Hot rods are as American as the Liberty Bell and hickory smoked country bacon. And America's automakers are about to launch a new batch of big power muscle cars that will offer more performance than ever before.
And that's saying something. Right now Chevy sells two versions of its Camaro with more than 500 horsepower; Dodge dealers will sell you a 470-hp Challenger SRT and a 640-hp SRT Viper; and Cadillac has a super sedan, coupe or wagon, each with 556 hp. And then there's the 662-hp 2014 Shelby GT500 Mustang, the most powerful American car of all time.
At least it was.
In 2015, GM (Chevrolet and Cadillac), Ford and Chrysler (Dodge) will up the ante from today's offerings and fortify some of their sedans and coupes with even more power and handling. In fact, last week we road-tested the new king of American horsepower, the supercharged Hemi-powered 707-hp 2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat. When it goes on sale later this year it will become the most powerful and quickest car an American manufacturer has ever put into production.
But there's way more to come. Here's a rundown of how next year will get even better.
2015 Cadillac ATS-V
If Cadillac is going to pry customers away from BMW and Mercedes, it needs the V-Series of performance-modified cars to be seriously quick and sophisticated. The next great test of that is likely to be the ATS-V in 2015. This will be the quickest and fastest version of the smallest Cadillac.
As a direct competitor to BMW's M3 (as a sedan) and M4 (as a coupe), the ATS-V is going to need at least 425 hp under its hood. Caddy could achieve that simply by shoving, say, the Corvette's big LT-1 V8 under the hood. But that wouldn't be very sophisticated, would it? So instead expect a version of the twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter V6 used in the CTS VSport. In the CTS it's rated at 430 hp, but don't be surprised if that rating doesn't rise to 440 hp or better by the time it ports over to the ATS-V.
It's an open question what transmission will be used behind the twin-turbo V6, but a version of Cadillac's eight-speed automatic seems likely. If we're lucky, maybe the ATS-V will be offered with both rear- and all-wheel drive, too.
The ATS-V should be on sale by mid-2015.
2016 Cadillac CTS-V
Even though Cadillac redesigned the CTS for 2014, it left the old CTS-V sedan (and coupe and wagon) in production. That's because the CTS-V (powered by the 556-hp, supercharged 6.2-liter LSA V8) is too important for the division to let lapse out of production. The CTS-V is, after all, the car that heralded the performance renaissance at Cadillac.
Expectations are that the new CTS-V will get a slightly detuned version of the supercharged LT4 direct-injected, 6.2-liter small-block V8 used in the upcoming Corvette Z06. In the Z06 it's rated at 650 hp. So let's guesstimate it at 620 horses in the Caddy. And really, if it's at 600 hp who's going to complain?
The sole transmission is likely to be GM's new eight-speed automatic suitably modified for Cadillac work. A seven-speed manual similar to the Corvette's would be awesome, but may be too much to expect.
Spy shots of prototypes testing at the Nürburgring show the new CTS-V with a deep front spoiler and massive brake cooling ducts framed by LED running lights. And there's a sizable rear deck spoiler, too. But the most intriguing shot is actually the profile, which indicated that going through a corner, the massive front disc brakes (presumably Brembos) are running cool and gray. But in back the rotors are glowing red.
It may be that the test drivers were just experimenting with brake balance — this was, after all, a test session — but it may also be that with the CTS-V GM has established a chassis so well balanced it's getting some significant braking work from the rear discs. So there's that.
The next CTS-V is likely to be on display at the New York auto show next April. Sales could begin in the fall of 2015.
2016 Chevrolet Camaro
The camouflage on the prototypes for the upcoming 2016 Chevrolet Camaro is exceptionally heavy. It's obvious the attempt here isn't merely to cover up some details, but to pad the car so heavily as to make its true shape undetectable.
To be built atop GM's Alpha platform (the same structure that's under Cadillac's ATS and CTS), the new Camaro appears to be somewhat smaller than the current Camaro and should be lighter as well. Let's assume it's about the same size as the ATS coupe, which rides on a wheelbase of 109.3 inches and stretches out 183.6 inches long. That would represent a 3-inch drop in wheelbase from the current car and a 7-inch cut-down in overall length.
Strip off all that padding on the spy shot prototypes, and what's underneath is something significantly sleeker than the current Camaro. The nose likely tapers in more significantly than the blunt maw the padding creates, with the wheelwells more voluptuously sculpted. The doors seem to nip in at the waist more prominently than on the current car, too.
But what seems to be the most significant change from the current car is at the tail. Don't believe the roof line the camo is trying to sell. There's good reason to believe that the next Camaro will finish with a true fastback tail. Probably not a hatchback (like third- and fourth-generation Camaros), but don't be surprised if there's a nod to the styling of the second-generation (1970-'81) Camaro styling back there. And there might be some in the nose as well.
The Alpha platform brings with it a MacPherson strut front suspension that's simpler than the current strut and linkage system used on the fifth-generation Camaro; plus the Alpha's sophisticated five-link rear suspension that should be somewhat more supple than the "4.5-link" system under the Camaro now.
As a fashion item, expect GM to update the sixth Camaro over its lifetime in much the way it has with the fifth. At launch next year, expect powertrains to range from the turbocharged direct-injection four now offered in the ATS (a direct challenge to the EcoBoost four in the 2015 Mustang) at about 272 hp, rise up through the current car's 323-hp 3.6-liter V6 and wind up with a version of the new Corvette's LT-1 6.2-liter, direct-injection, variable valve timed V8 at close to 450 hp.
Then in the years that follow, expect a convertible to appear, then a 1LE and supercharged ZL1, and then maybe another Z/28....
The next Camaro should go on sale in the fall of 2015. But GM may show the car as early as the Detroit auto show in January.
2015 Dodge Charger Hellcat
If the 707-hp Dodge Challenger Hellcat two-door coupe is a good idea, shouldn't a Charger Hellcat four-door be just as exciting?
The Challenger and Charger are, of course, closely related. Both are built on the LX platform and share basic structural and suspension design and, across the range, powertrains. In short, anything good for the Challenger is likely to work at least as well with the Charger. Putting all the stuff that makes the Challenger Hellcat so wicked onto a Charger is practically a no-brainer.
And here are some spy shots of a Hellcatted Charger captured along an anonymous-looking concrete road. Note the hood scoop buried under the camouflage netting. That's the giveaway. The tail camo is likely there to cover a simple new deck spoiler. You know, to keep the rear down as the car reaches hyperspace velocities.
All the 2015 Chargers get a new nose with more aggressively sculpted fenders and hood, and squinty LED headlamps. There's no reason to expect the Hellcat equipment will change much of that, though the lower bumper cover is likely to allow more air in for cooling and may feature an air splitter like the Challenger Hellcat's for increased downforce.
Let's put 707 hp in perspective. The BMW M5 uses a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 rated at 552 hp and Mercedes' S65 AMG sedan carries a twin-turbo 6.0-liter rated at 621 hp. The 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 in the Audi S8 can only muster 520 hp. So the supercharged 6.4-liter Hemi V8 in the Charger Hellcat easily has them covered. In fact, in the history of regular production four-door sedans built anywhere in the world, has there ever been one as powerful as the Charger Hellcat promises to be? We couldn't think of any either.
Best of all, however, if the Charger Hellcat is priced like the Challenger Hellcat, it should come in with a base sticker around $60,000. Imagine that: a 200-mph four-door that costs well under six figures.
The Charger Hellcat is likely to join its brother the Challenger Hellcat during 2015.
2016 Shelby GT350R
Ford simply can't afford to let the Mustang wilt in the face of a throw-down from the Camaro. And with the all-new 2015 Mustang about to hit showrooms, what Ford needs is a tactical response to the Camaro Z/28.
Caught testing, inevitably, at the Nürburgring is this ripped and track-ready version of the upcoming Shelby GT350. If history is any guide, it's likely to be called the GT350R.
The Shelby GT350 version of the new Mustang isn't meant to be an overwhelming beast like the GT500, but a "driver's car" with an emphasis on handling. Still, the engine is rumored to be a new "Voodoo" variation on the existing Coyote 5.0-liter DOHC V8 used in the regular Mustang GT. Thanks to a lightweight reciprocating assembly, a rumored flat-plane crank and a slight bump up in displacement, it could deliver up to 550 hp without the use of forced induction.
And that flat crank (with journals set 180 degrees apart and without large counterweights) should produce a Ferrari-like wail as the GT350 rockets toward an 8,000 rpm redline. And that's just the regular GT350.
But these spy shots are likely the GT350R. The front tires are just as massive as the rear ones. Maybe they're 305 millimeters wide as in the Z/28 or maybe they're even wider. The front brake discs are obviously carbon metallic of some sort and nearly fill the entire wheel. They're clamped by what appears to be an eight-piston caliper. The rear brakes are nearly as huge, and seem to feature a special center section that could conceivably contain a drum-style parking brake.
As far as the bodywork goes, the front splitter under the bumper cover is almost dangerously low. That's a problem for a street car, but not much of a concern on a track-oriented R model. And in back, the two pairs of exhaust outlets frame what appear to be aerodynamic tunnels for evacuating air from under the car. Those tunnels may even generate some downforce, if the modest size of the rear wing indicates anything.
Here's hoping the GT350R is ready to race and in our hands by next summer. If it costs less than $65,000 it will be a bargain.