
The last Malibu wasn’t a horrible car, nor was it ugly. It was just not that noticeable. Relegated to rental fleets or salesmen on the road, there just wasn’t much to write home about when it came to the Impala’s smaller brother. But the new car even upstages the handsome Impala by sporting tighter, racier sheet metal. It’s longer and lower than the last car and sheds 300 pounds thanks to the new E2 architecture. Power comes from three choices, a turbocharged 1.5-liter four with 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, a 2-liter turbocharged that makes 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft, and a hybrid that should get a whopping 48 MPG. The performance won’t be markedly different from the last car, but at least you won’t be mistaken for an accountant.
2015 Dodge Durango
When the Durango bowed back in 1998, it was big, ominous and had the interior quality (and plastic) of a Mattel Cars 2 play set. The 2015 Durango is nothing like its forefather and benefits from one of the best three-row setups anywhere (for headache-free family hauling). Plus, the new Durango is so handsomely designed on the outside that it ranks as one of the best-looking big SUVs on the market. The interior has been upgraded for better ergonomics and improved materials, but the big selling point is the precise steering, flat handling and solid acceleration. 3.6-liter V6 and 5.7-liter Hemi V8 models are offered with both rear- or all-wheel-drive, and both are mated to a smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic.
2016 Ford Fusion
The Fusion has been around since 2013, but it doesn’t appear to be losing any steam. It’s still one of the best family sedan buys you can have without giving up your man card. The styling is unlike any previous American sedan, often mistaken for an Aston Martin, and has led the way to more adventurous styling from other carmakers. Handling is more than respectable, is your choice of engines: a standard 175 horsepower 2.5-liter four, a 181 horsepower 1.5-liter Ecoboost, a 240 horsepower 2.0-liter Ecoboost, a hybrid model with a 188 horsepower 2.0-liter four and an electric motor and a Fusion Energi Plug-In Hybrid with a 2-liter four coupled with a 7.6-kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery that will get you 95/81 MPG (city/highway). You can have style, kids and respect for the environment.