You Again: The Greatest Rivalry in Cars Reignites
I’ll never forget the first time a fourth-gen Camaro SS rolled up on me in my 2000 Mustang GT. It was late at night. The roads were clear. He revved. I revved. Adrenaline surged. The light turned green. The Camaro ripped away from the light. And I—a college kid just days into driving stick—got left in the dust.
It was late at night. The roads were clear. He revved. I revved. Adrenaline surged. The light turned green. And I got left in the dust.
It’s tough to compete with Chevy‘s power-to-weight advantage.
The Mustang seems relaxed as it gallops ahead, humming at 2,000 rpm at 75 mph.
We want the car with the ponycar spirit, the one that makes adrenaline surge.
Since the Chevrolet Camaro‘s introduction in 1966, it and the Ford Mustang have faced off at countless other stoplights—and at Motor Trend more than 20 times (see how the cars have evolved over the years here). To say it’s been contentious is an understatement. Mustang versus Camaro is among the greatest of rivalries. It’s Celtics-Lakers, Rangers-Devils, Patriots-Everybody. The two sides have lots of history, and it ain’t always friendly. Ford and Chevy have escalated the arms race, throwing more performance capability on 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. The Camaro’s subjective and objective performance wowed us. With a new Camaro on the scene, the pressure’s on Ford for revenge.
Not much separates our 2016 Ford Mustang GT Performance package from a 2015 model we previously tested – even the Triple Yellow Tri-Coat paint is the same. The S550 Mustang is among the most potent and capable yet. Under its long, sleek hood is a Coyote 5.0-liter V-8 putting down 435 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. Power is routed through a six-speed manual gearbox to the rear wheels, just as God intended. That’s not all the artillery the Mustang brings to the fight. The Performance package adds six-piston front Brembo brakes, a Torsen limited-slip diff with a 3.73:1 rear axle ratio, stiffer front springs, and 19-inch wheels wrapped in sticky Pirelli P Zero tires, among other items.
The changes to the Chevy are more extensive. Much smaller than before courtesy of the Cadillac ATS‘ Alpha platform and a diet, the sixth-generation Camaro is now the flyweight of the segment, weighing in at 3,672 pounds (1,665 kg) to the Mustang’s 3,825 (1,735 kg). The Camaro’s weight advantage is complemented by an edge in power, too; the Corvette’s LT1 6.2-liter V-8 churns out 455 hp and 455 lb-ft of torque in this spec. As in the Mustang, power is routed out the back through a six-speed gearbox and to the ground with some sticky tires, Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 3s here.
I might’ve fared better back in college in my car’s successor. 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 3,000 rpm, dump the clutch, and get ready to start shifting. Sixty mph (97 km/h) happens in 4.6 seconds at the tippy top of second gear, and the quarter mile comes in 12.9 seconds at 110 mph (177 km/h) even. Although that performance is phenomenal by my 2000 Mustang GT’s standards, it’s tough to compete with the Chevy’s newfound power-to-weight advantage. Feathering the clutch off the line is the fastest way to 60 mph (97 km/h) in the Chevy, hitting the mark in a staggering 4.0 seconds (0.4 second faster than a 2015 Camaro SS 1LE) and running down the strip in 12.4 seconds at 114.6 mph (184 km/h).
Only in the past generation have the Mustang and Camaro seen a keener focus on handling, and it shows on these ponycars. The Camaro is faster, rounding the figure eight in 24.1 seconds and averaging 0.85 g in the process. Doing so couldn’t be easier. The Camaro’s steering is quick and precise, the big Brembos allow you to dive into the corner late, and the broad gearing and 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 ponycar. The Camaro is a wonderfully controllable drift machine with the nannies shut off, the tail easily gathered back up 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 24.4 seconds averaging 0.82 g, but it’s hard to escape the fact that it shares much with the last Mustang. “Feels like an old Mustang,” testing guru Kim Reynolds said. “Feels heavy. There’s a lack of damping in the body motions with high pitch and roll rates.” In English: You’re bouncing around a lot. You’re shifting a lot, too, just cresting into third as you enter the corner before shifting back down to second. We like rowing our own gears as much as the next guy or gal, but rushing through the gears in the Ford is frustrating. The gearbox is notchy and narrow; it doesn’t like to be hurried. As for going around a corner slowly, say with the tires smoking and the tail hanging out, well, the Mustang will do it, but balancing the Ford there, I reckon, is as difficult as keeping a U-2 spy plane from stalling at the edge of space. You’re on the ragged edge, and if you’re not careful, the rear end will quickly and without warning come around on you.
This Mustang isn’t about the ragged edge, though. As the badge on the trunk says, it’s a GT. At that it excels, and it starts inside. “It feels like Moray Callum and the team tried really hard,” tweeter-in-chief Ed Loh said. “The soft-touch padded dash and door panels with contrast body-color stitching are nice touches.” The optional Recaro buckets are appreciated, too—they’re supportive, comfortable, and help give the driver a commanding view of the road. On the highway the Mustang seems relaxed as it gallops ahead. Humming at 2,000 rpm in sixth gear at 75 mph (121 km/h), the Ford has enough juice to pass slower traffic without shifting. The steering wheel stays on center, wind and road noise are well-managed, and the ride is remarkably comfortable. Cruising in the Mustang lets you appreciate the little things it offers, such as the aircraft-style switches, metal trim, and the new Sync 3 infotainment system. Combine all that with the Mustang’s big trunk, and it isn’t hard to imagine yourself cruising from New York to L.A. in the Ford.
The relaxed demeanor disappears when you start chucking the Mustang into corners. Driving hard and fast down country roads requires a fair amount of work. The pitching, rolling, diving, and surging that revealed themselves on the figure eight are amplified as you bounce down poorly maintained public roads, and although steering feedback itself is fine, actual feel is a bit wooden. It’s not all bad, though; that Coyote motor sounds great as it revs out. The close gear ratios give the impression of speed and ensure that you’ll get to hear all of the V-8’s bark as you roll through the rev range.
The Camaro, true to the Super Sport badge it proudly wears on its rump, is more back-road-oriented than the Ford. The Camaro loves being driven hard and fast down straights before getting chucked through tight corners. Feedback through the small flat-bottom steering wheel is exceptional, and the gearbox feels much like the current Corvette’s, minus the seventh gear. The Camaro SS is the car the Cadillac ATS-V should’ve been. Loh was a big fan of the Chevy’s engine note on our back road loops. “The Camaro is more my speed,” he said. “It’s freer-revving with a higher pitch that makes me think race car. The Camaro hits nearly 80 mph (129 km/h) in second gear and is screaming as it nears the limiter. The Mustang takes an extra gear to get there, which Christian says makes it feel faster—even though it’s not.”
The Chevy feels a bit rougher going down the highway. Wind and road noise are higher, and the ride is ever so slightly less compliant. Visibility, a major complaint about the last Camaro, remains a bit of an issue. You sit high up in the Ford, but in the Camaro you are still down low with high sills and visibility limited by a too-tall gauge pod. “It’s better than in the previous-gen but still not as reassuring as the Mustang,” Loh said. “But hey, it does make the SS more badass-feeling, which is what people want in a ponycar.”
Visibility aside, the new Camaro’s interior is a huge improvement on the outgoing model. Although there’s less going on in here than in the Mustang, the bits you spend most of your time touching, chiefly the steering wheel and shifter, all have a nice high-quality feel to them. The simplified center stack also lends to the premium feel of the Chevy. I really liked the canted high-res infotainment screen, which is well-placed and easy to use and incorporates Apple CarPlay. Loh really dug the large A/C vents. “They not only look like jet engines, but the knurled metallic ring on each adjusts temperature and fan speed. Hidden in plain sight yet intuitive.”
Picking a winner between these two great ponycars is less intuitive. “They’re close enough that preferences of ergonomics, visibility, and engine noise could easily put one ahead of the other,” Loh said. “But when it comes to at-the-limit performance, the Camaro simply out-handles the Mustang. As it says on their badges, the SS is a super sports car, and the Mustang excels as a grand touring car.”
The Ford Mustang GT is pure class—the Yankees in their pinstripes. Yeah, it can hustle through the corners if it has to, but it’s far happier cruising between stoplights or on the open highway, and you’ll be far happier doing the same.
The Camaro SS, on the other hand, is the 2004 Red Sox: beards, brawn, and a bloody sock. You wanna smoke that expensive sport sedan at the stoplight? Want to drift around the corner onto your street? Want people to turn their heads as you roll up onto the scene? The Camaro SS is your guy.
As for us, well, Loh sums it up. “In terms of which is more impressive, which one I’d use to shock my friends or go supercar hunting on a lark, it’s the Camaro,” he said. “It’s faster, and sharper-handling, yet has a more sophisticated, sinister swagger. The Mustang growls. The Camaro howls.”
We want the car that best embodies the ponycar spirit. We want the car that can go the fastest, turn the hardest, be the loudest, and look the baddest. We want the Chevy Camaro that makes our adrenaline surge and leaves stoplight competition in your rearview. If it just so happens to be great out on the open road, well, that’s the icing on the dust-covered cake.
1st Place: 2016 Chevrolet Camaro SS
Superior performance at the strip and in the corners makes this the muscle car we want.
2nd Place: 2016 Ford Mustang GT Performance package
The one we’d pick in a heartbeat to drive across the U.S.A.
|2016 Chevrolet Camaro SS||2016 Ford Mustang GT (Perf Pack)|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD||Front-engine, RWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||90-deg V-8, alum block/heads||90-deg V-8, alum block/heads|
|VALVETRAIN||OHV, 2 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||376.1 cu in/6,162cc||302.1 cu in/4,951cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||455 hp @ 6,000 rpm*||435 hp @ 6,500 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||455 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm*||400 lb-ft @ 4,250 rpm|
|REDLINE||6,500 rpm||6,500 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||8.1 lb/hp||8.8 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed manual||6-speed manual|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||13.6-in vented disc; 13.3-in vented disc, ABS||15.0-in vented disc; 13.0-in vented disc, ABS|
|WHEELS, F; R||8.5 x 20-in; 9.5 x 20-in, cast aluminum||9.0 x 19-in; 9.5 x 19-in, cast aluminum|
|TIRES, F; R||245/40R20 95Y; 275/35R20 98Y Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 3||255/40R19 96Y; 275/40R19 101Y Pirelli P Zero|
|WHEELBASE||110.7 in||107.1 in|
|TRACK, F/R||63.0/62.9 in||62.3/64.9 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||188.3 x 74.7 x 53.1 in||188.3 x 75.4 x 54.4 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||38.4 ft||40.0 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,672 lb||3,825 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||54/46%||54/46%|
|HEADROOM, F/R||38.5/35.0 (est) in||37.6/34.8 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||44.3/29.9 in||44.5/30.6 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||55.0/50.4 in||56.3/52.2 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||9.0 cu ft (est)||13.5 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||1.7 sec||1.7 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||1.8||2.2|
|QUARTER MILE||12.4 sec @ 114.6 mph||12.9 sec @ 110.0 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||104 ft||109 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||1.00 g (avg)||0.96 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||24.1 sec @ 0.85 g (avg)||24.4 sec @ 0.82 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1,400 rpm||1,700 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$38,600 (est)||$47,350|
|AIRBAGS||Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, front knee||Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, front knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||3 yrs/36,000 miles||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||5 yrs/100,000 miles||5 yrs/60,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||5 yrs/100,000 miles||5 yrs/60,000 miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||19.0 gal||16.0 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||14/26/18 mpg (est)||15/25/19 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||241/130 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)||225/135 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.10 lb/mile (est)||1.06 lb/mile|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded premium||Unleaded premium|