5 best and 5 worst muscle cars of the 21st century

2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R Heritage Edition Front Quarter View

Muscle cars have been around since the early 1960s, ushering in a new era of performance and outright power within the automotive industry. The classic muscle car formula has remained much the same over the decades: a large front engine, comfortable seats in the center, rear-wheel drive and a purchase price low enough for workers to afford.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the popularity of the muscle car dwindled due to the oil crisis, but by the end of the 1990s the trend picked up again. At the dawn of the 21st century, the muscle car world was filled with extremely powerful vehicles such as the Ford Mustang GT500but also saw something terrible attempts like the Chevrolet SSR, the Plymouth Prowler and the Mercury Cougar. Fortunately for car enthusiasts, the muscle cars currently sold are all quite good, offering a wide range of performance and powertrains – from turbocharged 4-cylinders to mighty supercharged V8s.

The muscle car has established itself in the automotive world and has become one of the most popular segments – with vehicles starting from just $25,000, all the way up to well over $100,000 for racetrack-ready cars. With that in mind, here are 5 of the best and 5 of the worst muscle cars of the 21st century – so far.

10 Worst – 2006-2009 Chevrolet Impala SS

The Chevrolet Impala is a legendary American car with big V8 engines and was the more comfortable alternative to the Camaro and Chevelle. The Impala followed this ethos until the seventh generation, a large saloon that was often used by the American police as patrol cars.

The eighth generation arrived, and Chevrolet got rid of the V8 engines and moved the Impala to a front-wheel drive platform. In 2006 the ninth generation was launched and with it the V8 returned, but the model remained front-wheel drive. The Impala was no longer a comfortable muscle car but had become a terrible and cheap sedan.

Related: 10 Things Gearheads Forgot About The Chevrolet Impala SS

9 Worst – 2006 Dodge Charger

The Dodge Charger was revived in 2006 and was received with mixed results. Many praised the design with its aggressive muscle car look, but criticized the fact that it had four doors. Anyway, the Charger was pretty boring back then, with most of the engines mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission.

Fortunately, Dodge upped the ante with the Charger, turning it into a true four-door muscle car, eventually outfitted with the ridiculous Hellcat V8. But that first generation was a really bad car – especially the base model with the underpowered 2.7-litre V6.

8 Worst – 2002 Ford Mustang GT

The Ford Mustang is the staple of American muscle, but the fourth generation SN-95 was among the worst of the Mustang models – not counting the second generation. The 2004 Mustang had been improved since its launch in 1994, but the engines were underpowered and the chassis was horribly tuned.

Most SN-95 Mustangs were V8s; however, the base model had a heavily updated 3.8-litre Essex V6, which at its peak produced only 190 hp. The Mustang GT was equipped with the 4.6-litre modular V8 and produced only 260 horsepower, compared to an insignificant 215 horsepower for the 1997 model. The fourth-generation Mustang was quite uninteresting and is definitely one of the worst muscle cars of the 21st century.

Related: The Fourth Generation Mustang Model Years You Should Avoid Buying Used

7 Worst – 2000-2005 Chevrolet Monte Carlo

The Chevrolet Monte Carlo was another well-known and adored American muscle car that was turned into the exact opposite of what it was. Until 1988, the Monte Carlo was a rear-wheel drive car with large V8s and a more comfortable approach to the world of muscle cars.

In 1995, the Monte Carlo name was migrated to a coupé version of the Impala, with the same V6 engines. The 2000 redesign followed the Impala to a different front-wheel drive platform, but had at least gotten a V8. But where the Impala could almost be forgiven, the Monte Carlo couldn’t because of its hideous styling – especially the back.

6 Worst – 2002 Mercury Cougar

The Mercury Cougar was first launched in 1967 and was designed as a more luxurious version of the Ford Mustang and Torino. The Cougar largely adhered to this philosophy throughout its production run, until its seventh generation, when it switched to the Thunderbird platform after sales began to decline, but thankfully kept the V8.

Finally, the eighth generation again moved platforms, but this time the drive wheels changed forward and the V8 took off. What remained was a weird, angular coupe with the engines from the Ford Mondeo. Where the Cougar was a sideways fog machine in the 1970s, it had become a substandard coupe with questionable treatment in the 2000s. Thankfully, it stopped in 2002.

5 Best – Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

The Camaro ZL1 is without a doubt one of the best muscle cars ever made. Equipped with the 6.2-liter supercharged V8 from the Corvette C7 Z06, it delivers 650 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent only to the rear wheels via a 6-speed manual or a 10-speed automatic. The ZL1 has many upgrades over the standard SS – Includes better engine cooling, Magnetic Ride Suspension and carbon fiber body panels to keep weight down.

The ZL1 can also be fitted with the 1LE aero package, which adds a larger front splitter, massive rear wing, larger diffuser and more carbon fiber bits to improve handling. The ZL1 accelerates from 0-60 mph in just 3.5 seconds and can progress to a top speed of 198 mph. As an added bonus, Hennessey Performance will boost the ZL1’s power to 1,000 horsepower with their famous HPE1000 package.

Related: This is our favorite feature of the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE

4 Best – Ford Mustang GT350R

The Ford Mustang GT350R is one of the best muscle cars of the 21st century because it was the first to do the Europeans well in terms of lap times and cornering power. The GT350 also had a European-inspired engine like the Voodoo V8 – a modification of the Coyote V8 found in the normal Mustang GT – was fitted with a flat-plane crankshaft.

This improves engine response, changes the power and torque to be produced at higher rpm, and, best of all, creates glorious harmony of a V8 sound that goes all the way up to 8250 rpm – nearly 2000 rpm higher than the Coyote† The GT350R also has a carbon fiber hood, rear wing and wheels.

3 Best – Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat

The Dodge Challenger was one of the best muscle cars in the 1960s and 1970s, but it went away in the early 1980s for various reasons. The model was revived in 2008 and has been in every enthusiast’s mind ever since. The first few models were a bit on the bad side, with a 4-speed automatic.

This all changed in 2015 when Dodge de hellcat V8† Here was a 707 horsepower, 650 lb-ft supercharged 6.2-liter V8 from the factory and under warranty. The Hellcat completely changed the muscle car game, with Ford and Chevy taking years to reach Dodge’s level of insanity. Dodge took the hellcat took it a step further and made an 840 horsepower version called the Demon the fastest production car on a drag strip. How cool is that?

2 Best – Ford Shelby Mustang GT500

Speaking of overtaking Ford and Chevy – Ford did it in style. After the success of the GT350, they needed to create the ultimate version of the Mustang, so they decided on a new GT500. Where older GT500s were great in a straight line, they were terrible everywhere. The new GT500 would be a continuation of the GT350 philosophy.

The GT500 was launched in 2020, and it had a supercharged 5.2-litre Predator V8, good for 760 horsepower and 625 lb.ft of torque. This is less than the equivalent Dodge Challenger Redeye, but the GT500 can really get through the corners without leaving a plume of smoke. The GT500 has become even more powerful with the addition of the “King of the Road” edition, which will be available from Shelby and will result in over 900 horsepower. Take that, Dodge!

Related: 10 Things Most People Don’t Know About the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500

1 Best – Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing

Unlike the other muscle cars on this list, the Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing is the only one with four doors. This doesn’t mean it’s a practical family sedan – whatever it is – but rather a way to take three people along for the ridiculous ride. The CT5-V Blackwing features the same supercharged V8 found in the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, but in this application it produces 668 horsepower and 659 lb-ft of torque.

The CT5-V Blackwing is the last of its kind and so Cadillac decided to make it extra special and offer the car standard with a manual gearbox, with the 10-speed automatic remaining an option. This means that while this comfortable cruiser can cruise comfortably, it can also turn into a total madman by shifting gears and pressing the accelerator, making the CT5-V Blackwing one of the best muscle cars of the 21st century. † It doesn’t look bad either.