- The FordMustangGT and the ChevyCamaro SS are two of the USA’s most famous muscle cars, but both icons have been updated for the modern world.
- I drove both and was impressed with the staying power of their old-school V8 engines – but also the new technologies that Chevy and Ford have deployed.
- Ultimately, I preferred the wilder Mustang GT, but the Chevy Camaro SS might be easier for some drivers to live with day-to-day.
Muscle cars are often characterised as uncompromising, given that these all-American machines are designed to serve up serious speed in a straight line.
But the truth is that for much of their multi-decade reign on the roads of the USA, that speed has been crude. Loud and proud, but if you asked a muscle car to gracefully negotiate a corner, well… you’d have been far better off with a Porsche.
That’s all been changing in the 21st century, however. With the Mustang and the Camaro, Ford and Chevy have engineered hybrids of a muscle car and a sports car. OK, they can’t quite do it all, and if you want a car that’s brilliant in the curves, German might still be your best bet. But Porsches and BMWs ain’t cheap. Mustangs and Camaros aren’t, either, but their price tags are many thousands below European coupés that match up on horsepower.
Over the past year, I was lucky enough to be flipped the keys to both a Mustang GT and a Camaro SS, both rocking potent V8 engines, and outfitted in flashy colours. So did I favour the bright yellow ‘Stang or the hot orange Camaro SS?
Read on to find out.
Let’s start with the Mustang GT. I sampled the 2018 re-fresh of the new ‘Stang, which was rolled out in 2015. It was late 2017, and the setting was sunny Los Angeles.
The GT starts at about $US35,000, but my options-packed test car was closer to $US50,000. The yellow paint job definitely stood out, even in LA, land of flamboyant automobiles.
The Mustang looks good. Updates aren’t radical: the front and back end have been made more sleek. The overall effect is to continue presenting the Stang, after over five decades, as a sports car with global appeal, versus a stonking old American muscle car.
The front is less snouty that the outgoing design.
But the galloping pony badge is unmistakable. FYI: There’s no Ford Blue Oval anywhere on this ride.
The rear has also been slimmed down a tad. The spoiler is an option.
Shall we pop the hood?
My GT had a 5.0-litre V8, making 460 horsepower, a bump on the 2017 car thanks to re-engineered fuel-injection technology.
With a small gas tank and only 200 miles of range, such power comes at a price. Fuel economy is not good. You should be able to get about 20 mpg on the highway, but if you have any fun, you’re looking at 15 and frequent fill-ups. Such is the price of pleasure.
This Ford stickshift is exceptional. The clutch is also wonderful, not too demanding, but not smushy, either. And automatic is available, and with it, the ‘Stang is quicker from 0-60 mph: under 4 seconds. But it’s plenty fast with the stick.
Not exactly a lot of cargo space. The GT could handle my suitcase, but not much more.
The instrument cluster is a digital-analogue affair. My test car also had a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
My Stang was equipped with SYNC 3, Ford’s quite capable infotainment system. The touchscreen is responsive and not at all laggy, if modestly scaled in this car. There’s all the usual stuff: navigation, a dandy audio system with SiriusXM, USB/AUX ports, Bluetooth connectivity, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Guess what? I actually drove a high-performance version of the Mustang GT on a race track! So what did I think of the machine?
Here’s the GT outfitting with those performance goodies. So how does the ‘Stang drive?
“Brothers and sisters, if you think a sports car might be for you, just get one of these.” That’s what I wrote when I drove the 2015-edition Mustang GT.
The song remains the same for the updated ride, even though I’ve also driven the GT’s big brother, the GT350, which is a lot of car.
The regular 5.0 GT is plenty, however. I used it as a passable imitation of the daily driver in LA, and though the six-speed was no party, it was fine. Once I got to cut loose in the canyons, you couldn’t have given me an automatic.
That said, because the redline is now 7,500 rpm (up 500 from the previous model), it’s possible to park the GT in third gear, or even second, and just rip around and relish the sharp steering and marvellous brakes: point and shoot driving, with the V8 making its music in the background.
Obviously, this is a Mustang, so it can haul in a straight line. Onramp runs and passing on the freeway are tons of fun. When the back end hunkers down and the tires grab, the joy is palpable (the GT is outfitted with a Drag Strip mode, by the way, and joined with the automatic option, that gets you a sub-four-second 0-60 mph time).
The real trick with the V8-motored Stangs these days is to deliver German-sports-car-level performance without grinding the backwoods American edge off. This is harder than it sounds. But Ford has done it, and even sneakily altered the Stang’s looks by streamlining the exterior. But that engine continues to rock ‘n’ roll.
Yeah, let’s face it, I loved the car. The gas bill might take some getting used to, but the 2018 Mustang GT is an excellent plaything. You’d want to drive it every single weekend.
On to the 2018 Camaro SS. My ride was the “Hot Wheels” special edition, tested in New Jersey late this year.
The mighty mullet-mobile, in all it’s “Crush” orange, black-racing-striped, Hot Wheels-package glory! That will be $US5,000.
My test car stickered at $US52,000, about $US10,000 more than the Camaro 2SS Coupé base price. With its high beltline, bold rear haunches, low-slung stance, and overall spirit of throwback, muscle-car aggressive — not to mention the orange paint job — the Camaro SS makes a statement, anywhere and everywhere.
“SS” stands for “Super Sport” and is a performance setup that has been an offer, in various guises and on numerous Chevy vehicles, since the early 1960s.
A fastback slopes to a rear decklid spoiler.
What lurks beneath that hood?
A 6.2-litre V8, making 455 horsepower with 455 pound-feet of torque. This mill is all motor — not turbochargers or superchargers anywhere in sight.
My tester had an eight-speed automatic, but a seven-speed manual is available (with a rev-matching feature). Fuel economy is 17 mpg city/27 highway/20 combined. The 0-60 mph sprint passed in about four seconds, on the way to a top speed of 155 mph.
The trunk is … modestly scaled. But it can handle short roads trips, as well as grocery store runs.
The steering wheel is suede, with orange topstitching and paddle shifters for manual mode.
The MyLink infotainment system, running on a relatively small eight-inch touchscreen, is Chevy’s version of the GM system that we’ve been uniformly pleased with.
So what’s this beast like to drive?
The benefits of big V8’s are torque-on-command and the ability to wind the motor way out on shifts. The redline is at 6,500, so you can have plenty of fun in manual mode by parking the Camaro SS in third gear and focusing on steering and braking. At $US42,000 before all the Hot Wheels hotness, this is an insane value in race-track-worthy cars.
In days of yore, you wouldn’t necessarily have wanted to take a Camaro around corners, but the latest iterations of the vehicle have changed that. One can easily imagine a hard swing into a turn after some braking, followed by some throttle and an oversteering exit, with the chassis and suspension supporting rather than protesting the manoeuvre.
Not that Camaro SS isn’t pleasurable in straight-line mode. It eats freeways for breakfast – all that torque serves up the classic V8 sense of bottomless power. And all you ever have to do is floor it to hunker down the back wheels and raise the front. Cue wildness! Bring on that backwoods Camaro DNA!
And, to be honest, I enjoyed the Camaro SS when it was in docile, poke-around-town mode. But of course, you don’t ultimately want to poke.
And therein lies the Camaro SS’s killer advantage. But is it enough to outrun the Mustang GT?
And the winner is … the Ford Mustang GT!
This one is a close call, but in the end, I didn’t have too much trouble making up my mind. I’m more of a Mustang guy.
The bottom line is that the Camaro SS is easier to live with day-to-day, while the Mustang GT brings a bit more fire to the party. Basically, the ‘Stang constantly reminds you that it wants to be unleashed, whereas the Camaro says that you get to be the boss of the unleashing.
Different strokes for different folks. But no matter which muscle car you choose, you probably won’t be disappointed. And given that well-equipped versions of both cars can be had for about $US50,000, the value proposition is completely bonkers.
Decades ago, if you went American muscle, you compromised on handling for straight-line speed. No more. These machines are the equal of European sports cars that cost tens of thousands more.
Between the two, the Mustang GT has the edge.