Muscle cars, with their carbureted V8 engines, powerful exhausts, and manual transmissions, evoke a sense of nostalgia. However, when we remove the rose-colored glasses, we are left with heavy cars that lack maneuverability and consume excessive amounts of fuel while emitting toxic emissions. In an era where fuel economy, emissions, comfort, and track performance need to coexist, the question arises – what place does a muscle car have?
We set out to find the answer by spending a week with three remarkable machines – the BMW M8 Competition, Ford Shelby GT500, and Polestar 1. Each of these sports coupes represents the essence of their respective manufacturers. The BMW M8 Competition boasts advanced suspension and all-wheel-drive technology, offering both speed and comfort. The Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 features a supercharged V8 engine, active dampers, and a modern gearbox. The Polestar 1, on the other hand, is an all-wheel-drive plug-in hybrid equipped with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, two electric motors, and an impressive torque output.
To assess the capabilities of these cars, we embarked on a 2,000-mile road trip, with a final stop at the North Carolina Center for Automotive Research for a day of intensive track testing. Throughout the journey, we evaluated each vehicle’s comfort, maneuverability, fuel efficiency, and outright speed.
The BMW M8 Competition made a bold statement with its eye-catching appearance, thanks to a unique paint job, carbon-fiber accents, and impressive 20-inch wheels. The car drew attention from passersby, but with a price tag of $175,745, it needed to deliver more than just looks. Fortunately, the M8 lived up to its appearance with a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 engine producing 617 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque. The car was a joy to drive, offering seamless power delivery and lightning-quick shifts from its eight-speed automatic transmission. With its M-specific all-wheel-drive system and rear-drive mode for spirited driving, the M8 provided a thrilling experience on the road. The adaptive suspension offered a comfortable ride, and the luxurious interior, complete with high-quality materials and advanced tech features, added to the overall appeal of the car.
In contrast to the BMW, the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 brought a more vintage vibe. With its big supercharged V8 engine and rear-wheel-drive configuration, the GT500 paid homage to the classic muscle car era. It impressed with its performance, producing an impressive 760 horsepower and 625 pound-feet of torque. The car featured a dual-clutch transmission and an adaptive suspension, offering a smooth ride on the road and remarkable handling on the track. The GT500’s Brembo brakes provided excellent stopping power, and the car’s aggressive styling turned heads wherever it went. Although the interior lacked some luxury features and could be a bit noisy, the GT500’s performance and affordability, with a price tag of $81,980, made it a strong contender.
The Polestar 1, with its sleek design inspired by the Volvo P1800 coupe, offered a different take on the muscle car genre. As a plug-in hybrid, it combined a twincharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with two electric motors and a starter-generator. The result was an impressive power output of 619 horsepower and a massive 737 pound-feet of torque. The Polestar 1 featured a carbon fiber body structure, reducing weight and improving handling. It offered commendable performance on the track, thanks to its Ohlins dampers and electric torque vectoring. The Polestar also excelled in terms of fuel efficiency, boasting an electric range of 52 miles and a combined EPA rating of 26 miles per gallon. While the interior borrowed heavily from Volvo’s luxury cars, it provided a comfortable and well-appointed space.
After extensive driving and testing, choosing a winner proved challenging. The BMW M8 Competition showcased exceptional overall performance and luxury, but lacked driver engagement. The Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 delivered the classic muscle car experience at an affordable price, though it had some drawbacks in terms of interior quality and noise. Ultimately, it was the Polestar 1 that stood out as the winner. With its unique combination of power, efficiency, and comfort, the Polestar 1 proved that a muscle car can be both thrilling and environmentally friendly.
In conclusion, the traditional muscle car may have its place in history, but the future of the genre lies in vehicles like the BMW M8 Competition, Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, and Polestar 1. These modern interpretations of the muscle car formula offer a balance of performance, comfort, and sensibility, appealing to enthusiasts who want it all. As automakers continue to push the boundaries of innovation, the future looks bright for the evolution of the muscle car.