There is a rivalry between the Ford Mustang and the Chevrolet Camaro that is fiercely alive with each brands’ track models but is it just as fierce when we consider their “entry” V8 models? He’s a first drive comparison…
First up was this bright (Competition) orange 2016 Mustang California Special. This package adds a few more niceties on top of the GT Premium trim like a front tower strut brace, hood stripes, and a few plaques. It’s mostly a cosmetic package but even the base car has a subdued, athletic stance that brings an anticipated excitement of things to come. Once inside, however, you’re presented with a disappointing mix of interior materials and overall design that lacks what is expected of a $40k car. The so called armrest does little to allow your arm to rest comfortably and although getting into the desired driving position was easy, the seats lack the expected level of lateral support. Moving on towards getting this 435 HP 5.0 DOHC V8 fired up, your eyes glaze down to a somewhat bland looking starter button but still the anticipation is unrelenting. Depress the smooth clutch, hit the button, and hear the engine turning, catching quickly but then it’s quickly drowned out by the chimes and dings. The awesome roar of the acclaimed Coyote V8 never happens. It’s all quite anti-climatic and as much as it pains to recommend deviating from the vehicle’s original concept, aftermarket exhaust would be a worthy upgrade. The clutch is easy to modulate as is the throttle. Gaining speed in first to hear some real sound (which was glorious) and then shifting into second and third with perfect upshifts (a little too perfect as it turned out; Further investigation revealed the ECU is programmed to hold the throttle at the next up gear’s equivalent RPM). Taking it through the tight, smooth turns revealed a very neutral chassis and a steering that clearly communicates when front grip is about maxed out. At this point, if you wish, roll on the throttle smoothly and the car transitions to balanced and controllable oversteer. Being able to learn the car’s slow speed handling builds your confidence quickly. Also helping are the brakes that feel wonderfully accurate and plenty powerful. It’s also a smooth cruiser when that mood suits. Keep it out of the really tall gears and you’re rewarded with a nice rumble only a V8 can deliver. At low speeds slack in the drivetrain is noticeable, possibly likely due to its life as a press car, but at the same time, seems fitting considering the rough interior surroundings. Despite these faults, expect to always walk away with a grin on your face.
Next up on the back-to-back drive is a bright blue 2017 Camaro SS which represents its first year of moving to the smaller, lighter chassis. It’s body looks better proportioned and although the greenhouse shape makes it difficult to see out of, it looks muscular and modern. Weight is down, power is up and as far as handling, GM continues to take the SS treatment very seriously. It’s exhaust is loud and burly, the clutch is heavy and is quick to grab the flywheel, seats are perfectly snug and the steering wheel is wonderful to hold. The overall interior feel is a modern with classic touches. The combimeter features a TFT screen with rich detail and houses easy accessibility to modes and settings features. However, flanked on the sides are the tach and the speedo whose styling must have been inspired by the large and emotionless face and dials of the mid ‘90’s F-body. Moving your eyes to the right is a slick touch screen. It’s fast and easy to use. The only downside, besides the fingerprints, is its downward angle. No doubt a compromise between styling and engineering teams, there is a significant glare of your hand as you reach towards the screen. Below that are the redundant but necessary physical buttons, laid out in a slim and horizontal fashion not unlike the greenhouse area. The twin retro vents at the bottom of the center stack are a very worthy “cost-up” as they blend in the perfect balance of modern minimalist high tech with the large and robust theme of being a muscle car. On the road, the Camaro holds turns and puts the power down without fail. The burly 6-speed manual engages each gear with a solid notch. The rev-match downshift takes the stress out of smooth downshifts, however, heel-toe is easy enough. The brake pedal requires a deliberate force but feels linear throughout its stroke. The large engine pulls strongly from any RPM all the way to the red-line and with a sound that conveys the message that this car is ready for the track. The car doesn’t disappoint with the ride even on bumpy sections. An impressive feat considering its high road holding limits. The Camaro’s design may be what pulls people toward the car but the engineering behind it all keeps the racing legacy moving forward.
Take-away: The Camaro SS is the more sorted one of the two, meaning that the whole car better embodies a single, cohesive design philosophy. It is the car that feels better prepared to handle a day at the track. The Mustang is less in your face but always willing to play. The limits are easily accessible and this car encourages them to be explored even off of the track. If the interior isn’t an immediate deal breaker, this car can bring out your inner-driving hero on daily basis.
2016 Ford Mustang California Special
2017 Chevrolet Camaro SS