The Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro have been going head-to-head since 1967, and the the competition has only gotten hotter with recent redesigns for both cars.
The good news is the latest versions of these pony cars are the best yet. When the Mustang was redesigned as a 2015 model—boasting a new sophisticated independent rear suspension, powerful and efficient drivetrains, and a comprehensive set of safety and technology features—we figured Chevrolet had a lot of work to do to. Then the 2016 Camaro arrived with the premium platform from the Cadillac ATS, at least 200 fewer pounds, and a full equipment set of its own.
It's time to stop calling both of these cars pony cars. They are now full-blown sports cars. But how do they compare to each other?
On the TCC scale--where practical stuff like safety wins out over ultimate performance editions--the Mustang outpoints the Chevy. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Both cars are a modern take on a retro design with a low and wide stance and muscular haunches. The Camaro, however, has a gun-slit greenhouse that imparts a menacing, chopped-top look. The Mustang, by comparison, features a graceful canopy that offers more outward vision.
We rate the Mustang higher for comfort and quality, mostly because it is easier to see out of and it has a bit more space.
Yes, the Mustang is still a 2+2 at heart with tight head room and leg room; but front-seat room is generous and the available Recaro seats are great. While a driver can now wear a helmet in the Camaro, front seat space is still tight, the rear seat won't hold much more than a backpack, and the trunk is shallow and narrow.
The materials quality of both interiors is higher than in the past, but these cockpits still have more hard plastics than we'd prefer.
But people don't buy these cars for accommodations. They buy them for their performance, and both deliver in spades. Much of the credit for the Camaro's excellent handling goes to its downsized, light-weighted footprint. The Alpha platform elevates its handling to a new level, and the ride and handling can be further enhanced with GM's excellent Magnetic Ride Control adaptive dampers.
This is the first generation of Mustang with an independent rear suspension and it contributes to wonderfully composed road manners car and huge track potential. On the road, the Mustang is nimble and forgiving, and flat through corners.
We find two elements of the dynamics in the Camaro's favor. The razor sharp steering is quite satisfying, and the rear end is better planted.
Engine performance is a wash. The Camaro's 335-horsepower V-6 can launch the car from 0 to 60 mph in about five seconds, which was V-8 territory just a few years ago. Both of the available turbo fours, on the other hand, can crack off 0-60 mph times of less than six seconds, but their power delivery and sound don't have the typical muscle car feel.
It's V-8 performance that matters most in these cars. The Camaro SS, rated at 455 hp and 455 pound-feet of torque, is sensational, with 60-mph times of 4.0 seconds just within reach. Ford's 5.0-liter V-8 checks in at 435 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. It revs wonderfully, and 0-to-60 mph times are pegged at about 4.5 seconds. For those who want more, the GT350's flat-plane crank, 526-hp 5.2-liter V-8 sounds like the lovechild of a Ferrari and a NASCAR stocker as it vaults the car from 0 to 60 mph in about four seconds. We haven't driven the new Camaro ZL1, but it's supercharged, 650-horse 6.2-liter V-8 will deliver 0 to 60 mph sprints in the mid-three-second range.
All that power can be had with decent fuel economy. The Camaro's V-8 checks in at 20 mpg in combined city/highway driving, while the Mustang's 5.0 gets 19 mpg combined. The Camaro V-6 is rated at 22 mpg combined, same as the Mustang's, and Ford's turbo-4 reaches 26 mpg in the combined cycle while the Camaro returns 25 mpg combined.
Safety is a point in the Mustang's favor, mainly because the Camaro hasn't been crash tested by the government yet. The two have essentially equal IIHS scores, but the Mustang pulls ahead by virtue of its 5-star NHTSA overall score. Both models offer a smattering of today's active safety features.
We view both cars as values. The Camaro is a bit more expensive model for model, but we like such features as the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, 4G LTE data services, and especially the available magnetic dampers. We must also recognize that the Camaro SS delivers performance on par with the Mustang GT350 for up to $12,000 less. Ford makes many of its performance features available in option packages, and we appreciate the available launch control and line lock.
In the final analysis, the Mustang and Camaro are great sports car choices. We prefer the steering and composure of the Camaro, and the outward sightlines and more usable space of the Mustang. If it's rip-roaring acceleration and handling you seek, SS or GT350...well, that's a question we've answered over at MotorAuthority by naming it our Best Performance Car To Buy 2016.