6 Times American Automakers Outdid The Europeans

Car Culture / 23 Comments

It happens. Sometimes.

If you've spent any time amongst European car enthusiasts, you will have heard somebody at some point claim, "American cars can't go around corners." That was true once upon a time when most American cars came out of Detroit - an area not famous for having twisting roads. America is also a vast country connected by freeways and long, wide, open roads, so comfort was often given precedence over handling.

However, since cars appeared, America has loved to race them. World War II introduced American soldiers to sports cars designed for small and twisting European roads. As anyone who's traveled across the States will know, America is not all long and straight pieces of pavement. As the years have gone by, American automakers have stepped up to the plate, and on more than one occasion, we've delivered some solid sucker punches to the rest of the world - whether it's in a straight line or around corners.

The vehicles below showcase six times America took the bragging rights against European counterparts, and this doesn't even consider cars that could be considered modified like the Hennessey Venom GT Spyder.


1. Duesenberg Model J

Rolls-Royce is the name that springs to mind regarding ultra-luxurious automobiles. But, at the beginning of the 20th century, Duesenberg took notes and built cars that could go toe-to-toe with Rolls-Royce and, on occasion, better them. One example is the Model J. It's an example of exquisite style and craftsmanship and was aimed at the New York stock market, then the Hollywood elite of the 1930s, and owned most notably by Gary Cooper and Clark Gable. They had a special SS version that reportedly made around 400 horsepower from the Model J's race-based engine. The Model J was the most technologically advanced, fastest, and stylistically beautiful car that money could buy at the time. There's a good argument that the Model J is America's greatest car to date.

The standard engine made 265 hp, the most powerful in a road car at the time and based on the company's racing engines of the 1920s. In 1921, a Duesenberg won the first French Grand Prix.

Sadly, the Great Depression led to Duesenberg disappearing for good.


2. 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt SS

When it comes to compact sports cars, Europe does it better. That's just the way it is. However, there was a brief time when Chevrolet had a compact sports car that could do a full lap of the Nurburgring in 8:22.85. That was just 0.9 seconds slower than the E46-generation BMW M3. The 2008 Cobalt SS took the Nurburgring lap record for front-wheel-drive sport-compact cars in the year 2007 by 13 seconds. At a time when cars like the Mk 5 Golf GTI and Honda Civic Type R existed, that was no mean feat. It only held onto that for a few months before Renault claimed the title with a hatch that bordered on being a race car, but at the time, it was a revelation.

Replacing the supercharged powertrain of the first iteration, the turbocharged 2.0-liter Chevrolet Cobalt SS made 260 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque and was capable of a 0-60-mph dash of 5.5 seconds. Unfortunately, the interior wasn't great, but no one really cared about that when the compact could handle this well.


3. Cadillac ATS-V

Speaking of the BMW M3... America did it better with the Cadillac ATS-V.

For the longest time, Cadillac had the bit between its teeth to out-BMW BMW. Finally, in 2016, the Cadillac ATS-V went into production with its twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter V6 engine and heavily tuned suspension and brakes. It out-accelerated the M3, outperformed it in corners, and cost less. For some extra bragging rights, the ATS-V.R GT3 race car won the Pirelli World Challenge in 2015. The ATS-V's standard 464 hp and 440 lb-ft of torque even outgunned the M3's 444 hp and 406 lb-ft with the $5,500 Competition Package.

Subjectively, the ATS-V's steering felt better as BMW dropped that ball with the F80-generation M3. Objectively, the ATS-V turned in quicker, and Cadillac's Magnetic Ride Control had a broader scope for adjustment, resulting in it being more compliant than BMW's Adaptive M Suspension for regular driving and firmer for back roads or the track. In short, Cadillac built a better car... until you got to the interior.


4. Dodge Durango Hellcat

"Introducing the Aston Martin DBX707: The world's most powerful luxury SUV" are the words proudly printed on Aston Martin's website. However, if you're spending $239,000 on a luxury SUV boasting its power (697 hp), wouldn't you want it to outgun a Dodge Durango (710 hp)? Yes. Yes, you would. Sure, the DBX707 will get to 60 mph 0.4 seconds quicker, but the Durango will claim the quarter-mile faster, and it only cost $80,995 when it first came out.

Indeed, the DBX707 is more comfortable, looks better on the road, and can hit corners like a sports car - cue the "Americans can't go around corners" trope - but "the world's most powerful luxury SUV" needs that "luxury" qualifier because the Durango Hellcat exists. And if you missed out on the limited production run the first time around, it's been brought back for 2023.

This isn't a comparison between these two SUVs, by the way, but there's only one "world's most powerful combustion SUV," and it ain't European.

2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat Front Angle View CarBuzz
2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat Aft View Dodge
2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat Engine Bay CarBuzz

5. Chevrolet Corvette

It's almost comical how good the Corvette is, and without the qualifier of price. Yes, $64,200 for a mid-engine, V8-powered sports car is crazy value for money even if it didn't keep quite keep pace on the straights with much costlier McLaren 570S ($191,100) and Acura NSX ($169,500) because it would out-grip them on a figure-eight course. The Audi R8 V10 is faster to 60 mph, but good luck shaking a C8 Corvette Stingray Z51 ($71,940) from your tail at the track. It will also hang with a Porsche 718 Cayman GTS 4.0 ($88,150), which is no mean feat. Yes, pretty much every other car mentioned here is prettier, but we're talking about hanging with the big boys on a back road or track, and the Corvette Z06 and ZR1 iterations haven't even hit the road yet. When they do, expect them to comprehensively dominate more exotic supercars, both on price and on track.

It may not have the prestige or the interior quality, but hey, there was a time not so long ago when Ferraris shared infotainment with the Fiat 500...

CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright

6. Tesla Model S

If we were to go back further in time for this list, we would get to the Ford Model T, which changed the face of automotive history. However, we're not, so we'll talk about the Tesla Model S and how a couple of Americans called Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning started a company that aimed to build "a car manufacturer that is also a technology company" and make the "the battery, the computer software, and the proprietary motor" its core technology.

They did just that with the help of investors and a visionary CEO buying into the company. When the Model S arrived, it was a luxury sedan and became the best-selling plug-in electric car worldwide in 2015 and 2016. The Model S led to a massive change in direction for the automotive industry, and without it, the electric revolution might still be decades away. Everyone, including the European majors, is still chasing Tesla's electric car sales, and very few of them can compete with its performance.


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