I have faith in the American automobile industry. General Motors emerged from bankruptcy a leaner, more disciplined company, focussed more on profits than volume. Ford did one better and avoided bankruptcy completely, shedding anything that would weigh it down. As for FCA… If history has taught us anything, it’s to never count Chrysler out as the company has always operated on a boom/bust cycle. Now, there’s a fourth serious player out of the U.S. that’s shaking things up: Tesla. There’s a vast array of superb products coming out of the U.S., and here are a few that keep me loving American cars.
The Tesla Model S (#22) has disrupted both the electric car market and the luxury car market. While other automakers had always presented electric cars as sensible commuter cars, Tesla scoffed and went in a different direction – to great success – with the Model S luxury hatchback. Enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts alike have been captivated by this car and the technology and performance it offers. Count me as one of those enthusiasts.
The Big 3 know how to make good crossovers, particularly in the full-size field. I’ve always been more of a sedan fan as I don’t (yet?) need the space afforded by crossovers. So, while I can admire GM’s Lambda triplets and appreciate the capable Dodge Durango, I don’t long for those vehicles. I do, however, have a great regard for the Ford Flex (#23). Sadly, it’s not long for this world as most buyers prefer the more conventional Explorer. The polarizing Flex is, quite simply, a very large box. It’s awfully reminiscent of full-size station wagons of the past and yet it’s also trendy and modern. It also comes with an optional 365-horsepower twin-turbo 3.5 EcoBoost V6 that puts the “haul” in “family hauler”.
Chrysler shook up the market in the 2000s with the introduction of its rear-wheel-drive LX and LC-platform cars: the Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, Challenger and Magnum (#24). This venerable Mercedes-derived platform has survived to the present day and with each year, these cars have gotten ever more impressive. The low-rent interiors and weak V6 engines of the early cars have been banished, although sadly so too has the rakish Magnum wagon.
More features have been added – including a sumptuous leather-wrapped interior option in the Chrysler 300 – and wilder and wilder performance editions have appeared. First came the SRT-8 editions of each car, then the shocking Charger and Challenger Hellcat of 2015 with a gobsmacking 707 hp. At this year’s New York International Auto Show, Dodge debuted the Challenger Demon with an astonishing 840 hp.
Even at the lower end, these RWD Mopars impress. The Pentastar V6 is sufficiently powerful, considering the hefty curb weights of these cars. It is also available with all-wheel-drive – even in the Challenger – although sadly the V8/AWD combo was discontinued due to slow sales. If you want an affordable, rear-wheel-drive sedan, you don’t have many options in North America anymore (and, distressingly, it will soon be the same here in Australia). The good news is you can get a Charger V6 for under $30k or spring for an R/T V8 for around $35k, or the price of a base model compact German. The even better news is FCA is reportedly preparing a replacement for the LX and LC platform that will retain rear-wheel-drive.
The blow of losing the RWD Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore here in Australia is being softened by the new Ford Mustang (#25). Ford’s latest generation of the evergreen pony car nameplate has gone global and is now available in Europe and Australia. It’s hardly as practical as a Falcon but it is also a much more refined vehicle than its predecessors thanks to the long-awaited introduction of independent rear suspension as standard fitment. There’s also a wide range of luxury and safety features available, but the feature that excites me the most is the optional 435-horsepower Coyote 5.0 V8 under the hood. It’s also competitively priced – more so in the US than here, mind you – and the sixth-generation Mustang is, in my eyes, the most beautiful Mustang since those of the late-1960s.
The 2018 model is even more of a stunner. This combination of looks and performance has already made the Mustang a smash-hit here in Australia, a market long starved of pony cars. The Mustang is more polished than ever without losing any of its character.
Speaking of classic American nameplates that are more polished and poised than ever, how about the C7 Corvette (#26)? The Corvette is now regarded as being a world-class sports car, even by the notoriously critical British automotive press. Automotive journalists from around the world have praised its razor-sharp handling and its pushrod V8 that reaches 60 mph in under 4 seconds—and that’s in the cheapest Corvette! Now, there’s finally a nice interior to go with it, plus some trick technology like magnetorheological dampers.
The Corvette is also eminently driveable in the real-world and, for those wanting more performance, the Z06 adds a supercharger and an extra 195 hp and 190 ft-lbs (to 650 and 650, respectively). I must also confess that, despite my fondness for C5 and C6 styling, I love that GM took a risk with the C7 and took the design in a new direction. It helps signal the Corvette has changed, that it’s now a world-class sports car without any caveats or qualifiers required.
It’s a fantastic time to be a fan of American luxury brands. Lincoln may still be employing its time-tested and profitable strategy of polishing Ford platforms and draping them in elegant sheetmetal. But they are becoming increasingly smarter about hiding their cars’ Ford origins and the new Black Label luxury series offers a breathtaking range of opulent interior schemes. But – and this should come as no surprise after Part II – Cadillac still remains my favorite American brand. And, instead of admiring from afar, I actually put my money where my mouth was and rented a Cadillac on my last trip to the U.S. That car was the current-generation CTS (#27).
I’m a firm believer that you can have it all. You can have a luxury car with a cossetting ride and capable handling. GM has long been able to engineer a capable chassis and the CTS’ Alpha platform offers a sublime ride/handling balance, without having to rely on adaptive suspension technology. I’ve driven some terrifically tortuous roads over the years but I’ll never forget my experience driving the CTS along Mulholland Drive at night.
The interior was a splendid place to be – I was even satisfied with the much-maligned CUE – and the car lived up to my expectations, and then some. On the same trip, I sat in an ATS and found the interior to be more comfortable than I’d heard. Perhaps on my next trip, I’ll get some seat-time in the new CT6.
It’s a terrific time to be a fan of American cars. Ford, GM and FCA all sell pony cars with heady performance and the latest in technology. Cadillac is matching and even beating the Germans in handling ability while Lincoln is resurging. Flagship sports cars like the Corvette and Ford GT surprise and delight. And, most importantly, the bread-and-butter products – the Cherokees, the Rams, the Fusions – are competitive and compelling—the only exceptions can be counted on one hand. So, tell us: what American cars of today keep you hopeful and enthusiastic about the U.S. auto industry?