10 Foreign Cars With Muscle-Car DNA
We debunk the myth that muscle cars are purely American.
No other genre of automobile incites more passion or fanaticism among car aficionados than the muscle car. Even today, 40 years since the muscle car's heyday, what is and what is not a muscle car remains hotly debated. But one thing is universally agreed upon: At the core of every muscle car is a big, powerful engine. With this in mind, we decided to have some fun with the definition of muscle car, asking ourselves: What foreign automobiles would meet that defining standard — i.e., a car with a big, powerful engine?
While Americans would like to think that the muscle car has never really had a foreign equivalent, the world's best automakers have been producing cars with an emphasis on power for decades. The differentiating factor is that cars "over there" typically perform at their best in more than just a straight line. As we all know, American cars are best on the straightaway, not in the twisties. Regardless, here are our picks for the best non-American muscle on the streets today.
Not that any of the standard 911 models are considered pokey, but the folks at Porsche apparently thought otherwise when creating the GT2, the most extreme 911 available for public consumption. Holding the power crown for Porsche, the GT2's turbocharged 3.6-liter flat-6 engine develops 523 horsepower, or a stupefying 612 horsepower in its 2011 RS guise. The GT2 isn't just about power, though. It has massive skills around a track, providing its driver has the guts to make the most of them. Given its lack of the popular all-wheel-drive system found in many of the 911's other variants, the rear-engine GT2 is not a car for the faint of heart.
How does six liters of V12 grunt sound? Pretty good, right? Now add two turbochargers. The result: 620 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque, a perfectly reasonable amount for cruising town quietly in the lap of luxury. Wait, no it's not. It's actually an insane amount of power for a posh tourer. You could argue the horsepower is to compensate for a 5,000-pound curb weight, except that doesn't explain the 3.7-second warp to 60 mph, or the 204-mph top speed. Again, this isn't a race-bred supercar — that power is there just because. As far as we're concerned, that's a trait worthy of the muscle-car moniker.
In many ways, Audi tipped its hat to the muscle cars of yore with the RS 4, considering that the German automaker shoehorned a powerful V8 engine into an otherwise mild sedan. The snarling 414-horsepower engine even sounds the part, with a throaty roar that never fails to bring a surprised smile from behind the wheel. However, that's where the similarities to muscle cars end, thanks to the RS 4's exceptional all-wheel-drive handling abilities and Audi's famously solid build quality and Bauhaus design. Also, the naturally aspirated 4.2-liter engine achieves an output just shy of 100 horsepower per liter, something that most American muscle cars can only dream about.
Although some enthusiasts are dismayed that BMW's M cars are evolving away from high-revving, naturally aspirated engines toward beefy, turbocharged mills and dual-clutch transmissions, the change was bound to happen sooner or later, thanks to modern emissions and efficiency standards. The 2012 M5 supersedan is the latest example, with its gutsy, turbocharged V8 producing gobs of constant power, as opposed to the shrieking V10 of the previous generation, which, although thrilling, required a good deal of "winding up" to fully enjoy. This change provides a staggering 560 horsepower and a hugely increased 502 lb-ft of torque. The way power erupts from this engine is reminiscent of good old American big blocks.
The all-wheel-drive, 291-horsepower Lancer Evolution X earns a spot here not just because of its "big speed in a regular car" formula, but also due to its decades-long battle with its rally-racing archrival, the Subaru STI. This feud is essentially a Japanese analogue to the never-ending Ford Mustang versus Chevy Camaro muscle-car debate that rages in the United States. While faster Japanese sports cars are available — the Nissan GT-R, for instance — it's the way that the demure Lancer was transformed into an unflappable, unstoppable performance machine that earned the Evo a spot on this honorary list of foreign muscle cars.
The XKR-S is the result of Jaguar's performance engineers cranking out every last bit of power from the svelte XK coupe, much as American engineers have with their muscle cars over the past several decades. In this case, the British equivalent boasts a whopping 550 horsepower from a supercharged V8 engine, which helps launch it to 60 mph in just 4.2 seconds and on to a top speed of 186 mph. Similar to the way a supercharged engine transforms Ford's current Mustang for top-tier Shelby GT500 duty, the XKR-S muscles up a whopping 165 horsepower gain over the base XK coupe.
Squeezing a Lamborghini-based V10 engine into a midrange sedan sounds crazy, right? Well, that's what Audi did with the S6. For the RS6, the mad scientists at Audi engine manufacturers Quattro GmbH decided it would be rational to slap a pair of turbos atop that V10 — among plenty of other go-fast goodies, of course — resulting in an absurd power output of 580 horsepower in a 4-door midsize vehicle. Oh, did we mention it was only available as a wagon? Bless their hearts.
When the German battle over entry-level luxury dominance began to heat up in recent years, with big-power versions of the BMW 3-Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class going head-to-head, Japanese automaker Lexus watched intently. It finally decided to jump in the ring with a contender of its own, the IS F. This high-excitement version of the popular IS sedan comes complete with a roaring 416-horsepower V8 engine, 8-speed transmission and ground-hugging performance suspension. Often overlooked by buyers driven by a "German or bust" mentality, the IS F is a tremendous vehicle — riotously fun, easy to drive and loaded to the gills.
The STI is the quintessential Japanese muscle car, at least for the moment. It's exactly what you'd expect Subaru to come up with if tasked with building a muscle car. The model dates back to the early '90s, and its rally-bred purpose hasn't changed to this day: be fast from point A to point B, and no excuses. With a burbling, 305-horsepower flat-4 engine and a fantastic all-wheel-drive system laughing at rain, dirt or even ice, piloting the STI is a point-and-shoot affair. Seeing an STI blast through scenery with total irreverence is eerily reminiscent of Steve McQueen's Mustang dominating the streets of San Francisco in the 1971 flick "Bullitt."
Our award for the best non-American muscle goes to Mercedes-Benz, with its AMG C-Class. Not only because its brutal 6.2-liter V8 engine produces a roar menacing enough to make even Steve McQueen run for cover, but because of how this 451-horsepower V8 steals the show. (If you've truly lost your marbles, a 480-horsepower package is also available.) By most counts, the C63's competition may win in terms of grace, finesse and control, but the great part is that the C63 just doesn't give a damn about that sissy stuff. It's basically the German sport-sedan equivalent of that rude, cocky boyfriend that dad really doesn't want his little girl going out with. Just like a classic American muscle car.
James Tate cut his teeth in the business as a race team crew member before moving to the editorial side as Senior Editor of Sport Compact Car, and his work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Automobile, Motor Trendand European Car. When not writing, Tate is usually fantasizing about a vintage Porsche 911.
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"We debunk the myth that muscle cars are purely American."
Mr. Tate, you haven't debunked sh*t!!! Muscle car is term that relates strictly to a class of American cars. Always will. Never going to be a foreign manufacturer that will be allowed in that club by muscle car purists. The first BMW or Toyota owner that calls his car a muscle car, I will personally laugh in his or her face right on the spot. I know muscle cars. I grew up with them. And nothing mentioned in this "article" come even close.
Sure they're quick but they never sound the same as a SS396 or a Mustang GT. What's up with that?
Good lord did you guys miss that one!
The two real elements of a Muscle Car are - An engine with LARGE horsepower AND affordability for the average guy!!!!! Most of what you have listed is way way out of the league of the average guy!
The American Muscle car was the answer by the Detroit Big Three to the Hot Roding trend in the 50's and 60's (mostly quarter mile racing). These Muscle cars were, high power, high torque, tire burning vehicles that were, generally, affordable and available to most Americans. Although more expensive than their small engined based brethren, they were still priced so that a very high percentage of Americans could afford them.
The Euro cars listed are certainly powerful but even the cheapest listed was $67k in 2008! These Euros are clearly aimed at deep pockets. And the Japanese cars listed are fast and fun, but definitely not torquey Muscle cars. All of these 30-years-later cars stop and turn more safely than the Original, American Muscle cars of the 60's and early 70's, but that does NOT make them Muscle cars.
Considering the cost of Gasoline in Europe following WWII, only the rich could afford to drive powerful cars back then and very few, if any non-rich were hot ridding their Renaults and VWs to Muscle Car power levels.
All of these listed cars owe their existence to the original American Muscle car - but they are NOT Muscle cars.
- 2009 CADILLAC CTS-V Nurburgring time of 7:59 and change (new record for passenger car)
- 2011 Ford Mustang GT (stock) according to Car and Driver mag laps Virginia International Raceway in 3:08.6, faster than the same year Jag XFR, Lotus Elise, and Porsche Cayman S, all of which cost substantially more. Also, a 2007 Dodge Viper ACR was faster than any Ferrari or Lambo or Porsche according to them on that track, so to say that American cars suck in the curve is a yankee hater's fantasy that is quite frankly getting old.
The title is "Muscle Car"....not wine car, or lager car, or tea car.
Born, bred, and built in the good ole USA....Got it?