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American Automakers Are Finally Building Cars That Excite Me

Automobile logo Automobile 2015-05-13 Marc Noordeloos

2016 Cadillac ATS V Coupe Front Three Quarter In Motion © Provided by Automobile 2016 Cadillac ATS V Coupe Front Three Quarter In Motion

It’s hard not to have an American-car bias when you grow up in Michigan, though as constant readers know, I’ve somehow managed to avoid falling for Yankee iron. Eight of the 10 cars I’d buy with my own money come from Europe, and the remaining two are a Euro-influenced performance hatchback and a rear-wheel drive Japanese sports car. But friends in the Motor City will be happy to learn that I’m coming around to appreciate American cars.

This transition can be attributed to a couple of industry trends. First, the Europeans seem to be married to the dual-clutch gearbox, and they favor performance statistics and refinement over characterful fun. For example, the latest Porsche 911 GT3 is one of the best performing cars for the money, but it lacks the raw and visceral nature of previous-generation GT3 models.

2016 Ford Shelby GT350 Mustang © Provided by Automobile 2016 Ford Shelby GT350 Mustang

Second, American automakers are finally building cars that excite me. Just look at the stats and performance parts fitted to the Ford Shelby GT350 (and GT350R ) Mustang and you’ll understand. Its flat-plane crank V-8 revs past 8,000 rpm and puts out more than 500 hp. And this is proper old-fashioned, naturally aspirated power. No whine from a supercharger, no turbos sitting in the exhaust system to contaminate the pure sound of the 5.2-liter engine. And no automatic transmission option. If you don’t want three pedals and six gear ratios you select yourself, you must shop elsewhere. I love it. I can’t wait to drive a GT350 and GT350R later this year.

Ford Focus RS © Provided by Automobile Ford Focus RS

The new Focus RS is another row-it-yourself-only Ford, an all-wheel-drive, rally-car-style offering in the same spirit as a Subaru WRX STI. The Ford Focus RS is the antidote to the dual-clutch only Volkswagen Golf R. I’m fine with Ford using a turbocharger, in this case, to squeeze what it says is well in excess of 315 hp (rumors swirl that it will be 345 hp) from the 2.3-liter engine. I wonder how much more power the aftermarket world will get out of the EcoBoost engine. You can read about my thoughts on the Focus RS here. Assuming they live up to the potential, both the GT350/GT350R and the Focus RS could easily make it onto my list of cars that I’d purchase with my own cash.

2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Side View With Reflection © Provided by Automobile 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Side View With Reflection

And there are other wonderfully raw and focused cars coming from the Big Three. Even though the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat isn’t my kind of car, I love that this friend of the devil exists and I find myself giggling like a schoolgirl when I roast the wide rear tires well into third gear. It’s gigantic, but somehow the big two-door handles far better than it should. The sound emanating from the 707-hp V-8 is socially unacceptable, just as it should be. God bless America.

2015 Dodge Viper SRT © Provided by Automobile 2015 Dodge Viper SRT

Then there’s the Viper. Just as Taylor Swift’s latest album, “1989,” is my latest closet music of choice; the Dodge Viper is my closet American sports car of choice. Though I’d find it tough to live with the extroverted two-seater day to day, I love the crazy, boisterous Dodge. I’ve been on three Viper media launches over the years and I have the utmost respect for what the V-10-powered beast can do on a racetrack. I love the chassis balance and the fact that the car’s engineers are wonderful, passionate enthusiasts. And now they’re even making a new track-focused ACR version. Few people understand the Viper and even fewer people give it the credit due.

2014 Chevrolet SS © Provided by Automobile 2014 Chevrolet SS

General Motors also offers a few cars that excite me. Sure, it’s technically an import from the Land Down Under, but the Chevrolet SS now comes with an optional six-speed manual gearbox. Other impressive GM entries include the Chevy Camaro Z/28, the new Cadillac ATS-V, and the plethora of offerings under the Corvette banner.

2016 Porsche Cayman GT4 © Provided by Automobile 2016 Porsche Cayman GT4

I’d like to think Americans’ passion for simple, basic sports cars are helping remind the Germans what truly makes a car enjoyable. Even Porsche might be paying attention; consider the new Cayman GT4. No matter how much faster a 911 GT3 is with the latest PDK dual-clutch automatic, buyers still want to have fun. It’s high time we celebrate cars from the U.S. brands for not just being impressive compared with American cars of the past, but also for being impressive, period.

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