All new #2016 #Chevrolet-Camaro-SS
vs. all new 2016 #Ford-Mustang-GT
Two icons of American muscle drive straight past the drag strip and deep into sports-car territory by Eric Tingwall / Photography by Charlie Magee
There was a time when the American muscle car performed all its tricks with the steering wheel pointed straight ahead. Detroit iron built its image on burnouts, quarter-mile runs, looking fast while parked, and chasing pedestrians out of the crosswalk with a prod of the throttle. But if it weren’t for that #V8
snarl and their burly bodywork, today’s muscle cars might pass as legitimate sports cars. America’s blue-collar heroes still charge hard in a straight line, but they now corner with the confidence of a European coupe. It’s the result of decades-long evolution, but also recent strides in chassis dynamics.
Ford’s breakthrough arrived in 2014, just in time for the Mustang’s 50th birthday, when engineers included for the first time an independent rear suspension across their entire pony-car lineup. They created the most civilized, the most docile, and the most tossable Mustang outside of the odd be-stallioned track-day special. The 2016 edition is essentially unchanged from the car introduced two years ago, although it has spawned the race-bred Shelby GT350 and GT350R, cars that smear the distinction between juiced-up muscle and flexible sports cars into an indistinguishable blur of racing stripes and eight-cylinder thunder.
As it was in the beginning, so it is now: Just like in the ’60s, #Ford
’s Mustang success has Chevrolet playing catch-up with its new Camaro. The #Chevy-V8
now turns out an additional 29 horsepower, but it’s clear that the engineers directed most of their energy toward the chassis. Reborn on GM’s Alpha platform, the new, sixth-generation Camaro uses the same core that forms the basis of the German-baiting Cadillac ATS and CTS. It is lighter and trimmer than the Zeta-platform-based Camaro it replaces and benefits from the suspension and steering expertise that is quickly — and surprisingly — becoming a #GM
We left the Dodge Challenger on the bench for this test. After its third-place finish in our December 2014 comparison, where a similarly equipped Mustang took the gold, we knew where the Challenger would place in this round. If it wants to run with these two athletes, Dodge needs to cut the fat. The Challenger is more than nine inches longer than either car here and weighs some 400 pounds more.
For this test, the manufacturers provided the top-performing versions of the common man’s V8 muscle car. For Chevrolet, that means a Camaro SS with the 455-hp, 6.2-liter V-8 equipped with magnetorheological dampers ($1695) and the eight-speed automatic transmission ($1495). The $895 dual-mode exhaust doesn’t make the car any more powerful, but it delivers a Metallicavian aural assault. The top-tier 2SS trim includes cooled and heated seats, blind-spot monitoring, and ambient interior lighting that can be set to one of 24 colors (one-quarter of which are variations of pink), bringing the total price to $47,480.
Ford brought its 435bhp #Ford-Mustang-GT-MkVI
enhanced with the $2495 Performance pack. That add-on brings a strut-tower brace, revised suspension tune, a larger radiator, #Brembo
front brakes, and a limited- slip differential with a shorter final-drive ratio, and it’s available only with the manual transmission.
We’re beginning to believe that bringing a manual transmission to a drag race these days is akin to handing out Obama stickers at an open-carry meeting, but the manual Mustang actually puts up an admirable fight. In previous testing, the three-pedal version ran dead even with the automatic Mustang GT. The Premium trim makes our test car every bit as upscale as the Camaro, but with a price almost $4500lower at $43,070.
To give these two increasingly competent corner-hunters a proper challenge, we pointed them toward southeast Ohio, to the Hocking Hills and roads so twisted and rural that you’d suspect them to be dating their cousin.
2. FORD MUSTANG GT
There’s nothing else like the Mustang in Ford’s U.S. portfolio. It’s the lone eight-cylinder car and the only rear-drive vehicle in Dearborn’s arsenal that isn’t a truck. That’s both a blessing and a curse. On the upside, Mustang engineers have the freedom to craft their car without the constraints of shared parts. But neither does the Mustang benefit from the trickle-down economics that comes with building higher-performing Corvettes and more-expensive Cadillacs.
In a vacuum, you could be lulled into thinking that Ford perfected the American muscle car with this Mustang. Freed of its stick axle in back, the original pony car now handles corners and busted concrete with ease. The competent chassis musters 0.94 g of grip around the skidpad and executes a 70-to-zero stop in just 157 feet. The steering effort builds in a linear fashion and offers a modicum of feedback. The brake pedals in both of these cars are firm and responsive, yet the Mustang’s binders start biting earlier with less pedal travel.
But when you start to draw comparisons about those dynamic attributes so essential to driver satisfaction, the Chevrolet exposes the Ford’s vulnerable spots; simply put, the Mustang GT is softer than the Camaro SS. The Mustang leans in corners. Under acceleration, the haunches squat and the hood rears back. The slightly slow, fixed-rate 16.0:1 steering hides a small dead spot on-center, and despite wider tires, there’s not as much front-end grip as in the Camaro. That makes the Mustang more prone to understeer and less willing to rotate under throttle.
The Mustang rides on nonadjustable dampers, so even though you can toggle through the same four drive modes as those in the Camaro, you can’t alter the Ford’s roll resistance or ride quality. That said, the single tune of the Performance pack nicely balances ride and handling. Body motions, though large, are always deliberate, never clumsy or inaccurate. Hustling the Mustang over hills and around bends is oldschool, organic fun. The Camaro, damping out impacts with minimal body motion and no sacrifice in ride quality, proves that the technology exists to do it better.
With a torque deficit of 55 pound-feet and a redline 500 rpm higher than the Chevrolet small-block’s, Ford’s 5.0-liter Coyote engine needs to be spun out to keep pace. Its intensity builds exponentially with revs, and, around 4000 rpm, the energy swells in an intoxicating crescendo toward 435 horsepower and the top of the tachometer.
Launched at 3500 rpm, the Mustang GT will break 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and trip the quarter-mile in 13.0. The six-speed stick moves with tight, precise action, but the throws are a touch longer and the effort a bit stiffer than we prefer.
This dual-overhead-cam engine is smoother and more civilized than the Camaro’s pushrod V-8, but that doesn’t necessarily rank as a positive. For one, the Coyote is too quiet. Even at full throttle, it emits a muffled thrum rather than a visceral yowl. The Camaro gets it right. Its unapologetically lumpy idle and gruff exhaust note are precisely why you didn’t spend your $45,000 on a BMW M235i .
If there’s one aspect where Dearborn has Detroit handily beat, it’s that the Mustang is a much more practical car and far easier to live with on a daily basis. The timeless lines of the Mustang include a taller roof that, combined with a slightly higher seating position, eases ingress and egress. There’s excellent outward visibility over the long hood, to either side, and through the rearview mirror. The cabin, aided by a lower beltline, feels much roomier than the Camaro’s.
The Mustang’s cockpit is a simple place. Considering the headaches that abound inside the Camaro, this is meant as a compliment. The clean, straightforward center stack even offers the perfect array of knobs and buttons to make the imperfect MyFord Touch tolerable. We really only have one complaint about the Mustang’s cabin: The turned aluminum that spans the width of the dash is slathered in so much clear coat that it might as well be plastic.
The Ford Mustang effortlessly balances performance, comfort, sport, and practicality. It is a powerful, engaging, and valuepacked daily driver. But as a performance car, as a machine designed to provoke exhilaration, the Camaro has it beat.
1. CHEVROLET CAMARO SS
In doubling down on the retro-caricature style of the fifth-generation Camaro, Chevy appears to have designed for the next Transformers movie rather than the buyers who will live with the car. Stylists injected steroids into the bodywork and, almost unbelievably, knocked the roof about an inch lower to make the greenhouse even shorter. The stocky Power Wheels proportions suggest that a full-grown human would have to poke his or her head through the sunroof to drive this thing.
A human does fit inside, although you should probably pass on the $900 sunroof to seize precious millimeters of headroom. The Chevy’s cabin is far more crowded than the Mustang’s, and the form-over-function exterior creates some ergonomic woes inside. Hang an arm on the windowsill and your elbow rises to ear level. The high trunklid and low roofline squeeze the view out the back into a sliver. Wide B-pillars and the rising beltline render the rear quarterwindows useless. When the feds make blind-spot monitoring mandatory in the coming years, you’ll have this car to thank. There’s more natural light entering Guantanamo’s solitary cells than the Camaro’s cabin, and yet designers struggled to shield the navigation screen from glare.
Their inelegant solution tilts the screen toward the floor, an awkward angle that also reflects the faux-metal bezel surrounding the shifter. The panel gaps of the instrument- cluster hood—directly in the driver’s line of sight—should make Bob Lutz weep. And when the interior-design team ran out of room up front, they simply used the real estate in the rear. The map pockets in the doors and the wireless phone-charging pad are effectively in the back seat.
Despite the voodoo ergonomics, the new Camaro’s interior is still a massive improvement over the outgoing car’s. The materials belong in an actual motor vehicle with a considerable price, as opposed to a toddler’s toy, and the switchgear is both attractive and easy to use. A digital screen in the binnacle between the analog gauges is packed with useful information, and the nav-screen graphics are crisp. Honestly, though, this cabin could be trimmed in cellophane and crayon markings and we’d still gush over the way the car drives. While the new car looks stockier, the switch to the Alpha platform trimmed 2.3 inches in length and roughly 100 pounds as equipped for this test. The high cowl means you can only guess at where the corners of the body stop, but that’s less of an issue since the new Camaro drives like a much smaller car. That’s a stark contrast with its predecessor, which felt as if it grew in size the more carefully you tried to place it on the road.
There’s a precision in the Camaro’s handling that until now was reserved for track-oriented models such as the Z/28 and #Ford-Mustang-Boss-302
. Credit the same chassis integrity that’s baked into the Cadillac ATS and CTS; Chevy says structural rigidity is improved by 28 percent over the last-gen car’s. The magnetorheological dampers hold the fenders level in corners and relax the ride on the highway. The electrically assisted power steering reacts to minute on-center tweaks and tightens the car’s line with a ratio that quickens as you wind in lock. There are touring, sport, and track modes, plus a weather setting to appropriately finesse the steering effort, dampers, transmission mapping, and stability control. You can also lock the steering and shocks into your preferred setting regardless of the mode. We favor the lightest, most natural steering weight that comes with touring. Regardless of the drive mode, the Camaro follows a path earnestly and intuitively. Its best virtues are symbolized by a wonderfully sculpted, flat-bottomed steering wheel.
Not that the 6.2-liter #LT1
V8 , imported from the Corvette Stingray with only minor changes, is any slouch. The small-block’s torque peak of 455 pound-feet comes 150 rpm higher than the Mustang’s, but it fills in the lower half of the tach with palpably more grunt. From idle to 6600 rpm, it sounds as if its gargling 91 octane and spitting pure anger out the tailpipe. There’s a smart side to this Detroit legend, too. Direct injection, variable valve timing, and the ability to run on only four cylinders when paired with the automatic gearbox helped the Chevy extract 1 additional mpg over the Ford’s smaller-displacement engine.
With lower weight, higher power, more gears, and greater grip, the Camaro walked all over the Mustang in our performance testing. #Goodyear
Eagle F1 rubber helps produce a Porsche-like 147-foot stopping distance and lateral grip that flirts with 1.0 g. While it favors understeer in most situations, the Camaro was far more wieldy running through the slalom, pivoting better than the Mustang under acceleration and deceleration. In a straight line, breaking four seconds to 60 mph put the Chevy half a second ahead of the Ford, a gap that grew to 0.7 second by the end of quarter-mile. The Camaro’s Corvette powertrain and Cadillac chassis are some of the best parts in GM’s storerooms. The Camaro SS rockets to triple-digit speeds and whips around corners with poise. It’s the small-block–powered ATS-V that Cadillac will never build, yet it costs almost $20,000 less than the turbo ATS-V that it does. This Camaro defines an era where the eight-cylinder American muscle car is more than cheap power and brash styling. But it hasn’t forgotten the cheap power or the brash styling.
Top: Even with narrower front tires, the Camaro has greater front-end grip. Above: Gun-slit side windows are too small for big guns.
Chevrolet Camaro SS
+ Corners as well as it accelerates, small-block snarl.
- Concept-car design wreaks havoc on the cabin, the options you want aren’t cheap.
= Rippling with American muscle, but as sophisticated as European iron.
Ford Mustang GT
+ A 7000-rpm redline and a willingness to get there, no-gimmicks interior.
- Steering and chassis could be tauter, yacht-rock soundtrack.
= Draws more parallels with a grand tourer than a sports car.
Above: Speak up, son. We can’t hear you. The 5.0-liter V8 engine at least carries a pretty big stick. Left: Baby seats for baby-sized adults.
IF IT WEREN’T FOR THE V-8 SNARL AND THEIR BURLY BODYWORK, TODAY’S MUSCLE CARS MIGHT PASS FOR LEGITIMATE SPORTS CARS.