The Mustang has finally landed in Oz, but back in the USA the fight for muscle car bragging rights is fiercer than ever
WILL NEVER forget the first time a Camaro SS pulled up next to my Mustang GT at a lonely set of lights somewhere in ol ’Merica. It was late at night. The roads were clear. He revved, I revved, and adrenaline surged. The lights flipped to green and the Camaro just ripped away from the intersection. I was just a kid, only days into driving a manual car, and I got left in the Camaro’s tyre smoke.
Since the Chevy Camaro’s introduction in 1966, it and the Ford Mustang have faced off at countless sets of traffic lights across the US. To say it’s been contentious is an understatement. Mustang versus Camaro is among the greatest of rivalries and it’s rarely been friendly, and Ford and Chevrolet have continuously escalated the auto arms race, throwing more performance at the latest cars than ever before.
Last year, the fifth-gen Camaro SS 1LE delivered an upset to the then-new Mustang GT Performance package. Now, with a new Camaro on the scene, the pressure’s on Ford for revenge.
The S550 Mustang is among the most potent and capable yet. Under its long bonnet is a Coyote 5.0-litre V8 making 324kW and 542Nm (Australian models will have 306kW/530Nm). Power is routed through a sixspeed manual ’box to the rear wheels, just as the car gods intended. But that’s not all the artillery Mustang brings to the fight. The Performance Package adds sixpiston front Brembo brakes, a Torsen limited-slip diff with a 3.73:1 ratio, stiffer front springs, and 19-inch wheels wrapped in sticky Pirelli P Zero tyres.
The changes to the Chevy are more extensive. Much smaller than before courtesy of its Cadillac ATS Alpha platform and a diet, the sixth-generation Camaro is now the flyweight of the segment, weighing in at 1666kg to the Mustang’s 1735. The Camaro’s weight advantage is complemented by an edge in power, too; its LT1 6.2-litre V8 churning out 340kW and 617Nm in this spec. Power is also routed out the back end through a six-speed gearbox and to the ground via sticky Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 3s.
I True to its drag racing roots, launching the modern Mustang couldn’t be easier. Ignore launch control (it’ll just slow you down), rev the Coyote to 3000rpm, dump the clutch, and get ready to start shifting. Zero to 100km/h happens in 4.6 seconds at the extremities of second gear, and the 400 metre mark flashes by in 12.9sec at 177km/h.
That performance is phenomenal by my 2000 Mustang GT’s standards, although it’s tough to compete with the Chevy’s new-found power-toweight advantage. Feathering the clutch off the line is the quickest way to 100km/h in the Camaro and it hits the mark in a staggering 4.0sec (0.4sec quicker than a 2015 Camaro SS 1LE), and it rocks the strip in 12.4sec at 184km/h.
Only in the past generation have the Mustang and Camaro had a keener focus on handling, and it shows on these latest pony cars. The Camaro is quicker, rounding our figure-eight test track in 24.1sec and averaging 0.85G of lateral grip in the process. The steering is quick, big, precise Brembos allow you to dive into the corner late, and broad gearing and a mega torque curve mean you can do the whole lap in second gear.
Traction control is unobtrusive, so there’s no real need to turn it off. That said, if you leave it on, you’re missing the whole point of having a pony car. The Camaro is a wonderfully controllable drift machine with the nannies shut off, and the sliding tail is easily controlled by minor throttle adjustments.
The Mustang isn’t as quick and getting good performance out of it is harder work. The Ford laps the figure-eight in 24.4sec averaging 0.82G, but it’s hard to escape the fact that it shares much with the last Mustang. You bounce around a lot and shift a lot, too, just snagging third as you enter a corner before shifting back down to second.
We like rowing our own gears as much as the next person, but rushing through the gears in the Ford is frustrating. The gearbox is notchy and narrow and doesn’t like to be hurried. As for going around a corner slowly, say with the tyres smoking and the tail hanging out? Well, the Mustang will do it, but you’re on the ragged edge, and if you’re not careful the rear end will
WILL Australia welcome the new Chevrolet Camaro after we part ways with Commodore? With Ford plugging the space once occupied by our big performance Falcons with its Mustang, there is logic to thinking GM would use its sixth-gen Camaro to the same effect.
Comments made by GM chief Stefan Jacoby at last year’s Detroit Show said Holden would welcome a two-door V8 performance car to replace the Commodore come 2017.
He said things like “true sports car”, “likely a V8”, and “not currently in production” to describe it when he spoke to Australian journalists in January 2015.
So you could understand how local media went a bit nuts speculating this car could be the at-that-stage-unreleased sixth-generation Camaro.
However, when revealed earlier this year Holden denied the Camaro for Australian shores. “A [right-hand drive] variant is not in the current plan,” Holden spokesperson Kate Lonsdale told MOTOR. “Of course, if this was to change in the future, Holden would take a look at this very exciting car,” she added.
Don’t get too excited by the word “future”, though. The Camaro’s Alpha platform is not yet designed for righthand drive and if it had the business case GM would’ve timed its arrival to prevent Ford claiming the global right-hook muscle car market. Rather, the possibility exists for the seventh-generation car, due, err, next decade.
So Camaro coming to Australia? Unless they make a right-hand drive one out of nowhere, don’t hold your breath. Sadly.
quickly and without warning come around on you.
This Mustang isn’t about the ragged edge, though.
As the badge on the boot says, it’s a GT and it excels as a Grand Tourer and it all starts inside. The optional Recaro buckets are supportive and comfortable and help give the driver a commanding view of the road.
On the highway the Mustang feels relaxed as it gallops ahead. Humming along at 2000rpm in sixth gear at 120km/h, the Ford has enough juice in reserve to pass slower traffic without changing down. The steering wheel stays on centre, wind and road noise are wellmanaged, and the ride is remarkably comfortable.
Cruising in the Mustang lets you appreciate the little features it offers, such as the aircraft-style switches, metallic trim, and the new Sync 3 infotainment system.
That relaxed demeanour disappears when you start chucking the Mustang into corners, though. Driving hard and fast down country roads requires a fair amount of effort. The pitching, rolling, diving and surging that was revealed on the figure-eight track are amplified as you bounce along poorly maintained public roads, and although steering feedback is fine, actual feel is a bit wooden. It’s not all bad, though; that Coyote engine sounds great as it revs out. The closely-packed gear ratios give an impression of speed and ensure that you’ll get to hear all of the V8’s bark as you accelerate through the rev range.
True to the Super Sport badge it proudly wears on its rump, the Camaro is more backroad-orientated than the Ford. The Camaro loves being driven hard and fast down straights before being chucked into tight corners. Feedback through the small flat-bottom steering wheel is exceptional and the gearbox feels as good as the current Corvette’s, minus the seventh gear. It hits almost 130km/h in second and screams as it nears the limiter. The ’Stang needs an extra cog to get there.
The Chevy feels a bit rougher going down the highway, though. Wind and road noise are louder, and the ride is slightly less compliant. Visibility, a major complaint about the last Camaro, remains an issue.
You sit high up in the Ford, but in the Camaro you are still down low surrounded by high sills and visibility is limited by a too-tall auxiliary gauge pod. That aside, the new Camaro’s interior is a huge improvement on the outgoing model. There’s less going on in here than in the Mustang, however the parts you spend most of your time touching, chiefly the steering wheel and shifter, all have a nice high quality feel. The simplified
The 1964 1/2 Mustang made its debut to much fanfare at the 1964 World’s Fair.
This Sportback model is a ’65.
Chevrolet followed with its own ponycar in ’67. Like Mustang, Camaro buyers had a choice of in-line six or V8.
This generation was significantly neutered compared to big-block bad boy launch model (this is a ’74 model).
Ford followed its initial success with the little-loved and decidedly dopey looking Mustang II.
In the heyday of excess, turbocharged four-pot Mustang SVO went against the grain (’86 model shown).
Five letters (and a hyphen) summed up the popular race track-proven Camaros of the 80s: IROC-Z (’85 model pictured).
This generation was expected to be Camaro’s swansong, as production ceased in 2002 (’96 model shown).
The svelte-looking SN-95 Mustang was among the most popular ever, dominating the pony car sales.
The retro-inspired fifth-gen Mustang was well-received and would again inspire its rival to enter the segment.
After starring in Transformers, a retro Aussie-designed Camaro hit the streets in 2010 ready to battle Mustang again.
centre console also lends a premium feel. I really liked the canted high-res infotainment screen, which is well placed, easy to use and incorporates Apple CarPlay.
Picking a winner between these two great pony cars is less intuitive. The Ford Mustang GT is pure class. Yeah, it can hustle through the corners if it has to, but it’s far happier cruising between stop lights or on the open highway and you’ll be far happier doing just that.
The Camaro SS, on the other hand, is all about brawn. Want to smoke that expensive sports sedan at the lights? Want to show the kids in their 180SXs and R33s how it’s done at a drift day? Or heads to turn when you roll up at the pub? Then the Camaro SS is your car.
We want the car that best embodies the hallowed pony car spirit. We want the car that can accelerate quickest, turn in hardest, sound the loudest, and look the baddest. In short, we want the Chevy Camaro, because it makes your adrenaline pump and leaves stop-light competition getting smaller in your rearview mirror. And the fact that it happens to be great out on the open road, well, that’s the icing on the tyre smoke-covered cake. M