The classic battle: Camaro triumphs over Mustang

december 2015 car and driverThe first instrumented comparison test of the 2016 Camaro SS against the 2016 Mustang GT has been published by Car and Driver in the December 2015 issue. To be fair, we’ll note that the Camaro was a pre-production prototype, meaning it may have been built with a very close eye on tolerances, and the Mustang was off-the-shelf.

But the performance differences are so distinct that the winner is very clear. Very very clear.

The Camaro won every performance characteristic, and only falls behind in ergonomics and terrible sightlines (the one near-fatal flaw in using the Camaro SS for open-track type events).

The performance numbers:

2016 Camaro SS 2016 Mustang GT
0-60 mph 3.9 sec 4.4 sec
0-100 mph 8.9 sec 10.5 sec
1/4 Mile 12.3 sec @ 116 MPH 13.0 sec @ 112 mph
Top gear, 30-50 mph 2.3 sec 9.1 sec
Top gear, 50-70 mph 2.7 sec 8.6 sec
200-foot skidpad .98 g .94 g
Braking, 70-0 mph 147 feet 157 feet
Curb weight 3760 pounds 3817 pounds
700 mile trip 18 mpg 17 mpg

The Camaro is clearly faster in every acceleration metric, in every handling metric, and in braking. It’s also slightly lighter (the fully optioned Camaro was tested against a fully optioned Mustang). The Camaro also has a weight advantage with any of the three available engines.

And this is not a fluke: Motor Trend in the December issue compared two similar cars and found the same results in its own racetrack testing. Tester Kim Reynolds said “Feels like an old Mustang. Feels heavy. There’s a lack of damping in the body motions with high pitch and roll rates… the gearbox is notchy and narrow; it doesn’t like to be hurried”. This translates into our own experiences with the new Mustang and even back to our own Boss 302 Mustang. Too heavy, too much pitch and roll, too slow to shift. To be fair, we’ll grant that the Camaro engineering team had a year advantage in the development of their newer product, and also had the advantage of testing it against the then-new Mustang. But to be accurate, the advantages the Camaro receives from sharing the corporate Alpha platform (shared with the Cadillac ATS and CTS: Cadillac paid the expensive engineering, development, and production costs) are too numerous to be easily overcome by the Mustang. The advantages of the brand new from-scratch Alpha platform, not carrying over any baggage from any earlier platform, and developed requiring a justification of every single ounce of weight (even to the point of eliminating excess threads on bolts), is what is actually being compared in this article. By contrast, the Mustang platform traces its lineage back to the late nineties, to the DEW98 platform, which was state of the art then but which was then dumbed down for the 2005 Mustang instead of being used intact (as was the original plan). A slight architectural tune-up, some surgery on the front suspension, an IRS suspension (at last), and we have the current Mustang. With carry-over baggage such as the overall hard points and a narrow front track going back over 15 years.

So the SS versus GT battle is an unfair fight in 2016. What happens next?

For the Camaro, new models to replace the Z/28 and the ZL1 are right around the corner. They’re already being seen in final form under test. And if the SS looks so good now, then these two will be incredible. With another two hundred horsepower in the ZL1 (and assuming that GM fixes the over-heating issues that have been plaguing this engine), and perhaps another 50 HP in the Z/28 (and we have to wonder if the rumors of a 7 liter CTS-V were indications that the 7 liter engine would be revived for the Z/28 were true), the Camaro is positioned very well.

What of the Mustang? With major development work successfully delivered in the GT350,  it’s clear that Team Mustang enjoys the very enthusiastic support of the entire Ford management team. In our opinion there are a couple of updates needed to better equip the GT to be more competitive against the SS. First, the Coyote motor needs the direct injection (DI) it was originally designed for. DI should yield at least 15 HP and 10 lb-ft torque (as well as better mileage and emissions). Further turning should yield another 10 HP (use the lessons learned during the GT350 engine, particularly the improvements to intake flow and the x-pipe exhaust). Abandon the troublesome MT82 transmission and move to the TR-3160 transmission used in the GT350 (commonality will also save production costs) for the benefit of better ratios and near world-class shifting. Let Ford of Europe take on a steering improvement program: they know how to build fast and accurate steering and the products they’ve engineered are class leading. Upgrade the “Performance Pack” (PP) option to use magnetorheological shocks as on the GT350. The use of these same shocks on the Camaro SS is one reason for its superior suspension. The PP has gotten softer in recent years, moving away from its original position as an upgrade for weekend track racers to a simple checkbox for the average non-racer audience. The market for a track-focused suspension has evolved over the past few years: now all manufacturers offer such suspensions and the GT with PP would competitively benefit from one. The overall tuning of the GT with the PP would still be overall softer than that of the GT350, but lessons learned there can be applied back to the GT PP.

The flat plane crank 5.2 liter engine of the GT350 represents asymmetric warfare: GM has no equivalent and cannot have an equivalent. But it will use displacement and supercharging as a response and that may be enough for most drivers. Those drivers won’t enjoy the wide rev range of the 5.2 but they will enjoy “torque under the curve”. But we’ll also point out that Ford has two more engines to consider using: two upcoming variations of an updated 3.5 liter EcoBoost. The 3.5 EcoBoost in the 2017 Raptor produces over 450 HP. This is equivalent to the supercharged 3.6 offered in the ATS-V, so GM could easily offer it in the Camaro. But an evolution of this same basic engine in the upcoming Ford GT produces over 600 HP: GM has no equivalent. Using this engine in the Mustang may seem like heresy to Ford product planners, and would take some of the exclusivity out of the Ford GT, but it is the wave of the future. The mileage and emissions standards coming over the next ten years will stand despite the current (temporary) price of gasoline and will probably not be lowered by any potential future Republican President. This means that Ford (and GM) will eventually have to downsize to a turbocharged V-6 for their highest level pony cars… Ford could proactively take the lead and offer it in 2 years instead of ~5-8. There are even off-the-shelf double-clutch transmissions from two manufacturers that are available for such a use (a torque-vectoring differential would be the crowning touch). GM could eventually match it (although their strategy is cylinder deactivation in the short term, for both 6- and 8-cylinder engines and the Camaro already offers it on both), but the advantage would be to Ford now. The bigger question is: are Mustang buyers ready to look to the future, or are they still fighting the same old battles of the past?