Let me say up front that I've never been a muscle-car kind of guy. I've always put handling finesse before horsepower, and in waking states a BMW M3, Volkswagen GTI
, or a Porsche makes my heart beat faster than a Chevrolet Camaro
or Ford Mustang
. But deep inside I've had a soft spot for those American icons ever since I got my first ones, in a slot car racing set sometime in the early 1970s as a pre-teen. Now that we've just finished testing the latest V6 versions of the Camaro and Mustang, let me reflect. Even after all these years, those two pony cars still exert some kind of elemental animal attraction.
The V6 versions, which screen out the distractions thrown up by the rumble, torque and oversized tires of the V8 models we tested last summer, actually allow for a purer perspective on the underlying cars. (Read the full 2009 muscle and sporty car test
, available to online subscribers.) Taking the Ford first, it's clear the folks in Dearborn continue to improve the Mustang breed. Despite mechanical throwbacks like a live rear axle, it drives like a champ: alert, responsive, agile and ready for action. The shifter is a delight, and the 3.7-liter V6 sounds satisfying and pulls strongly. However, the switch to electric power steering that came with the 2011 model year has blunted some of the feedback it had previously. (Privately, some Ford engineers I've spoken with agree with that judgment.) But the electric steering is still quick, linear, and well-weighted and it contributes to average fuel use of 24 mpg - not too shabby for a 300-hp machine. And if the need for speed trumps your green sentiments, the Mustang GT packs a 412-hp, 5.0-liter V8, which brings a terrific sound and, at $36,000, is a performance bargain.
Now consider the Camaro. It was derived from the rear-drive Pontiac G8
, a sedan that's held in universal high esteem by driving enthusiasts because of its sophisticated chassis and impeccable road manners. The Camaro employs the G8
's basic hardware, but it fails to excite the driver. The steering response and feel is not fitting with a sporty car
. The high belt line makes it tough to see out in any direction, which effectively blinds you to the outside world, let alone the next corner. The 312-hp V6 version feels limp and uninvolving to drive. Throw in tall gear ratios, a balky shifter, and the 275-pound weight disadvantage compared to the Mustang, and you find yourself saying, "This car might as well be an automatic." If you are already yawning, I'm not blaming you.
So while the Camaro may boast a more impressive spec sheet, with state-of-the-art this and that, on the road it amounts to less than the sum of its many precision parts. Conversely, the ostensibly cruder Mustang delivers on a level that surpasses the sum of its parts.
Read our Camaro vs Mustang Face Off, and research the Camaro and Mustang in our model overview pages, where you'll find full performance data, photos, videos, owner cost information, and much more. (See our Dodge Challenger, Camaro, and Mustang video shootout from 2009.)
Now if only I could find my old slot-car set...
— Gabe Shenhar