The Ram's Eye - A Driver's Blog: 2016 Camaro SS vs 2016 Mustang GT - Road Test



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Friday, 16 September 2016

2016 Camaro SS vs 2016 Mustang GT - Road Test



If you've come here for a new instrument head-to-head test, I'm afraid you'll be disappointed. Although, for the sake of those who do want numbers, here they are from the most recent Car and Driver comparison test:

2016 Camaro SS 2016 Mustang GT
0-30 mph 1.6 s 1.7 s
0-60 mph 3.9 s 4.4 s
0-100 mph 8.9 s 10.5 s
1/4 mile 12.3 s @ 116 mph 13.0 s @ 112 mph
braking 70-0 mph 147 ft 157 ft
300-ft dia.skidpad 0.98 g 0.94 g
610-ft slalom 43.9 mph 43.3 mph

For some reason, Car and Driver tested an 8-speed auto Camaro and a 6-speed manual Mustang, so figure you'll lose a tenth or two with a manual; the gap is still clear. The new Camaro SS out accelerates, out brakes, and out grips the new (now almost two years old) Mustang. And I'm not here to tell you otherwise. If you're reading this, chances are, you've already read plenty of other reviews so I will try to give a different perspective. The perspective of a guy who owns this type of car, enjoys it the way it was intended to be enjoyed, but also daily drives it.

I had an opportunity to test drive a new +Chevrolet Camaro SS the other day as well as a new +Ford Mustang GT. Both cars were manual but, while the SS was a loaded 2SS model, the GT was a no-options base model. And by no options, I mean no options - not one. The Camaro, on the other hand, had plenty of options, including, crucially, the Magnetic shocks and dual-mode performance exhaust. I decided to take this opportunity to write my impressions of both cars. Don't consider this a foregone conclusion because of the disparity in options. 


Interior


 

Let's first address the elephant in the room; Camaro visibility. I came in expecting to hate it, especially after hearing that it's worse than the last generation, which I have driven a couple of times. To be honest, it wasn't that bad. I think it is very overblown. Sure, sight lines are tight and if you like a lot of space, you will probably feel claustrophobic because you can't see as much of outside as.. uh.. normal cars. But the parts that are blocked are not typically what you need to see to drive properly. Imagine having your sun visor down and then imagine stretching it across your windshield. Rotate it and put it against the side windows too. You now have a rough idea - the Camaro is a little bit better than that. You won't see as much of the sky, but unless you plan on taking off, that shouldn't be much of a concern.




As far as seeing what you need to see, it's mostly all there. The only bad blind spot is over the shoulder but if you have your mirrors setup properly, you shouldn't need to see much anyway and most people now get blind spot monitoring, cross traffic alert, etc. anyway, which is available (not that I like to rely on those features instead). The A pillar is thick but there are plenty of new cars like that now so it's no different. Point is, if you think you might get claustrophobic, it is bad. But don't dismiss it because you think you won't be able to see out of it. You can still see what you need to see. It isn't ideal but far from a deal breaker in my opinion.

With that said, the Mustang feels like a cathedral in comparison. I have never sat in a Mustang before and thought: "Look at all the space!" It feels very spacious relative to the Camaro, despite interior dimensions looking closer on paper. Although, like I said, it isn't a deal breaker for me, the Mustang interior is easily the better place to be. Interior design is nicer, too, and more cohesive. And inside and out, I feel like the Mustang manages to better capture retro design cues from classic Mustangs while looking more modern. Mustang +1.


Power

With that out of the way, the first thing you notice - assuming you're eager to start them car up like me instead of playing with gizmos - is the noise. Press the start button, and the Camaro roars into life in a way that belies a completely stock car. It's hard to miss when you startup. It's hard to miss when you get into it. It is very easy to miss, though, when you're just cruising under light load and the dual mode exhaust isn't shouting. The Mustang, on the other hand, doesn't have the same vocal range. It's more or less as quiet as the Camaro under light load so you aren't giving up much, if any, in that department but get into it, and there's a very noticeable difference. The beauty, here, is the dual mode exhaust, which means the noise will never get tiring because it quiets down when you're taking it easy. Not that V8 noise should ever get tiring...

And there is power everywhere in the rev range. In true Chevy V8 fashion, power comes on down low and stays, relentlessly, throughout the rev range. The Mustang never failed to please when you put your foot down, with plenty of power that is very linear and the noise is a little more hairy-chested-machine-gun (albeit, relatively quiet) than the Camaro, which is accompanied with a faint wail. Despite that, it doesn't quite have the same low end shove that you get at low engine speeds with the 2-valve, big displacement, Chevy small block. Camaro +1


The Drive


 

Surprisingly, driving the Camaro is where things actually disappointed. Before you curse or dismiss this review, hear me out. Based on what I've read, I feared (and was expecting) to leave feeling blown away, contemplating whether I should trade in. I had extremely high expectations. That was problem number one. Problem number two: I didn't get a chance to take the car out on a nice back road or, even better, the track, where I have no doubt the car would shine.

There was plenty to like. The noise is awesome like I said. You can't complain about the power. The car is stiff, but never punishing, and very composed. Body roll and movements in general are far better controlled compared to my '12 Boss 302, let alone the base GT I drove. It has great turn in and is very responsive. It seems to put power down really well. I tried a very aggressive throttle roll-in in 1st gear and the car executed beautifully. A lot of things seemed text book perfect during the drive. What went wrong, then?




It provided exactly no additional reward over driving the Mustang. In fact, it was a little less entertaining. The engine, for example, feels very lazy at street speeds, barely having to rev above idle to get you moving and never needing or, more importantly, feeling like it wants to. Don't get me wrong, I love a good ole' low-effort V8. But the eagerness of Ford's 5.0 litre Coyote is more fun, especially here on the street where four or four and a half seconds to 60 mph makes no difference. Both will take off with satisfying grunt, both will sound good, and both will have no trouble reaching any speed you demand with your right foot. And the Mustang isn't exactly light on mid-range power, either. The car could easily cruise around town in 5th gear at speeds of 40-50 km/h and never break a sweat (don't do it). The Camaro otherwise also feels extremely unstressed in day to day driving. You get very little sensation of speed. Body movements are extremely limited at a reasonable pace on the street. The compromised visibility doesn't help, as it dulls the sensation of speed even more by limiting feedback from outside.

On the other hand, the Mustang is noticeably more comfortable, a big advantage on the street. The engine is a lot more eager to rev, with much shorter gears. In fact, the Mustang only has one over drive gear, with 5th being 1:1, but the Camaro has two, with 4th being 1:1. The Mustang's soft suspension and airy cabin, both relative to the Camaro, make it feel quicker and, combined with the more eager engine, more entertaining. The trunk is also another huge advantage, where the Camaro has a narrow long space that's less than two thirds the size of the Mustang. Mustang +1


Conclusion

Does the Mustang win 2:1, then? Not exactly.. Although these cars have been competing for years, sell in comparable numbers, have the same number of doors, seats, engine cylinders, gears, and driven wheels, are close in performance and size, and even cost comparable amounts of money, they are very different in their current generations. The Camaro was optimized for the track. You can tell by the compromise in the trunk. The rear shock towers appear to be tilted further inward, to better transfer loads towards the centre of the car and less up/down. The battery is in the back. The engine is placed further back about 3/4 of the way behind the front axle, whereas the Mustang's engine is about 1/2 way - sitting basically on top of the axle. This is evident in the Mustang having shorter wheelbase but more interior room.

But, as a result, everything that I "complained" about would make sense on a track. The lazy engine means there is a lot of power regardless of rpm and gear. The long gears mean you don't have to shift as often. The stiffer and more buttoned down suspension means better tire wear, stability, and performance. The Mustang, on the other hand, would feel relatively heavy, low on grip, and sloppy. You may not notice if you drive the Mustang alone, as it is a very capable and composed car. But drive them back to back on a track, and I guarantee you, you will want out of the Mustang and into the Camaro. The Camaro also has coolers for all drivetrain components - engine oil, transmission, and differential. The Mustang only has an engine oil cooler.

The conclusion here is that the two cars serve very different purposes. If you just want a fun, V8 coupe for the street, storming a good back road, a nice Sunday drive, or even a couple High Performance Driving School (HPDS) or lapping days here and there, do NOT buy the test numbers (i.e. the Camaro). The airy, better looking, and more comfortable interior of the Mustang plus the relative practicality makes it a much better street car and, base cars or comparably equipped, it's cheaper to boot. Plus, the lower grip and body motions will provide a much better car to learn on. Cross country trip? I bet the Mustang would be sublime, equally comfortable cruising for hours or letting you enjoy all the back country and coastal roads you want. If you get the Camaro and you're planning to ever take a road trip in it with your better half, measure your suit cases and map out the trunk. You may be able to only fit a suitcase and a half back there..

But if you are planning on frequent track events, walk away from the Ford dealer. Go to Chevy, they'll happily give you a Camaro SS in exchange for some of your money. It's a better track car. And forget about the Mustang performance pack. It isn't enough. If you don't believe me, ask yourself this: why did Ford stop calling it the Track Pack and switched to Performance Pack (PP)? I test drove a current Mustang with the Performance Pack and it is not enough (alone) for someone who does more than a couple track days a year. Sure, if you get the Camaro, I have no doubt you'll find weak points and start planning modifications. Every car has weaknesses, even race prepped cars. The difference is that you'll find weaknesses a lot sooner in the Mustang. The PP is very good if you go drive a GT without it and think: "it's a perfect car, I just wish it had a little more edge." Or, if you're like me - a Mustang guy who wants to track the car, as it provides a great upgrade or a much better starting point. Otherwise, save yourself the premium and leave the box unchecked as it will make the Mustang a better, more comfortable street car.




I am a Mustang guy. I would take the Mustang. I wish I could leave it at that, but objectively, it isn't as track ready out of the box as the Camaro. It has an excellent chassis and provides a great starting point towards a formidable track assault vehicle, with vast aftermarket support and even great factory-backed upgrades from Ford Racing (stay tuned for a post on how I'd spec a new Mustang GT with Ford upgrades!). But if you want minimal or no modifications, the Camaro SS is the one to get. Their trim names could not have been more spot-on than they are now; the Mustang GT is truly a world class Grand Tourer but the Camaro SS is the one for Super Sport .


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