We explores how the latest generation of North American muscle cars is obliterating years of European engineering with a bevy of sophisticated technology.
For decades, despite their prestige and beauty, North American muscle cars were dismissed by automotive pundits as nothing more than straight-line dragsters. Machines that while delivering bucketloads of raw power, time and again fell short of the all-round performance and engineering delivered by their European counterparts. Critics would joke to boredom about the inability to turn, brake or even survive for more than a few hours in Mustangs and their like, ignoring these vehicles’ craft and many strengths.
Of course, there was an element of truth to the critics’ claims – turning certainly hasn’t been a strong capability of muscle cars in the past – however, as of 2012, things have radically changed. A new generation of muscle cars is smashing through the walls of European supercar dealerships and then leaving their current offerings in the dust, out-accelerating, out-manoeuvring and out-gunning prestige marques in every way that matters. Far from dumb brutes, today’s muscle cars are some of the most technologically refined and advanced vehicles on the planet, not just giving big players like Ferraris, Porsches and Jaguars a run for their money, but leaving them in the scorched remains of a horizon-busting burnout.
Letting this newbreed of automotive beast take the spotlight in this feature, We examines three of the most iconic muscle cars currently in production. We reveal their power, performance and – most importantly of all – the technology that’s transforming them into some of the best cars on Earth. So you might want to strap yourself in, as you’re in store for one heck of a wild ride…
As you’d expect from one of the biggest names in muscle car production, the Chevrolet Camaro is pretty fast. Achieving 0-97 kilometres (0-60 miles) per hour in 5.2 seconds, it could keep up with a Jaguar XK with ease, but unlike Camaros of old, today’s models boast tech that make it not Just a pacy machine, but one that can handle most terrains – and without consuming vast quantities of hydrocarbons to boot.
Critical to this is the StabiliTrak electronic control system. This consists of four speed sensors on each wheel, a rotation rate sensor on the wheelbase, a steering angle sensor on the steering wheel, a brake-operating hydraulic unit and a master control unit in the engine bay. Combined, these components monitor every manoeuvre and make instant adjustments to maintain maximum traction.
How this works is best explained with a theoretical manoeuvre. If a driver has to corner sharply to the left and then immediately right at high speed, the steering angle sensor detects the initial input and transmits it to the master control unit. At the same time, the Camaro’s rotation rate sensor – which measures the car’s lateral speed and rotation around its centre line – determines its projected potential for straight-line drift and also communicates this to the control unit. The brains of the system act upon the feedback, adjusting the car’s rear-left hydraulic brake, slowing its rotation and aiding a smooth cornering manoeuvre. To avoid oversteer, when the car’s steering wheel is turned back to the right to take the next bend, StabiliTrak gauges the rotation speed of the front-left wheel and repeats the process, this time reducing the right-hand turning force and preventing the vehicle’s back-end from spinning out.
The other notable engineering feat on the reborn Camaro is GM’s Active Fuel Management (AFM) technology. This electronic system automatically deactivates four out of the vehicle’s eight cylinders when cruising at speed to conserve fuel and boost miles-per-gallon economy. This is a lot more complex than it sounds, as the engine control module (ECM) has to automatically reprogram the cylinders’ firing pattern each time a deactivation takes place.
For example, if a Camaro is sustaining a cruise speed with light throttle response, the ECM will – ideally – deactivate cylinders one and seven on the engine’s left bank, plus four and six on the right, creating a four-cylinder firing order of eight, two, five and three. However, if cylinder one is undertaking a combustion event when the AFM is called on, then the ECM automatically detects this and, rather than forcing deactivation, bumps the deactivation on to the next cylinder (ie cylinder eight), which in turn rearranges the deactivation pattern for optimum efficiency.
Where the new Chevrolet Camaro partner their raw power with unseen and subtle advanced technologies, the Dodge Challenger struggles more to shake off its muscle car heritage than perhaps any other.
Indeed, aside from the cart-breaking frenzy of the giant 6.4-litre (1.7-gallon) V8 engine – a block capable of outputting more torque than a Lamborghini Gallardo – the on-road stability granted by automatic electronic rain brakes, tyre pressure monitors, antilock vented brake discs and a steering assist computer is second to none. With added responsiveness delivered by independent front and multi-link rear suspension, the Challenger specializes in providing the user with critical information to help maximize the driving experience.
Central to this is the Challenger’s Electronic Vehicle Information Center (EVIC). The EVIC consists of a trip computer, G-force indicator, two speed timers, 0.2-kilometre (eighth-mile) and 0.4-kilometre (quarter-mile) automatic log, and a multimedia information centre. This, partnered with Dodge’s trapezoidal systems gauges – which includes a digital compass and temperature sensor, allows for the vehicle’s performance to be closely monitored and then tailored dependent on driving conditions, the terrain and the driver’s skill level.