Learn which of these American muscle cars packs the mightiest punch.
Nothing gets the red blood pumping like a modern American muscle car.
With gobs of power, performance, handling, and comfort, today’s muscle cars have come a long way in the last 50 years. It used to be that a muscle car was anything American with two doors and a big V8 under the hood that really launched you from a standstill. Not much comfort to speak of, and not a lot of handling ability other than straight-line acceleration.
That’s all changed. Today’s muscle cars are better than ever at going from zero to 60 mph — and now they handle much better than the straight-line beasts of the 1960s. Some of today’s American cars achieve muscle car status without having a V8 under their hoods. (Gasp. We know. We said it.) Let’s take a look at some modern-day muscle cars.Note: Most of the cars on this list are, in less-responsible hands, magnets for speeding tickets. They’re seriously powerful machines, joking aside, and some can reach 200 mph. We’d say the outer edges of these street-legal racecars’ performance envelopes are best explored on a racetrack
With this latest Camaro, it looks as if the gods of speed reached down and squashed the roof several feet to maximize its cool factor. Great job, Camaro designers. The ZL1, with its wide profile and 20-inch-plus wheel-and-tire setup, looks bad to the bone. And it pretty much is bad to the bone, thanks to a huge, supercharged, 650-horsepower V8 and special running gear — like a tuned suspension and a limited-slip differential for more traction. This Camaro comes as a hard-top or as a convertible; if you want to be seen and gawked over (honestly, why else would you score a car like the ZL1?), opt for the drop-top version. In the long-running Mustang vs. Camaro duel, this car held the edge up until Ford rolled out its latest Shelby GT500.
“Lots of power and it looks great!”
- Greenville, SC sales consultant
Not as powerful as the ZL1, the SS is certainly no slouch in the muscle car category. At its heart is a 455-horsepower V8 — the same engine you’ll find in a Corvette. There’s also a Chevy Tremec transmission to manage all this power, and yes, it comes with the automatic rev-matching feature that makes for easier downshifting. While we love the looks of all of the muscle cars here, the Camaros made since 2010 are the best-looking, wildest rides on this list.
Yes, the LT is available as a six-cylinder car. But it’s a six-cylinder Camaro that gives you more than 330 horsepower and gets you to 60 mph in just over five seconds. This setup crushes the stereotype of a muscle car needing to have eight cylinders. Outward visibility can be limited in these late-model Camaros, so Chevy includes a rearview camera to give you a better look at what’s behind you. Available as a hard top or a convertible, you can splurge for the RS package and roll on extra-tall, extra-shiny 20-inch wheels. Cool.
“Simple design but very fast. A real sleeper!”
- CarMax Sales Consultant
What’s a Scat Pack? This is a reference to Dodge’s muscle-car marketing from the 1960s, when it branded its Challengers with wild terms (including the Super Bee) to match their candy-coated colors and unrestrained performance characteristics. This Challenger comes with an eight-speed automatic or an old-school, six-speed manual transmission (the stickshift isn’t available in regular Challengers). The R/T Scat Pack Challenger has an aggressive, retro look and aggressive road manners.
Another V6-engined car. Yes, we’re including it on our list, because it touches the right bases: great sound, great acceleration, lots of power, and lots of fun! The Challenger is the roomiest two-door car on this list, and it’s certainly the most retro-looking. The SXT Plus has an average price tag that’s a bit less than the V8 Challengers, too.
“All naturally aspirated motor. No turbo, no supercharger, all muscle.”
- CarMax Sales Consultant
Have you heard a GT350 under power? The engine sound is unique — unlike most other big V8s — for a reason: the engine has a flat-plane crankshaft, which gearheads know has different geometry that lets it rev all the way to 8200 rpm. That’s a good bit higher than traditional, cross-plane V8s. With 525 horsepower on tap (no turbo here!), the GT350 in Sport mode sounds like little else on the road that you can drive straight off a showroom floor. It sits lower than a regular Mustang GT and has more slots in the nose to hold it down on the road and help cool the big front brakes.
The GT500 is a GT350 on steroids. Which is saying something. Until the advent of the Dodge Demon, the GT500 was the mightiest production muscle car ever sold, with 660 supercharged, V8 horsepower in a production muscle car. Still, if you’re a Ford fan and you want the most horsepower, the GT500 is the crown jewels. This car comes with launch control, which is a smart idea for a muscle car with this kind of monster power. You won’t use all of the gears in this car’s manual, six-speed transmission to go from zero to 60 mph in just 3.5 seconds. Keep going and you can take this Mustang all the way to 200 mph.
It may be Ford’s entry-level muscle car, but it still makes plenty of horsepower (as long as 435 horsepower is enough for you!). It drives much better in the twists and turns these days, too; the biggest single change to the Mustang’s handling characteristics showed up in the 2015 Mustang GT where the solid rear axle was replaced with an independent rear suspension setup. This helps these newer Mustangs hold the road much better than ever before! Of all the vehicles on this list, the Mustang GT has among the lowest average prices by year, so if you’re looking to get into muscle cars for the first time, this might be one to check out.
And these last two aren’t muscle cars as much as they’re sports cars that can definitely hold their own with Ferraris and Porsches. This brace of Corvettes still serves up plenty of brawny bluster.
Are Corvettes muscle cars, or are they muscle-y sports cars? They sure do handle like big sports cars. This one made our list of the top sports cars of 2017. These latest Stingrays offer the Z51 performance package, which means they handle great, thanks to their balanced weight distribution, sticky tires, bigger brakes, and tweaked suspension components. They have a seven-speed manual transmission that includes three overdrive gears. This gearing, plus cylinder deactivation, gives this ‘Vette the ability to return 29 mpg on the highway! The Z51 can be had with a removable targa top and an automatic rpm-matching gearbox feature that gooses the throttle to give you perfect downshifts, every time.
Are there any drawbacks to owning and driving these American muscle cars? Well, you’re not going to break any hyper-miling records while you’re piloting any car on this list; you will burn a lot of fuel. Also, the back seats are really kind of an afterthought in most of these cars (except in the four-door Charger). The trunks don’t hold much, either. In short, they’re not family cars. But this isn’t news to you.
And one last word about the ‘muscle cars need a V8 or they aren’t muscle cars’ argument: these days, if a V6-engined car has more than 300 horsepower, gets 20-plus mpg, and sounds fantastic, what’s the difference? We say, don't let cylinder count dictate your driving fun and excitement!