America's New Muscle Versus Europe's Finest Super Models [Part 1]

You unlock it by barely touching the door handle; you get in and find that the steering wheel is almost on the same level with your face. You feel the unmatched premium quality leather and aluminum around you. It feels cold and expensive, as if you could put “luxury” and “surgical” in the same sentence.

Every single detail is just perfect. The controls, the seats, the smell. You know why you spent those $100,000 or more, even before you press that start button to raise all hell.

And you definitely know you’ve gotten your money’s worth after you’re coming out of that first corner with your foot firmly planted on the accelerator, feeling the rear of the car get in line, giving you all the traction you need and in the blink of en eye you’re already gone towards the horizon. It’s almost like driving your own cybernetic organism on wheels. Your own personal T1000…but with cup holders and carbon ceramic brakes. Oh and it probably went around the Nurburgring, God knows how fast. Faster than you’ll ever go, that’s for sure. But it’s yours. It’s your own European supercar.

THIS is why they build the Porsche 911. THIS is why they build the Audi R8. That’s what they’re for. They're Precision instruments, a mad scientist’s formula to manipulating the laws of physics at the touch of a paddle shift.

I was 26 years old when I drove my first ‘3 second’ car, the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano. I took it around some gorgeous twisty roads in the Carpathian mountains. A year before that, it was the F430 Scuderia that blew my mind. I have been an automotive journalist for the better part of my 20s, and because I love cars, I’ve been doing this for almost 10 years.

Luckily, I’ve been around a few American muscle cars as well. They’ve often felt sluggish and full of cheap plastic. But also exciting and quite dramatic. Still, not too long ago, feeling around inside of an American sports car was like feeling around inside of a 2005 Ford Fiesta. Sure, their exteriors are great to look at, but you get the sense that say.. Mercedes-Benz paid more for dressing the doors on an S500 Coupe in premium leather, than Dodge paid for the development of the Challenger’s entire cabin.

So can we truly say that American Muscle is back? Is it on the rise?

Well, on paper, you might have to think to yourself that yes, the Americans are back with a bang! Just listen to this lineup: The brand spanking new Chevy Corvette C7 Z06, the no-nonsense epic all-rounder Camaro ZL1, the track-happy Camaro Z/28, the two Hellcats that took the world by storm, the Challenger and the Charger. And then of course we can’t forget the always ready to rumble Viper SRT.

And after all that, we're going to talk about the most powerful production sedan in its segment, the new Cadillac CTS-V and the fastest electric-powered luxury sedan in the world, the Tesla Model S P85D. That’s a lot of world conquering superlatives right there. And pretty much all of them have price on their side.

In this feature, I’ll be taking a look at all 8 of these cars and matching them up with their ideal European rival as best I can. In order to do that I’m going to have to bend the laws of automotive journalism just a tiny bit. Back when you first start writing about cars, they teach you not to compare apples to oranges. Some may think that first and foremost you look at price, but really, you shouldn’t.

What you do is, you start with size, weight and shape and ask yourself if the cars you're comparing are similar, and also if the purpose for which they were built is somewhat the same (technical similarities, coupe, cabrio etc). If you match them using these criteria, it won’t matter if one costs 4-5 times more than the other if when you do line them up against each other, the performance varies only slightly or is identical.

Once you’ve gotten that out of the way you can start going deeper and looking into similar power outputs, maybe engine size (but nowadays you might as well forget about displacement), transmission, rear wheel drive vs all-wheel drive and so on. As for the price, well of course it matters. It matters a lot. Especially if you’re looking to buy. But it only holds superficial meaning. Which isn’t to say that a cheaper car with the same performances as a more expensive one shouldn’t earn some extra points because of its price/performance ratio.

Since there shouldn’t be any particular order to this, let’s just go ahead and get into it. For each American car, I’ve chosen what I believe is technically its closest European rival. Say,  if you owned American sports car “X” and you wanted to race your friend around a track, but he could only drive a European car. Both cars would have to be as identical as possible performance wise and of course, in size and purpose, right? That’s how we’re doing this.

DUEL #1 – Corvette Z06 C7 vs. McLaren 650S

This is just a perfect way to start things off isn’t it? The new Corvette Z06 is without a doubt the no.1 true sports car that America has to offer as we speak. The ‘Hellcat Brothers’ may pack more of a punch in the horsepower department but trust me, there is absolutely no way an extra 57 PS will make up for how much lighter the Corvette is and therefor, a lot more agile. It’s basically better at everything that anything wearing an SRT badge. This obviously includes the Viper SRT which is down on both power and torque compared to the Z06, not to mention handling, grip coming out of the corners and looks. And if you think the Viper is better looking than the Vette, you’re probably forgetting which century we’re in.

Now, looking at the Z06 and its specs, it sounds amazing. It’s the perfect tool for America to use against Europe when it comes to supercars. And by the way when did the Corvette become a supercar..since not too long ago it was clearly just a sports car? I’d say it became a supercar the day it started going 0-62 mph in 3.1 seconds. If you want to be more “American” about it, you could say it’s a 2 second car in the 0-60 department. Around 2.9 seconds.

Let’s run the numbers down again. We’re talking about a 6.2 liter supercharged V8, with an output of 650 PS and 880 Nm (650 lb-ft) of torque. It will get to 62 mph in just 3.1 seconds. It looks absolutely spectacular and the interior has improved so much from the C6. The plastic isn’t completely gone, but it’s softer and of better quality. The cabin of the Z06 is mostly leather now, lots of stitching, a great seating position, all the controls oriented towards the driver. It’s just a different type of animal.

In fact, I reckon it’s good enough to take on one of the best rear wheel drive supercars in the world, a car that matches up perfectly against the Vette, none other than the McLaren 650S.

Before I get started on the 650S, I should say that I also considered the Ferrari 458 Speciale in this category. Its 605 PS, 540 Nm engine torpedo it to 62 mph in 3.0 seconds flat, but what would worry me isn’t the 45 PS difference but the massive torque difference, and I believe the Vette would pull away pretty easily at mid range, and the goal of this “exercise” was to find cars that match up as perfectly as possible against each other.

The McLaren 650S, just like the Z06, puts out 650 PS and also 678 Nm of torque, which is still not as much as the Vette’s 880 Nm, but it’s much better than what the 458 Speciale would bring to the table. The McLaren also gets to 62 mph in 3.0 seconds flat thanks to its twin-turbocharged V8 engine and dual clutch 7-speed gearbox. It’s cabin is a lot more basic than what you see in the Z06. There’s carbon fiber everywhere, everything has a race oriented purpose to it, which is great for a track car but on a day to day basis the Corvette Z06 looks like the winner here. Might we say the same about the looks? The McLaren 650S is a great looking machine but dare I see it’s not very sexy when you park it next to a 458, a Huracan, an AMG-GT or in this case, a 2015 Corvette Z06.

And let’s talk price for a second too, because the 650S is about 3.75 times more expensive than the Z06. The only way in which you could justify that price gap besides talking about the badge and how wealthy people like to stand out in posh european sports cars (we get that, badge matters, for it often comes with technical benefits too), but the only way in which you could justify it being 3.75 times more expensive is if it was 3.75 seconds faster on the track. And it isn’t. It just isn’t. Same power, down on torque. Whatever quarter of a second or half a second it might claw away from the Vette because of say its slightly precise handling or its quicker transmission, is simply not enough.

Winner: Corvette Z06 C7

DUEL #2 – Dodge Viper SRT vs. Ferrari 458 Italia

The Viper has always been the ultimate “middle finger” type of car. Crazy numbers, crazy (bad) handling, and you’d never ever even think to put it anywhere near something European, especially on a track. If you want to do a straight line test, sure, you can drag just about anything. But other than that, no way. Using the word Viper in the same sentence as Porsche or Ferrari, was like using Khloe Kardashian in the same sentence as Beyonce.

Even though the Viper still lags behind in a few departments, it’s now good enough to mention next to some of the big boys, thanks to its massive V10 engine and to the fact that you can actually approach its limits a lot easier than in previous generations, according to several automotive reviews. And before the new Corvette Z06 came out (after they took the ZR1 out of production), the Viper SRT was, for a while, the only 600+ HP, rear wheel drive, long-nosed American two seater coupe on the market.

However old Viper trademarks remain (which some appreciate, but most despise) such as the pedals being angled to the left, the terrible visibility, the inhospitable interior and the loud engine (and not in a good way). But what you also get is that naturally aspirated V10, which means there’s nothing between your pedal input and the engine, there’s no lag, there’s absolutely nothing keeping you from unleashing 640 PS along with 600 lb-ft the old fashioned way. The SRT Viper will reach 62 mph in 3.5 seconds and it’s not an “empty threat” either because you also get good handling and very good brakes.

When I chose to put the Viper up against the 458 Italia, it sounded a bit silly first, since in one corner we have one of the best supercars ever built and in the other corner we have a Dodge Viper, but I later found that I can argue a good case for both of them. The Mercedes-AMG GT (510 PS, 0-62 in 3.8 s) and Aston Martin V12 Vantage S (573 PS, 0-62 in 3.7 s) were also in the conversation to, but the Merc was a bit too much down on power and the Aston is 200kg heavier…and also down on power. So the only other rear wheel drive car I could imagine taking on the Viper despite giving up almost 80 PS and 303 Nm of torque, would be the 458 Italia – because well, it’s lighter and more agile than the Viper.

Actually, let’s not understate things. The 458 Italia is a masterpiece. It’s won more automotive awards than I care to google, and if I had to set a quick lap in either of these two cars to save my life, I’d take the Ferrari without even worrying about the Viper’s power and especially torque advantage.

The 458’s naturally aspirated V8 puts out 570 PS which is nothing to laugh at. Actually you might be grinning your way to 62 mph in 3.4 seconds, revving the engine to about 9.000rpm and then going all the way up to 201 mph. Inside, everything is beautifully crafted and the controls are driver-focused, which is what you want in this type of car. The visibility isn’t great but it beats the Viper’s hands down.

The 458 is about two and a half times as expensive as say the new Viper TA Edition, but in this case, I’d have to say that it might be worth it. The Viper is fast, more controllable and less scary than before. The 458 is well, perfect, as lots have said before me. The price difference is more than justifiable considering that the 458 Italia is a lot better looking, a lot better sounding, a lot better to sit in, better to drive, better to race, better built and last but not least, it’s a Ferrari.

Winner: Ferrari 458 Italia

DUEL #3 – Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 vs. BMW M6 Coupe

This was probably the easiest match up. The Camaro ZL1 is a proper GT car. It has all the power and the torque you need at 580 horses and 754 Nm (556 lb-ft). It has the looks and it’s a genuine movie star thanks to Michael Bay. It may not be the most hardcore Camaro you can buy, but it’s definitely the most well balanced and quickest in a straight line with a 0 to 62 mph time of just 4.1 seconds. It also has a spacious cabin, and a decent quality build so for its $56,500 base price.

You might also say that the ZL1 Camaro is the easiest to live with American muscle car. Inside you’ve got your microfiber suede inserts, your head up display, your six-way power adjustable driver and passenger seats, wireless PDIM and USB ports, Boston Acoustics premium sound system, rear park assist and a rear camera system. You get all the comfort you need as well as the performance from its supercharged V8 engine. Not to mention the soundtrack. It actually sounds a lot like an AMG Mercedes-Benz which is high praise. So what other European rear-wheel drive easy to live with GT could I have chosen for this duel, except for the BMW M6?

The M6 is one hell of a compromise. Actually it’s a compromise you don’t mind. It’s big, it has plenty of room inside, it offers you premium quality as well as some amazing performances thanks to its 4.4 liter twin-turbocharged V8, rated at 560 PS and 680 Nm ( 500 lb-ft) of torque. It’s a very quick car, getting to 62 mph in 4.2 seconds, all while delivering its grunt between 1.500 rpm and 5.750 rpm. Its rev limiter is set at 7.200 rpm which is a downgrade from what you had in the previous generation M6.

It doesn’t sound as well as the Camaro though, and by not as well I mean not even close. The M6 idles about the same as a 335i. You’d be hard pressed to tell it was such a capable machine. Same goes for when you rev its engine. So how do you then justify its price tag? If you want an M6, you have to be willing to make $111.900 dissapear out of your bank account. You can kind of see why it would be worth it, right? It’s not a Bentley but it’s a borderline luxury GT, it has all the toys you’d want on the inside, it’s fast – not like you could argue it isn’t, and it’s a great long distance cruiser.

The price gap between the ZL1 Camaro and the M6 BMW isn’t as big as you might expect. By itself, the Bimmer is definitely worth purchasing, especially if you’re loyal to the brand or you simply want a comfortable yet highly powerful German GT car and you either can’t afford the new S63 AMG Coupe or you don’t really need something that big.

On paper though, it’s down on power and torque compared to the ZL1, and even though it’s a great car, I feel it just isn’t spectacular enough to merit paying that much of a premium on it. It’s not like with the Ferrari 458 where you could argue all day in favor of it over the Viper. I could try to argue more in favor of the M6 over the ZL1, but I feel like you guys wouldn’t want to hear it. It’s not fast enough, it’s not good looking enough so surprisingly it’s going to come away with the win. By the way, these are all moral victories I’m giving away here, which are enough for most people to justify a purchase, unless you’re a high paid athlete, artist, exec, professional race driver and so on.

Winner: Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

DUEL #4 – Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 vs. Porsche 911 GTS

If you ask me, this is the truly special Camaro you have to have. It may not be the everyday car the ZL1 is, but it’s not like it’s an Ariel Atom where you’ll get rained on. The Z/28 is a beast on the track, which isn’t something you’d say often about a Camaro. Its massive 7.0 liter LS7 V8 engine is good for 505 HP and 481 lb-ft and even though it's not as powerful as the ZL1, it’s a more capable racer.

The Z/28 will set you back around $73,000 which I happen to think is kind of too much. And not because its going up against a Porsche, but because it’s almost as expensive as the Corvette Z06 – I don’t know anybody who’d rather have a 500 HP Camaro over the 650 PS, 881Nm killer Vette. I don’t care how “track oriented” you are, the Z06 will still out race it.

On the bright side, the Z/28 Camaro does look a lot better than the ZL1. It’s a very handsome car. Brutal even, more masculine. How fast it reaches 62 mph, well your guess is as good as mine, since Chevy has refused to share any official numbers. Some publications rate it at 4.0 seconds, others at anywhere from 4.1 to 4.4 seconds.

If you ask me, it’s sort of missing the point. Chevy tried to do with the Z/28 what Porsche did with the GT3. Unfortunately they didn’t quite get the memo that even though the GT3 is down on power next to the 911 Turbo (which is what Chevy intended too, not making the Z/28 as powerful as the ZL1), both of these Porsches accelerate at about the same rate, even though the Turbo uses all-wheel drive and the GT3 just its rear wheels.

I’ve seen all these comparison tests between the Z/28 and the Porsche 911 GT3 and dude, just no. The Camaro Z/28 will get to 62 mph in 4. something seconds, while the 911 GT3 will get there in a real 3.3 seconds. That’s like a whole different category. It will already be a second behind before even getting to the first corner on a track. I don’t care if afterwards it can sort of keep up. These are track cars, and on the track every split second counts.

I will, however, throw the Porsche 911 GTS at the Camaro Z/28. It’s also just rear wheel drive, it has 430 PS and it’ll get to 62 mph in 4.0 seconds flat with a PDK and 4.4 seconds with a manual transmission. It’s faster than your regular 911 Carrera, Targa or Carrera S, and you can only top it with the 911 Turbo or GT3. How much? It’s $115,195 and worth ever single cent.

Sure it’s a little down on power compared to the Z/28 but the situation is slightly similar to the Viper SRT – 458 Italia duel. You can live with these fewer horses if the car makes up for them in other ways. And the GTS is as good as a 911 gets, unless you can afford a Turbo, Turbo S or a GT3.

And really, it’s just $43,000 more than the Camaro? If you’ve got the cash, you’d have to be crazy not to go for the Porsche. Let me explain why that matters because some of you might say ‘So what if it’s a Porsche?’. Well, a badge doesn’t mean just prestige. It often means tradition, expertise, a higher budget, higher quality and better engineering. Such is the case here.

You get on the power a lot sooner in Porsches and other euro rockets, than you do in American muscle cars. This is because they’ve worked out the balance, power-to-weight ratios, fancy electronic differentials, star trek tech transmissions and all that with decades of experience. They’ve invested a lot more money into developing these things along the way, while America was mostly playing catch-up and trying to close the gap with blunt force trauma (brute power). Sure, the US has come a long way with the Z06, the Z/28 and so on, but it’s just so hard to catch somebody when they’ve had that big of a head start.

As for the better price you get with most American muscle, well it’s a bit like Samsung vs. Apple. Sometimes it can perform better, or look more impressive in certain benchmarks, but overall Apple products are still more appealing, intuitive and have a quicker UI.

Winner: Porsche 911 GTS

Up next I wanted to talk about the new Mustang Shelby GT350, but we’re going to do that at a later stage, when we’ll have more numbers and specs for it and maybe even after we have a few reviews as well. Now since we’re already 4 duels in and still have 4 to go, we’re going to split this feature into two parts, with Part 2 coming tomorrow.

Next: the two Hellcats, the all new Cadillac CTS-V and the Tesla Model S P85D will all meet their European match in Part 2.


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