Classic Cars Upgraded

New looks for Chevy, Ford, and Jeep faves

BY MICHAEL FRANK — Summer 2018

For the past several decades, the Chevrolet Corvette, Ford Mustang, and Jeep Wrangler have stood out as quintessentially American, each morphing tremendously over the years, yet all instantly identifiable icons, then and now. While making mostly excellent design decisions through the years, their respective brand leaders continue to stay true to what these cars have stood for: the Mustang forever the ubiquitous, affordable American muscle car; the Corvette retaining its crown as a peer to Ferraris, at a fraction of the cost; and the Jeep with no equal as a climb-every-mountain freedom machine. The banner headline this summer? All three have been massively updated in their latest iterations, each offering something tremendous in its own right, and across a broad swath of pricing, too. Here, we take you on a highlight tour, with our insider perspective on how they drive and how we’d suggest you spec your own all-American ride.

2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

Built on the guts of the already-powerful Z06 version of the Corvette, the ZR1 features a 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 putting out 755 horsepower, a massive 105 horsepower increase. This means the ZR1 as either a convertible or coupe will easily exceed 200 mph and race to 60 mph in just 2.9 seconds — and that acceleration number might even be conservative. This sports car fires from a standstill instantaneously, thanks to a larger supercharger, and it corners and stops like only ultraexclusive super cars from Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, and Porsche.

Glue yours to the road: Order yours with the $2,995 ZTK Performance package. Why? The car already comes with a very aggressive ground effects package, including a front airfoil and side skirting, all to make the ZR1 cling to the pavement. But the ZTK pack adds a carbon-fiber rear wing that greatly improves how the car handles at higher speeds. You want it because it’ll make your Vette both faster and safer.

Pump up the volume (or don’t): You may not always want to advertise you’re driving the fastest car in the county, so when you’re just tooling around, this Vette sounds reasonably tame. Mashing the gas, though, not only makes this Corvette accelerate with fighter-jet-like force, but full-throttle punches also bypass the sound deadening of the muffler, so you’ll hear the V-8 roar with an ultramuscular, ultrabaritone bellow. If an engine could sing the national anthem, it would sound like this.

Take a road trip with ease: The beautiful thing about a Corvette? Six-plus-footers can drive one without discomfort — and, speaking of comfort, the ZR1’s dampers are calibrated for street handling and can be switched via driver control to a reasonably placid mode for commuting.

Choose the right top for you: If you can roll around open-air for the bulk of the year, get the soft-top ZR1. If not, when closed, the cloth-roofed car looks less visibly appealing and you won’t benefit from the additional quiet the hard lid affords.

Info: From $119,995;

2018 Ford Mustang GT

You see very few rear-wheel-drive, four-seat sports cars on the road these days, especially at this price. Even fewer that offer the Mustang GT’s combination of playfulness and user-friendly features such as a rear seat big enough for tykes and a large trunk. It’s a sports car that’s as fast as most anything else on the street, but a reasonably pragmatic one.

Take it for a more-polished spin: The entirely reworked Mustang V-8 now produces 25 more horsepower than the last GT V-8 and it’s smoother, too, with less gruff bark and a more refined whir as the revs climb. But don’t let the less-brutal-sounding engine turn you off — this ’Stang flies, hitting 60 mph in less than four seconds. It also corners startlingly well. Expect some body roll, but it’s easy to anticipate, counter steer, and set the GT up for the next apex.

Pick your transmission: For the first time, the Mustang GT offers a 10-speed automatic (with manual shift settings), in addition to a six-speed stick. Get the auto if you battle daily stop-and-go traffic, or the stick if your commutes are easy and you want to hammer back roads the rest of the time.

Rev up your ride: To really do it right, order both the $3,995 Level 1 Performance package and the $1,695 continuously variable suspension system. This adds Brembo front brakes, a stiffer chassis, tauter suspension, a larger radiator for superior cooling, and 19-inch wheels with sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4S performance tires. You can stiffen or soften the Mustang’s road compliance, keeping it looser for dashes to the grocery and stouter and more athletic for chasing through corners.

Go your own way: With the optional active valve performance exhaust, the default Sport and Track modes increase exhaust volume as you stiffen the suspension. But if you prefer a loud exhaust and soft suspension, Ford lets you create your own unique mode, including how quickly the transmission shifts.

Info: From $35,995;

2018 Jeep Wrangler Sahara Four-Door

The Jeep Wrangler four-door comes in four trims, from bare-bones basic (yes, without even a roof) to a rugged Rubicon with extra wheel travel under the fenders, for serious rock crawling. Regardless of trim, though, it’s an entirely different vehicle, barely sharing any sheet metal with the outgoing rig. Engineers aimed for ride refinement and eliminating wind noise and squeaks and rattles, and got it right, while also making every functional aspect of the Wrangler four-door more refined and easier to live with.

Keep calm and drive: On rough roads, the prior Wrangler could feel like you were ricocheting inside the drum of a worn-out washing machine — you would literally feel wrung out from the experience. The new Wrangler drives leagues better. Chassis engineers cut side-to-side roll, and tauter steering means you don’t have to make as many fine adjustments to keep the Wrangler straight on the highway.

Doff your top: The Sahara offers two soft-top versions, and with both you can remove the doors, lower the windshield and anchor it to the hood, and even remove the rear side windows. When you’re done, the car looks practically naked — and pretty glorious if you’re driving on the beach or tooling along a forest track in the Rockies. Pragmatists should order theirs with the $4,000 Sky One Touch Power Top. It’s an electric cloth roof that unfurls to expose both rows of seats. Live in the Sunbelt? Get the tan (rather than black) removable soft top, because it keeps the interior cooler. Peel that lid off and leave it off all summer, rain or shine — even the instrument cluster’s weatherproof.

Weather the seasons: If you have to drive in the snow and rain, rather than over mud and boulders, get the Sahara’s new full-time four-wheel-drive system, which can shift power to any wheel, rather than constantly churn all four wheels at once.

Make it automatic: Jeep now offers a sweet, smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic in the Wrangler, which we like mated to the new turbocharged four cylinder that, believe it or not, has more torque than the standard V-6, and sounds less crude, too.

Info: From $38,540;


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