I thought we’d take a different approach to this week’s test-drive feature and have a look at the Ford Mustang, alongside its key competitors (Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger), to answer a common question from readers: Which of these go-fast, V8-powered sports cars would I spend my own money on?
Those after a fun, fast, rear-drive, two-door that turns in plenty of ponies for your dollar will find plenty to like about each of these three machines.
Specifically, we’re talking about the Camaro SS, various Dodge Challenger models powered by the 6.4-litre SRT HEMI V8, and the Mustang GT.
I’ve enjoyed many hours in many versions of these rides and I both like and dislike various attributes of each. None is the best or worst choice, though each has a set of pros and cons that may guide your decision one way or the other after you consider all of them.
Best advice? If you’re not brand loyal, spend time test-driving equivalent versions of all three, and pick the one you like best.
That’s what I’ve been doing for some years now, and that’s why I’ll tell you the machine I’m typically recommending the most — the Mustang.
The case for the Mustang
I’m a Dodge guy myself, so that’s a bit hard to say — though as a professional car reviewer, my personal favourite brand sits on the sidelines as I write.
So, the Mustang is my favourite, which is making some of you consider drafting salty emails, so let me explain.
First, I find Mustang feels the most athletic. It’s lighter and more precise at the controls than the Challenger or the Camaro, and feels more eager to please, more of the time.
Specifically, the tactile feel of the brakes and steering, as experienced at the tips of your fingers and toes, is excellent. It all feels a touch more fine-tuned and dialed in, which makes it feel that bit more honed and precise.
This is, to me, the driver’s car of these three and that’s because it feels the most like they’ve payed attention to how Mustang feels when it responds to your requests.
And if you’ve typically skipped on American cars thinking they don’t handle or steer or stop, well, give any of these, (and especially the Mustang a try) and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
A note, however: the Dodge Challenger T/A, which packs an exclusive sports suspension and chassis calibration, is right in the same ballpark where that feel is concerned. And the Camaro may prove more entertaining to some spirited drivers, as it demands a little more that you grab it by the scruff and toss it around.
Here’s a good time to mention that if you care about steering or brake feel then you won’t likely be buying Mustang that’s automatic, but if you do, the just-launched 10-speed transmission is a seriously remarkable piece of hardware.
It shifts between gears far faster than a human being working a manual gearbox, feels great doing it, and generally operates with velvety smoothness.
Each of these three machines can be had with a manual or automatic transmission, depending on the specific model. They’re all rear-wheel drive.
Next up, I’m most often recommending the Mustang because it has the best cabin in the game, right now. The fully-digital instrument cluster has exceptional graphics, liquid smooth animations, and is fully customizable.
With the ability to change colours, layouts, and even the displayed digital gauges for things like axle fluid temperature and the air fuel ratio on the fly, the Mustang’s instrument cluster will probably become your new favourite gadget.
The distinctive switches and easy toggling between various drive modes add further to the experience, and Mustang has the most logical and easy-to-use infotainment system in the business right now — though that’s a tie with the Camaro, whose system isn’t as flashy looking, but is just as easy to learn quickly.
Note that, while Mustang may be the leader with cabin design and tech, the Challenger’s cabin feels more presentable in higher trim grades, with better use of higher-quality materials.
Visibility is another plus. The Challenger and (especially) Camaro are very weak here. You sit in a deep “pit” driving those cars, the glass is thin, the dash is high, and your outward view is limited greatly.
This isn’t an issue for some drivers, but it may be for others. At my average build and height, I can’t even rest my arm on the window sill in the Camaro, since it sits at about the same height as my shoulder.
The Mustang? You feel like you’re sitting in a sports coupe, not a bunker. The windows are reasonably shaped and easy to see out of. It’s the only car of the three to have a somewhat meaningful rearward view, and the only one of the three that’s likely to satisfy drivers who like being able to see the end of the vehicle’s hood.
This all means that you’ll feel more at ease driving it, more of the time, since you’re better aware of what’s happening around you.
Go with the Mustang GT convertible for even more outward visibility. Just twist a handle and hold a switch down a few moments, and the roof quickly folds and hides. Then you’re the captain of this convertible rocket ’Stang.
The Camaro makes a lovely convertible too, and is probably the best highway ride in this group, as well. If you’re primarily using your convertible for highway touring, Camaro may be the best bet — it’s a tick more comfortable than Mustang, and also, on my watch, easier on fuel during cruising. Your results may vary.
If you’re wondering, there’s no convertible option for the Challenger.
Let’s wrap up with my favourite, and least-favourite thing about each of these rides. Again, this is based on my tastes and experience, and yours may be different.
Best thing about the Mustang? The five-litre V8 engine. It’s outgunned in the torque department by the bigger V8 engines in the compared Camaro SS (6.2 litre) and SRT-powered Challenger (6.4-litre), though it’s screaming 7,400 RPM red line is an absolute thrill-ride to open up, and a big V8 engine that revs to the moon like this one is an increasingly rare and special thing. Also, the exhaust note could peel paint from nearby buildings.
Simply, Mustang’s engine puts on the best show of the three.
Worst thing? The proportions of the cabin. Hop in, and you’ll wonder where the space went. Simply, Mustang’s cabin feels snugger in several dimensions than the size of the vehicle leads on.
It’s not cramped for an average-sized driver, though I often wished for just a touch of extra room. Also, the rear-seats are basically useless for anyone with legs.
The Camaro? Top points here for the highway cruising experience; it’s comfortable, decent on fuel when driven gently, and includes things like built-in Wi-Fi and OnStar to keep occupants comfortably connected. For the longer-distance driver, or any shopper keen on exploring new places, it likely makes the most sense.
But Camaro falls far behind where outward visibility is concerned and the interior, though recently refreshed, has numerous ergonomic head-scratchers and just doesn’t look as impressive as the Ford or Dodge.
The Challenger? Big door openings for easy entry and exit make this one an ideal choice for larger or mobility-challenged drivers, and with the only adult-usable rear seats in the group, it’s the one you’re after if you’ll occasionally take a road trip with another couple.
On the downside, visibility is not terrific and drivers who prefer a lightweight and athletic feel may not connect with Challenger’s heavier and more labour-intensive controls when driving it hard.
The gist? For my money, Mustang leaves the biggest grin on my face. You buy the car you buy for various reasons and, if you’re deciding on a new sports car, these sound like pretty good ones.