America Can Get Its Act Together: Top 5 High Performance American Vehicles

By Zach Bowman

We’ve already shown you that there are more than a few great domestic vehicles out there for under $30,000, but what about above that magic mark? For those with a little more disposable income and less of an eye toward fuel economy, the U.S. is producing plenty of vehicles that beat their German and Japanese counterparts at their own game. Cars like the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 and Dodge Viper ACR SRT10 have made their mark on the infamous Nürburgring, beating out the likes of Porsche, BMW and Mercedes, while the Cadillac CTS-V proves that high-performance luxury isn’t just for imports anymore.

2009 Corvette ZR-1

Dodge Viper ACR SRT10

1. 2009 Corvette ZR1
If you’ve never heard of the Nürburgring, here’s a quick history lesson for you. The ‘Ring, as it’s affectionately called, is a near-13 mile track that ducks and weaves through the German countryside. Automakers from around the globe bring their best machinery to the track for extensive testing and evaluation, and among production sports cars, the title of the fastest around the ‘Ring has recently become a coveted one. Earlier this year, a GM engineer launched the 2009 Corvette ZR1 to a record winning 7 minutes, 26 seconds—a time that held the top spot for at least two months.

While being a record holder at Nürburgring is handy for the minions in marketing, it also proves that this car has the stuff to knock off truly world-class competition. Porsches, Ferraris and Lamborghinis had run the same pavement the ZR1 did, but none could do it faster.

Will every house in America have a ZR1 in the driveway? Absolutely not. With a price tag at a smidge over $100,000, this isn’t a vehicle for the masses. Still, the technology that made this car king will find its way into future GM products eventually.

2. 2008 Dodge Viper ACR SRT10
The Dodge Viper has always been somewhat of an odd ball in the Chrysler family. Coming from the same corporation that’s responsible for the minivan and Dodge Ram pickup, the Viper and its massive V-10 never quite seemed to belong. Mere days after Chrysler announced that it was looking into the sale of the Viper mark, a factory-prepared ACR SRT10 took the Nürburgring title from the ZR1.

To be clear, this isn’t a vehicle you could drive to work every day, even if you could afford to feed that massive motor up front. Complete with aerodynamic tweaks on every level, an abundance of weight reduction and more raw power than should be possible; it’s a street legal track car and not much else. Still, when the smallest of the Big Three can build a car to beat German manufacturers at their own game, it’s impressive. It shows that American engineers are capable of building a product just as capable as any other.

Racing has always been away to learn how to build a better car, and in this case, it’s sad to see Chrysler distancing itself from such an iconic vehicle.

3. 2009 Cadillac CTS-V
For years, Cadillac interpreted luxury to entail some sort of land barge floating on a cushion of air. The company made cars the size of small houses that drank and handled like fish. While its German competition cranked out sure-footed, muscular bruisers, the Crest was happy to cater to its geriatric clientele. The CTS-V marks a new era in Cadillac thinking. Blessed with a detuned version of the supercharged V-8 found in the Corvette ZR1, this car puts out a mind-boggling 556 horsepower. What’s more, it gets 20 mpg while it does it.

Inside you’ll find all of the luxury appointments the likes of BMW and Mercedes have been peddling for years, only these are all American made. The unbeatable power of the V-8 can be coupled to a manual or automatic six-speed transmission, and either is good enough to make BMW’s M3 start sweating its throne as the luxury-performance king.

We love the CTS-V for any number of reasons, but the one that shines the brightest in our hearts is that this car proves that America can build a vehicle on par with the best German makers can crank out.  That’s something special.

4. 2009 Pontiac G8 GT
The Pontiac G8 GT is another example of an incredibly well-sorted vehicle. While it’s true that this Pontiac was originally designed and built in Australia, the parent company is owned by General Motors. This is a vehicle bred for the performance minded out there with a small family to haul around. Up front, a massive V-8 puts power to the rear wheels in what can only be described as a classic American formula.

What’s surprising is the fact that this car handles technical stretches of road just as well as it does straight lines. This is a vehicle that doesn’t rely on brute force to carry speed through the corners, instead falling back on a capable braking system and world-class suspension. The ride is comfortable enough for daily commutes and still firm enough to tackle mountain corners after work.

Inside, the G8 shines. Great seats, a classy steering wheel and well thought-out controls make for a car that’s actually exciting to sit in. The massive chunks of unsightly plastic found in Sunfires of old are long gone, replaced by a stylish dash that communicates this vehicles purpose: to go fast.

5. 2008 Ford Flex
While the Ford Flex may look out of place when lined up next to the likes of the supercars GM and Chrysler have on this list, the vehicle marks an important shift in Ford’s thinking. With SUV’s going the way of the dinosaur and station wagons too uncool to bear, families are looking for a good way to haul their gaggles from soccer practice to dance recitals, and the Flex has the answer. With its striking exterior, cool white roof and mega-huge sunroof, it’s a great way to get the family from point A to point B. This vehicle can haul up to seven people and their luggage and still manages to get 24 mpg.

Though the Flex’s mileage leaves something to be desired, the crossover’s craftsmanship is unlike anything we’ve seen from Ford in quite awhile. The interior boasts the kinds of materials and finish we expect out of German luxury cruisers, and the six-speed transmission is unbelievably smooth, even when under the strain of full-throttle passes.

The Flex’s base price of $28,295 can easily climb skyward with the addition of options like all-wheel drive (available on SEL models at $32,070), but Ford’s commitment to quality is what makes this vehicle shine. Long gone are the cheap materials and rough ride we used to associate with a domestic vehicle.

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