Modern ponycars have progressed a lot in the past 50 years. While the Ford Mustang started the ponycar craze, the Chevy Camaro and Dodge Challenger have caught up (and surpassed it) in many ways. If you are looking for a new ponycar, I hope that this post will help you.
2015 Ford Mustang: The 2015 Ford Mustang is pretty groundbreaking. It’s the first Mustang to come from the factory with fully independent front AND rear suspension. Most Mustangs that had IRS (independent rear suspension) were factory hot-rod specials (Mustang Cobra, SVO, etc.). Not any more. The 2015 Mustang comes right off of the assembly line with IRS in any iteration. Previous generations of Mustang used an antiqued live rear axle circa 1964. Going over a bump or around a curve was not for the faint of heart. Axle hop is scary, especially if you happen to be going at a high rate of speed. Motor Trend recently tested a 2015 Mustang GT, and found that it weighed a whopping 196 pounds heavier than the previous generation. While this certainly isn’t Ford’s first foray into IRS with the Mustang, the rear end bobbling around while on the gas is not fun, and neither is massive understeer when the gas is let off.
However, that’s NOT how most Mustang drivers are going to drive their car. IRS pays off big time when you’re cruising in any car. The IRS is worlds better than a live axle when you’re cruising. In previous generations of Mustang, one small bump was enough to make you think that the semi in the lane next to you would be the last thing that you’d see. Think about how much you drive on the freeway. It’s a lot, right? Heavier is often better on the freeway. Not for fuel economy, mind you, but for cruising. You just feel more planted to the ground.
Powering the Mustang is Ford’s fabulous (and famous) 302 cubic inch V-8 (5.0 liters). It’s lightweight, aluminum, and it’s got a lot of power. It’s got 435 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque, thank in no small part to the previous-generation Boss 302’s valves, springs, connecting rods, and crankshaft. Part of what makes this engine so fun is the fact that it loves to rev. It doesn’t rev high, but it revs better than a pushrod V-8 has any right to. A big part of a muscle car is driving around with the windows down and listening to that sweet thundering bellow that these engines make. Ford’s 302 sounds good…once you put an aftermarket exhaust system on it. I’m going to hedge a safe bet that 2015 Mustang owners will go straight to the muffler shop right after the warranty runs out. Putting that power to the ground is either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic. Go for the manual. It automatically makes a car more fun to drive. Trust me. I drive a stick.
The base engine is a high-revving 3.7-liter V6 borrowed from the Interceptor Utility. It’s a good engine, but my first choice is the 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine. It’s small, but it’s got a turbocharger on it. I know that a turbocharger does not a car make, but it does in this case. Here’s why you should get the Mustang EcoBoost: Lower weight, better fuel economy, and 320 lb-ft of torque. Getting the EcoBoost Mustang also shaves a massive 96 pounds off of the front of the car. Listening to the EcoBoost Mustang is fun, thanks to an amplified exhaust note. It’s got a series of growls and pops, and when you pop the hood, you hear whooshes and whistles from the twin-scroll turbocharger.
Stopping the porky Mustang is a set of big Brembo slotted disc brakes. Brembo makes probably the best brakes in the world. They never overheat or lose stopping distance. The brakes on the Mustang are almost 15 inches tall, and they work great, stopping the overweight pony in just 107 feet. By no means is the EcoBoost Mustang meant to be a replacement for the Mustang GT – the Mustang GT is a completely different car. It’s just meant to be a fun alternative to it.
2015 Chevrolet Camaro: Ever since it made a big splash in the ponycar segment in 2010, the Camaro has been an entertaining car. In SS form, it comes with a free-revving LS3 6.2-liter V-8 making 426 horsepower. It’s got visibility akin to a ski mask, but the burbling, rumbling engine note is almost enough to forgive the visibility. However, an engine does not a car make. The SS without the 1LE package understeered my dear friend at Motor Trend, Jonny Lieberman, right off of the track at Willow Springs International Raceway. That would be traumatizing for anybody. Not Jonny! He’s driven just about every current-generation Camaro, and the best he’s driven is the fire-breathing Z/28. I’m still jealous. For us mere mortals that don’t have $75,000 to spend on a Chevrolet Camaro, the SS 1LE is almost as good a driver’s car. It’s simply unflappable. You’re going to make a mistake before the car does, let’s put it that way. Why is that? Well, it’s got specatcular magneothermal shocks borrowed from the Corvette ZR1 and Camaro ZL1. This is the Camaro to (almost) end all Camaros. Jonny’s fallen in love with this car – for good reason. It’s just one of those cars that begs you to go faster around the next corner. I would kill for a Z/28 Camaro, but until then, my faithful readers will have to get me a SS 1LE.
2015 Dodge Challenger: The big news about the Challenger is the Hellcat. For about $60,000, you can have THE most powerful factory muscle car ever. It’s not as powerful as the current bunch of hypercars, nor is it as fast. But, it’s far, far cheaper. I mean, who doesn’t want 707 horsepower? If you can’t afford the Hellcat, it’s all good. You can get the Challenger Scat Pack. You can get a car with 485 horsepower for under $40,000! The problem with the Challenger is weight. It’s simply not a small car. It’s big, wide, loud, powerful, and it soaks up anything the road can throw at it with ease. It’s also 400 pounds heavier than the Camaro 1LE. You won’t notice the weight in a straight line because it’s got more horsepower than it’s rivals. The Challenger isn’t something you want to take in tight, windy roads. It’s just too big. It is, however, the car that you would want to tour the country in. The Hellcat is insanely loud – I’ve heard one at speed, and it sounds about as loud as a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car. It’s that loud. Dialing the Challenger back into the realm of sanity is the Challenger Scat Pack. It’s got the 6.4-liter HEMI V-8 from the Challenger SRT8, and it just howls and revs to the heavens. It sounds like a mini Hellcat, minus the blower whine. Speaking of blower whine, the Hellcat got it just right. The engine was so loud that they had to put an amplifying cooling chamber in the supercharger itself to make it be heard. A job well done, Dodge. The Challenger is the car you want to take on a road trip. It’s big, comfortable, it can take two large coolers and luggage in the trunk, and it can take the kids, or two buddies easily in the back. Driving this with the windows down is the only way to drive it. You can just sit back and listen the the burbling, howling, crackling exhaust note that sounds right out of a vintage Trans Am race. Want to know what the Hellcat sounds like? It sounds like NASCAR, a Ferrari V8, a plane, and a Top Fuel dragster, with blower whine mixed in. It’s a haunting, addictive melody. It’s the car that you just want to cruise around in, revving the engine and doing burnouts and donuts in empty parking lots.
Overall, which car would I take? That’s hard to say. The Mustang EcoBoost is certainly a good choice, but you just can’t hear the engine itself very well. The Camaro Z/28 is an excellent choice, too, but it’s a stripped-down track toy that’s not meant for daily driving (case in point: air conditioning is an option). The Camaro 1LE is good, too, so I’d probably get the 1LE Camaro. The Challenger? Hellcat, Hellcat, Hellcat! It’s just the very definition of muscle car. It’s so powerful that when you’re going straight with ALL of the nannies on, it will still go completely sideways. Think of another modern car that can do that. I certainly can’t.
If I had to go with just one of these cars, I’d get the Hellcat. It’s the very definition of affordable performance, and even a tuner car Mustang with 800 horsepower won’t be the same. The most powerful Camaro offered is the 580-horsepower ZL1, which handily beats the 435-horse Mustang. Just go with the Hellcat and let me know when you get it! I’ll feature you, sing praises about the Hellcat (it shouldn’t be too hard), and never stop saying thank you.
P.S. Ford made the Mustang Cobra Jet (a factory drag-strip only special) until August, but there are some to be found at various racing dealerships or classifieds. I’ve even seen a few in Hemmings Motor News.
P.P.S. Chevrolet makes the COPO Camaro (also a factory drag-strip special). It’s got more engine choices than the Cobra Jet, and it looks pretty darn cool.