We’re living through some pretty good times — at least from an automotive standpoint, that is. Horsepower is getting cheaper than ever before, and we’re reaching a point where some of the most formidable performance cars in the world aren’t just livable and reliable, they’re affordable too. And despite the car-buying public at large flocking to nondescript family-friendly crossovers and pickups, enthusiast’s cars are experiencing a renaissance. Particularly — and thankfully — muscle cars.
Legendary nameplates from the Big Three are arguably better than they’ve ever been before, and they’ve certainly never been more powerful. But a globalized market, new technology, and safety and emissions regulations have influenced the segment as well, sometimes in unexpected ways. Today, the definition of “muscle car” is a little more complicated than what it was back in the ’60s. A long hood, short deck, and high-displacement V8 are all still touchstones, sure, but a crop of newcomers has reinterpreted what it means to be a muscle car, and instead of muddying the waters, they’ve made things even more interesting.
This list is still pretty heavy on Detroit’s finest, but newcomers from the outside world are making their presence known here too. Without further ado, here are the best muscle cars money can buy in 2016.
1. Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat
For its second year on the market, Dodge doubled Challenger Hellcat production — and it still sold out. It isn’t hard to see why either: There’s a 6.4 liter supercharged Hemi V8 making 707 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque under the hood, good for a zero to 60 time of under four seconds and a top speed of 199 miles per hour. That makes the Dodge one of the most powerful production cars in the world, keeping company with Bugatti, McLaren, Porsche, and Ferrari. Not bad for a $60,000 coupe.
2. Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat
Of course, we can’t mention the Challenger Hellcat without the Charger. With the same 707 horses and 650 pound-feet, the big sedan actually manages to break the 200 mile per hour mark, making it the fastest sedan in the world. You pay a little more ($65K and up), but if you want room to take — and terrify — the whole family, the Charger’s the car for you. Remember when people were outraged that Dodge would use the Charger name on a sedan? They’ve been awfully quiet lately.
3. Ford Mustang GT
Ford’s 21st century “Five-Oh” is one of the most popular performance cars in the country, and with good cause. The Coyote V8 puts out an impressive 435 horses and 400 pound-feet of torque, can be had with either a six-speed automatic or manual transmission, and comes standard with Ford’s Track Apps program for just over $32K. And with a stiff chassis and fantastic suspension, it may be the best handling Mustang since, well, ever.
4. Chevrolet Camaro SS
The Mustang GT is great and all, but to people taking sides in the nearly 50 year-long Camaro versus Mustang ponycar war, here’s what really matters. 2016 Chevy Camaro SS: 455 horsepower and 455 pound-feet of torque. Mustang: 435 horses, and 400 pound-feet. It’s a little pricier than the Ford at $37K, but it’s well worth it to the Chevy guys who love it when the Bowtie has an edge over the Blue Oval.
5. Ford Mustang EcoBoost
Small-displacement, four cylinder engines have come a long way over the past few years, and nowhere is that more apparent than the legitimately impressive Mustang EcoBoost. Ford managed to get 310 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque out of its four-banger — that’s 10 horses more and 40 pound-feet more than the entry-level V6. It may not have that big V8 rumble, but other than that, we wouldn’t mind having an EcoBoost ‘Stang in our stable.
6. Ford Focus RS
It may not look like a traditional muscle car at all, but this is the hottest hot hatch Europe has to offer, and it’s finally here. The German-built RS mates a version of the Mustang EcoBoost’s 2.3 turbocharged four with a sweet shifting six-speed manual (for an astonishing 350 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque), a cutting-edge torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system, and a track-tuned suspension. To put it mildly, it’s one of the best performance cars in the world, has seating for five, a generous trunk, and starts at just $35,000. If you’re wondering what a 21st century global muscle car looks like, here it is.
7. 2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
The all-new 2016 Camaro has largely erased the sins of the previous version, and it’s now lighter, more responsive, and more refined than ever before. At the top of the range lies the ZL1, a $62,000 world-class, track-focused screamer. With its 6.2 liter supercharged LT4 V8 pumping out 650 horsepower, 1.02 g of cornering grip, and an 11.4 second quarter-mile time, it should be enough to keep Porsche drivers up at night.
8. Ford Shelby GT350R
And while the Camaro SS tops the Mustang GT in power on the street, and the Camaro ZL1 makes a legitimate claim for the track, Ford’s Shelby GT350 and GT350R still stand as one of the most impressive performance cars in the world. A throwback to the Shelby cars of the ’60s, the GT350R ditches everything you wouldn’t need on the track, and tosses in a 526 horsepower naturally-aspirated 5.2 liter “Voodoo” V8, with its hellacious 8,250 RPM redline. Zero to 60 comes in a mind-numbing 3.9 seconds.
9. BMW M4 GTS
Long hood, short deck, coupe? Check. Big, powerful engine? You bet. Performance version of an already fast car? Yep. And it’s from… Germany?
The M4 GTS may be a six-figure, limited-edition, Bavarian-built specialty car, but unlike the Focus RS, it follows Detroit’s classic mantra of stripping everything out that doesn’t make a car go faster, shoehorning a massive powerplant under the hood, and seeing what happens. In the GTS’ case, it’s a twin-turbocharged track-focused beast with 493 horsepower, 442 pound-feet of torque on tap, and a zero to 60 time of 3.9 seconds, making it the fastest production BMW ever built.
The Chevy SS is about as niche a Chevy gets, but boy, are we glad it’s gone there. The full-size SS isn’t too far off from the 2008-’09 Pontiac G8 GXP; in fact, it even shares its body and 6.2 liter, 415 horsepower LS3 V8 with the late, great Pontiac. With power sent to the rear wheels via an available six-speed manual transmission, the SS is one of the coolest old-school cars out there.