Another Battle in the Car World's Longest-Running War By John Pearley Huffman, Contributor | Published Apr 26, 2010 It's not just 2011 Ford Mustang GT vs. 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS. It's Mark Donohue's Z/28 and Parnelli Jones' Boss 302 bashing through the Trans-Am season finale at Riverside in 1969. It's Jungle Jim Liberman's Camaro facing Raymond Beadle's "Blue Max" Mustang in a Funny Car match race on a Saturday night in the summer of 1970. It's Super Cobra Jet, ZL-1, SVO, IROC, Yenko, Shelby, 1LE, Saleen, Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins, Bob Glidden, Lee Shepherd, Mickey Thompson, Smokey Yunick, John Force and a billion impromptu stoplight-to-stoplight grand prix races. It's the longest sustained automotive rivalry in American history and it has just boiled over. Again. The latest development in this ongoing slugfest is the introduction of the 2011 Ford Mustang GT with its new DOHC 32-valve all-aluminum 5.0-liter V8. Thanks to the new 5.0 V8's 412-horsepower rating and a new six-speed manual, the Mustang GT is now a solid match-up with the recently reincarnated, 426-hp Camaro SS. To some, what's missing here is the Dodge Challenger R/T or Challenger SRT8. But the Challenger is really in a different class. It's much bigger, nowhere near as raw-nerved and doesn't necessarily attract the same sort of buyer. And prior experience means we know it would finish 3rd in an ultimately unfair comparison. So this one is heads-up — mano-a-mano. It's IL's $35,425 long-term 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS against a $37,600 2011 Ford Mustang GT yanked straight out of Ford's freshest crop of vehicles. Both have manual transmissions with six forward gears, but only the Camaro has optional Brembo front disc brakes. Detached objectivity? That's for figuring out whether the Camry or Accord is a better lease deal. Camaro vs. Mustang is a war fought across the landscape of our vehicular souls. It's how these cars feel that matters as much as what sort of numbers they generate. The Camaro and Mustang have never been more different from each other than they are now. And yet they've never been more evenly matched. Go figure. The Big Pedal on the Right There are those who will judge this match purely on drag strip performance. OK, fine. The Camaro SS is still quicker than the Mustang GT. But not by much. The Mustang may not pack the Camaro's visual firepower, but it's an easy car with which to live. On the quarter-mile at Auto Club Speedway in lush, parklike Fontana, California, IL's long-term Camaro SS whomped to 60 mph from a standstill in just 5.1 seconds with the traction control turned off (4.8 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip). The full quarter-mile went by in 13.1 seconds at 110.4 mph. Our red Mustang GT (on all-season Pirelli P Zero Nero tires) matched the Camaro SS's blast to 60 mph by hitting that speed in an identical 5.1 seconds from a standstill with the traction control turned off (4.8 seconds with 1 foot of rollout). But the quarter-mile took another two-tenths to complete with a slightly lower trap speed, 13.3 seconds at 107.3 mph. That's a razor-thin advantage for the Camaro and, just to throw in some additional ambiguity, we also tested another Mustang GT (this one in blue and wearing summer tires), which ripped to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds and blitzed the 1,320 feet in 13 seconds at 110.6 mph. That's the kind of razor's edge that can be measured in microns. Yeah, the straight-line performance is agonizingly close (and apparently varies car to car), but that doesn't mean the power plants of the Camaro SS and Mustang GT are clones of each other. With its advantage of 1.2 liters in displacement and old-school pushrod valvetrain, the Camaro's 6.2-liter LS3 V8 makes big chunks of torque down low in its power band (it peaks at 420 pound-feet at 4,600 rpm, but also makes plenty right off idle), and then pulls strong until it starves for air near its 6,400-rpm redline. It's a throwback engine with great bottom-end grunt and a pretty good top end. In contrast, the Mustang GT's 5.0-liter V8 puts its deep-breathing 32 valves controlled by dual overhead cams and variable valve timing to work, starting off a bit soft at the bottom end (all its 390 lb-ft of torque aren't available until 4,250 rpm), then pulls mightily through the midrange until it's screaming at its 7,000-rpm redline. This is a 21st-century V8, combining pretty good bottom-end thrust with a great top-end thrill zone. Forward Motion Both cars run six-speed manual transmissions, but where the Camaro SS uses the Tremec TR6060 (the updated version of the old BorgWarner T-56), the Mustang is equipped with the new Getrag MT-82. This is all to the Mustang's advantage, as the new Getrag shifts more precisely and more easily, and its 1st-to-4th fuel-sipping "skip shift" mode is less irritating than the Tremec's. Beyond this, the Getrag box stacks its gear ratios closely, as 5th is a direct-drive 1:1 ratio, while 6th goes deep into overdrive with a tall 0.65 ratio overdrive. It's all very well suited to the 5.0-liter Ford V8's personality and talents. In contrast, the Camaro's Tremec box has wider-spaced gears, with 5th a 0.84 overdrive and 6th gear even taller than the Mustang box with a 0.57 overdrive. Further pushing the Mustang's gearing advantage is a set of 3.73:1 final-drive gears, while the Camaro is geared notably taller with 3.45:1 cogs. Even though the Mustang takes more technique to launch or to run around a road course, it's easier to keep its engine boiling in its sweet spot because the transmission and gearing are so much more effective at this than the Camaro's. Conversely, that massive overdrive gear ratio and tall final drive in the Camaro mean that the torque-rich Chevy V8 is barely turning 1,500 rpm at 65 mph, which should pay off in fuel economy. Even so, the slightly smaller displacement of the Ford V8 helps the Mustang pull out a win in fuel economy. The EPA rates the Ford at 17 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway compared to the Chevy's 16 mpg and 24 mpg performance. (Your numbers may vary with the rate at which you incinerate tires.) That Big Round Thing in Front of You The most obvious difference between the Camaro's and Mustang's respective chassis is out back where the Chevy has a multilink independent suspension while the Ford retains the same sort of solid rear axle that underpinned the chariots of the Roman Legion. Ford has never tuned the Mustang's suspension better than on the '11 GT. There's a certain eagerness to how the Mustang reacts to steering inputs, as if the car just can't wait to move. Even with the traction control engaged, the Mustang GT is always dancing, ready to pounce and excited to test the limits of its P245/45R19 Pirelli P Zeroes. It's flat fun. As well tuned as the Mustang's solid axle is, however, it's still not an independent system. The Mustang's rear end takes its time to calm down after knocking against a pothole or bump, and this sort of skittishness can be unnerving. On the rugged freeway surfaces of Southern California, the Mustang's rear end never quite has a chance to settle in completely. It's as if the coil springs are always working back there and they want you to know it. Meanwhile the Camaro SS feels as if its summer-spec 245/45R20 Pirelli P Zeroes are sutured to the pavement with steel cables. The independent rear suspension produces a poised, comfortable ride the Mustang can't match, and deals with pavement hiccups almost casually. If the Mustang feels like it's skipping over the road, the Camaro feels like it's a smothering steamroller. The steering doesn't have the same giddy, light feel that you sense in the Mustang, but it's precise and quick enough. It's reassuring where the Mustang is entertaining. On the slalom course, the Mustang GT waltzes through at a respectable 65.9 mph while the Camaro goes full blitz at 68.2 mph. At the skid pad the Mustang orbits at 0.87g, while the Camaro is slightly better at 0.89g. The Camaro may not win the argument when it comes to the sense of subjective engagement by the driver, but its handling performance is undeniably impressive. The Brembo-equipped Camaro dominates the braking zone with consistent 111-foot stops from 60 mph. The best that the Mustang can do on its all-weather rubber is 117 feet. We should note, however, that the blue Mustang GT with the optional Brembos and summer tires did the job in just 109 feet. Everything Else It's been four years since the fifth-generation Camaro appeared in concept form, so familiarity has dulled the impact of its looks. We're all used to it now. But the Camaro is truly the most aggressively styled production car available for less than six figures. And, except for maybe the 1953 Corvette, GM has never had a production car that looked more like its concept car progenitor. Problem is, the Camaro's showcar appearance produces some showcar compromises. The roof is so low that even not-so-tall drivers have to make sure they don't whack their heads against it while getting in and out. Inside the cabin there are blind spots to the rear quarters that are big enough to hide the national debt, and the A-pillars are so fat you have to look around them to find a corner's apex. And the list only gets longer from there: The side mirrors are too small, the tiny trunk opening is hilariously misshapen and the doors are thick and heavy enough to knock a hole in your garage's wall. The Mustang might not pack the Camaro's visual firepower, but it's an easy car with which to live. Outward visibility is good for a car with a sloped rear window, the roof is tall enough to make ingress/egress issues irrelevant, the trunk opens down to the bumper and the doors each weigh less than a linebacker. The Mustang's outside mirrors have convex elements to mitigate blind spots, but they give up too much reflective acreage — the sub-mirrors should be optional. This red Mustang had been equipped with the "California Special" package that includes a billetlike grille, restyled bumper cover, side scoops and some tape stripes. But when you order the package, it deletes the iconic "5.0" fender badges. What's the point of buying a 5.0 without those? Skip the "Cliché Special" stuff and go for the clean Mustang GT. Inside the cabin, the Mustang truly pulls ahead of the Camaro. The interior is, by far, the Camaro's weakest element. It's a riot of gimmick styling and cheeseball plastic in there and everything feels less than satisfying to the touch. It's easy to imagine standing there at GM styling and listening to the executives as material quality is sacrificed on the altar of showcar design. Maybe if the dash design had been simplified they could have splurged for some better-grained surfaces? Maybe not. While the appearance of the Mustang's interior is nowhere near perfect, it's clearly better. The instrumentation is all grouped in front of the driver (the Camaro puts its ancillary gauges on the center console) and can be quickly scanned, the materials feel better and every switch is nicely weighted. The contours of the Mustang's front seats also fit you better, too. The bling-blingy-blingier chrome instrument surrounds should be toned down, but otherwise it's a straightforward cockpit. Through the decades neither the Camaro nor the Mustang has ever had a usable backseat. They still don't. Picking Ponies The numbers say the 2011 Mustang GT squeaks out a thin win in this comparison test. But it's a win based mostly on the personal preferences of the testers. Slot some guys in with different taste — who value ride quality and deep torque wells over quick reflexes and a zinging power plant — and the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS wins. It's that close. And they're that good. Both do their legends proud. But right now, it's the Mustang legend that gets rubbed with the better polish. Specs & Performance 2010 Chevrolet Camaro 2SS As-tested MSRP $35,425 Specs Horsepower (hp @ rpm) 426 @ 5,900 Torque (lb-ft @ rpm) 420 @ 4,600 Transmission type 6-speed manual Final-drive ratio (x:1) 3.45 Tire size, front 245/45ZR20 103Y Tire size, rear 275/40ZR20 106Y Brakes, front 14.0-inch ventilated disc with 4-piston fixed calipers Brakes, rear 14.4-inch ventilated disc with 4-piston fixed calipers Dimensions Curb weight, as tested (lbs.) 3,864 Weight distribution, as tested, f/r (%) 51.7/48.3 Length (in.) 190.4 Width (in.) 75.5 Height (in.) 54.2 Wheelbase (in.) 112.3 Performance 0-30 mph (sec.) 2.3 0-45 mph (sec.) 3.5 0-60 mph (sec.) 5.1 0-75 mph (sec.) 7.0 1/4-mile (sec. @ mph) 13.1 @ 110.4 0-60 with 1 foot of rollout (sec.) 4.8 Braking, 30-0 mph (ft.) 27 60-0 mph (ft.) 111 Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph) 68.2 Skid pad, 200-ft. diameter (lateral g) 0.89 Turning circle (ft.) 37.7 Edmunds observed (mpg) 17.0 Acceleration Comments - Tall gearing relative to the Mustang is frustrating even at the track. There's more than enough power here to overcome the available grip and saving a shift certainly saves time, but there's something distinctly unsatisfying about the Camaro's acceleration with this massively tall final-drive ratio and wide gear spacing. Drivetrain lash is evident in this car (odometer = 14.5k miles). Clutch stink present in this test, something we've never experienced before in testing the Camaro SS. Braking Comments - Very good pedal feel and response. Respectably short stopping distance and no sign of fade. Handling Comments - Camaro makes respectable handling numbers and is well mannered and quite well behaved on less-than-smooth roads, but it lacks the engagement of the more responsive Mustang. The 20-inch wheels and tires are noticeably heavy. Chassis heavily burdens its front tires. 2011 Ford Mustang GT Premium 2dr Coupe As-tested MSRP $37,600 Specs Horsepower (hp @ rpm) 412 @ 6,500 Torque (lb-ft @ rpm) 390 @ 4,250 Transmission type 6-speed manual Final-drive ratio (x:1) 3.73 Tire size, front P245/45 ZR19 98W M+S Tire size, rear P245/45 ZR19 98W M+S Brakes, front 13.2-inch ventilated disc with 2-piston sliding calipers Brakes, rear 11.8-inch ventilated disc with single-piston sliding calipers Dimensions Curb weight, as tested (lbs.) 3,660 Weight distribution, as tested, f/r (%) 54.1/45.9 Length (in.) 188.1 Width (in.) 73.9 Height (in.) 55.8 Wheelbase (in.) 107.1 Performance 0-30 mph (sec.) 2.1 0-45 mph (sec.) 3.4 0-60 mph (sec.) 5.1 0-75 mph (sec.) 7.3 1/4-mile (sec. @ mph) 13.3 @ 107.3 0-60 with 1 foot of rollout (sec.) 4.8 Braking, 30-0 mph (ft.) 30 60-0 mph (ft.) 117 Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph) 65.9 Skid pad, 200-ft. diameter (lateral g) 0.87 Turning circle (ft.) 33.4 Edmunds observed (mpg) 14.9 Acceleration Comments - Difficult to hook up leaving the line. Wants to bog or boil, so best launch with minimal wheelspin from about 2,500 rpm. Big rubber on 2-3 and 3-4 upshift. Impressive feeling of power and great engine sound. Tachometer doesn't keep up with engine, so early shifting is required in lower gears. Braking Comments - Not such a great performance considering what we know this platform is capable of producing. Stickier tires and Brembo brakes make things better. And 117 feet isn't great. Pedal too soft. Handling Comments - Stability control issue kept us from recording data. Overall grip down considerably relative to Mustang with summer tires. Same great balance, however. Instant turn-in can be a challenge in the slalom, but after time, one can adjust. Overall, still very good for a live-axle car.