By the year 2000, American sports cars had been dragged through the mud enough.
No longer were companies going to endure the stereotype that American cars couldn’t handle a corner or keep up with the competition on a racetrack. America wasn’t just going to build better sports cars; it was time to build some of the world’s best.
From sport compacts to pickups to supercars, America took the automotive fight to the world in the first decade of the new millennium. When the dust settled, some truly spectacular cars emerged. Here are the 10 best. Did we miss anything? Tell us in the comments below.
10. 2008-2010 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Turbo
The Chevrolet Cobalt SS produced from 2008 until 2010 may be the most underrated performance car of its decade. With a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the little Cobalt produced 260 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque.
Equipped with a five-speed manual transmission and a well-tuned suspension, the Cobalt was incredibly quick around a racetrack, thanks in large part to grippy 225/40R18 summer tires. The Cobalt SS was so fast, in fact, that during independent testing, the SS was just as quick or quicker than a Mitsubishi EVO and Subaru WRX STI around a road course.
9. 2000-2004 Ford F-150 Lightning
What list of American sports cars would be complete without a hot rod pickup truck? The concept of putting big power in a half-ton pickup was nothing new, but Ford decided to make the F-150 Lightning more than just a burnout machine.
The Lightning received proper sports tires, with 295/45R18’s in the rear along with a lower, beefed up suspension. Under the hood lay a supercharged 5.4-liter V8 that initially made 340 hp and 440 lb-ft of torque, but would later be bumped to 380 hp and 450 lb-ft. Although the F-150 could handle better than pretty much any other truck on the road, it was straight-line speed that really set this truck apart.
8. 2004-2006 Pontiac GTO
Another underrated GM performance car was the Pontiac GTO. Available for just three short years, the GTO was a failure from a sales perspective. Many point to Pontiac’s decision to use the fabled GTO name on this rebadged Australian sports coupe as its downfall, but the real reason had more to do with price.
It’s a shame the car didn’t last longer, as it had all the right go-fast parts. Initially available with a 5.7-liter V8 making 350 hp and 365 lb-ft of torque, in 2005, the engine was yanked for a more powerful 6.0-liter V8 making 400 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. Available with a six-speed manual or a four-speed automatic, the GTO was a perfect blend of a muscle car, a sports car and a grand tourer.
7. 2008-2009 Dodge Challenger SRT8
A fresh take on an old-school, big power muscle car, the Dodge Challenger SRT8 was large, flashy and fast. Powered by a 6.1-liter V8 making 425 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque, the Challenger was more at home on the drag strip than a road course.
Although it would technically compete with the retro-inspired Ford Mustang and upcoming Chevrolet Camaro, the Challenger was larger than both of those two and didn’t feature the same all-around performance. The SRT8 made up for it with comfort, style and presence.
This was also just the beginning of the SRT Challengers. Today the offer ludicrous amounts of horsepower.
The KR in the Shelby Mustang GT500KR name stands for King of the Road and when it came to horsepower, this Shelby wears the crown. Making 540 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque from a supercharged 5.4-liter V8, the GT500KR super muscle car had 40 hp and 30 lb-ft more than a regular Shelby Mustang during that time.
Styled to look like the original 1968 GT500KR, the Mustang had the presence to back up its performance. And, unlike a lot of Mustangs, it had staggered tires with the rear wheels wearing 285 mm-wide rubber while the front wore 255 mm-wide tires.
5. 2004-2009 Cadillac CTS-V
2004 can be marked as the year that Cadillac really began to shed its old, stodgy image. This was the year the first CTS-V burst onto the scene sporting a 400-hp 5.7-liter V8. Only available with a six-speed manual transmission, this rear-wheel-drive luxury sedan was serious about performance and received thorough upgrades from the ground up.
A more flexible 6.0-liter V8 would be installed in the CTS-V for 2006, but it was in 2009 that things really got serious. The second-generation CTS-V sedan was introduced, which upped power significantly to 556 hp and 551 lb-ft. of torque thanks to a 6.2-liter supercharged V8. Featuring go-fast bits all around, the 2009 CTS-V proved to be quite the performer. A few years later, a coupe and a wagon would join the fold.
The 2000 Ford Mustang Cobra R may be the most no-nonsense, purpose-built track-ready Mustang ever. Every aspect from the car’s mechanics, body and interior was altered in the name of higher performance.
Under the large, bulging hood sat a 5.4-liter V8 that made 385 hp and 385 lb-ft of torque. The suspension set up featured Eibach shocks and, unlike regular Mustangs, an independent rear-end complete with LSD.
Aside from the larger hood, the exterior featured a massive rear wing, side dump exhaust, a removable front splitter and air ducts built into the revised front end that sent air to cool the front Brembo brakes. Inside, there was no back seat, no air conditioning and no radio. Only 300 of these ‘Stangs were produced, so it’s unlikely that you’ll ever see one. These could one day be extremely valuable as well.
3. Dodge Viper ACR
The Dodge Viper ACR was very much like the Mustang Cobra R – an American thoroughbred sports car taken to the next level.
Under the hood remained the same 8.4-liter V10 engine as found in regular Vipers, which is fine since it already made 600 hp. The Viper ACR received significant aerodynamic upgrades as well, which, along with ultra sticky tires, helped the car to set a blistering lap time around the daunting Nürburgring in Germany.
2. 2001-2009 Chevrolet Corvette Z06/ZR1
When it arrived in 2001, the Corvette Z06 began its journey toward being one of the best, every day, livable super sports cars. Initially offered with a 385-hp 5.7-liter V8, power would be bumped up to 405 hp in 2002. Like many cars on this list, the Z06 wasn’t just an engine upgrade. The Corvette Z06 was lighter, received wider tires, had upgraded brakes and a more track-focused suspension set up.
There would be no Z06 in 2005, as the sixth-generation Corvette was just introduced. But in 2006, the Z06 returned, packing a massive dry-sump 7.0-liter V8 making 505 hp. Like the Z06 before it, the new car received substantial upgrades all-around that significantly improved its performance above all Corvettes that had come before it.
But the ultimate Corvette wouldn’t come until the end of the decade. Reviving the legendary ZR1 nameplate, the 2009 super Corvette housed a 6.2-liter supercharged V8 making 638 hp and 604 lb-ft of torque. Once again, upgrades were substantial even over the Z06, highlighted by the trick magnetic selective ride control suspension. The ZR1 would last several years and embarrass plenty of cars costing twice as much around the race track.
1. 2005–2006 Ford GT
The 2005-2006 Ford GT was retro done right. Trying to build a spiritual successor to a car as iconic as the original GT40 could easily lead to disaster. But, using the same design philosophy and styling direction as that legendary sports car, Ford pulled it off.
Sitting in the middle of the car was a 5.4-liter supercharged V8 producing 550 hp and 500 lb-ft. of torque. The only transmission available was a six-speed manual that sent all that power to the rear wheels.
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With the right looks and sound, Ford could have left the car there. But that wouldn’t properly live up to the GT40’s heritage. Everything else about the GT was designed for speed and this super Ford was quite the terror around the racetrack. A true American supercar, the Ford GT still commands attention to this day.