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New Muscle-Car Method: Turbo, AWD, and a Luxe Badge - The Kiinote

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 11/14/2014 Ron Kiino

At this year's Car of the Year program, the all-new 2015 Mustang GT was easily the most talked about and anticipated performance car of the field. After all, it ushered in a new generation of Ford's ponycar and touted legit muscle-car stats, thanks to a hulking 5.0-liter V-8, six-speed manual, and -- finally -- independent rear suspenders. Indeed, the 3,814-pound thoroughbred from Flat Rock, Michigan, boasted 435 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque and, despite the intense Mojave heat, posted 0-60 in 4.4 seconds, the quarter mile in 12.8 at 112.2 mph, 60-0 in 107 feet, average lateral acceleration of 0.96 g, and the figure eight in 24.7 seconds. Solid (unlike that rear axle). Yet two other hi-po machines, one from this year's program and one from last year's, left me thinking: There's a new wave of muscle car, and it ain't big eights, stick shifts, and rear drive wrapped in red, white, and blue.

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To wit: The Teutonic duo of the Audi S3 and Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG each put down performance figures comparable to the GT's but did so with relatively tiny-displacement turbo engines, dual-clutch gearboxes, and all-wheel drive. And for what it's worth, unlike that Blue Oval on the 'Stang's hood, ritzy luxury-marque badges adorn these compacts.

2015 Audi S3© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Audi S3 The 292-horse S3 marks the first time an S-badged A3 has made it Stateside, and boy, was it well worth the wait. Essentially a Volkswagen Golf R hot hatch in sedan guise offered exclusively with a six-speed DCT, the S3 can also be viewed as a mini S6. It bears a strong resemblance to its big bro, has half the cylinders and turbos, yet is nearly as quick and agile. In our desert venue, the 3,467-pound Audi zipped from 0-60 in 4.7 seconds, through the quarter in 13.4 at 102.4, and halted from 60 in 113 feet. And thanks in part to 280 lb-ft of torque and spiffy split-spoke 19s shod in sticky 235/35 Continentals, it pulled average lateral acceleration of 0.92 g and ran the figure eight in 25.2. The beautifully appointed interior and taut and tidy exterior didn't hurt, either. Easy to hustle and confidence-inspiring, the S3 may prompt you to see some red mist, but it'll never leave you with white knuckles. The Mustang? As its name suggests, it can be a wild horse.

The CLA45’s 355-hp 2.0T is the mightiest four-cylinder production engine around.© Provided by MotorTrend The CLA45’s 355-hp 2.0T is the mightiest four-cylinder production engine around. Speaking of wild rides, let's talk CLA45 AMG. By wild, I'm not referring to its handling, which, akin to the Audi, is predictable (read: mild understeer) and reassuring. No, I'm talking about its straight-line gusto of 0-60 in 4.2 seconds and the quarter in 12.7 at 108.3. That's what 355 high-strung horses, all-wheel drive, and a rapid-fire, seven-speed DCT can do for you. Halting the 3,599-pound Benz from 60 required just 109 feet, average lateral grip came in at 0.96 g, and the figure eight registered in 24.9 ticks -- all right near or on top of the Mustang. While not a styling star like the S3, both inside and out, the CLA offers up better steering and, in addition to the 63 extra horses, 52 more lb-ft of twist.

I realize comparing two petite Germans to the bigger, brawnier Mustang is an apples-to-oranges endeavor. But I can't help but think that for ballpark money -- $46,380 for the Mustang, $49,945 for the S3, $58,945 for the CLA45 (OK, Benz is out of the ballpark) -- the Europeans provide similar performance, real back seats, and superior EPA fuel economy (23/31 mpg city/highway versus 15/25). Lean and mean versus bulk and brute. In true American fashion, it's nice having choices.

New Muscle-Car Method: Turbo, AWD, and a Luxe Badge - The Kiinote

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2014 Mercedes Benz CLA45 AMG© Provided by MotorTrend 2014 Mercedes Benz CLA45 AMG
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