2015 Ford Mustang GT vs. Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE, Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack – Comparison Tests

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It’s hard to reconcile the 2015 Ford Mustang and its competitors with the city in which muscle cars were born. While decaying Detroit slogs through bankruptcy proceedings, still shrugging off the millstones of its past and working hard to get up and running again, the Ford is fully transformed into something sleek and modern. Meanwhile, its two direct and highly successful foes have recently been freshened with changes of their own.

The new sixth-generation Mustang finally gets an independent rear suspension, a mainstream-Mustang first and the equivalent of Detroit hosting the Olympics. That’s matched by a redesigned front suspension supported by a lighter, stiffer subframe. Nestled in that subframe, the 5.0-liter V-8 straps on a new intake manifold, heads, and valvetrain, raising output from last year’s 420 horsepower and 390 pound-feet to 435 and 400, respectively. The car’s basic profile is familiar, but at anything closer than field-artillery range, the stretched proportions and tauter skin are unmistakable. The rear haunches sit wider than before and are crowned with sharper creases; the view from the front is all fangs and sinew; and the body sides are sucked in, giving the impression of a narrower car though it’s actually 1.5 inches wider.

Pricing for the V-8 GT starts at $32,925, but with a list of options that includes the Performance package’s suspension up­grades and adaptive cruise control, ours climbed to a somewhat Germanic $45,885.

It’s nowhere near as thorough a rework, but the 2015 Dodge Challengergreets the redesigned Mustang with some cosmetic surgery of its own, including a new nose and rear fascia. Dodge continues to vigorously plunder its past with the new R/T Scat Pack, which takes its name from a 1968-71 Dodge marketing program and takes its engine from the modern-day SRT.

The 6.4-liter’s output creeps up to 485 horsepower and 475 pound-feet of torque, embarrassing the outputs of the Mustang and Camaro. The Scat Pack also upgrades the brakes and includes the Challenger’s new Super Track Pak, which lowers the suspension a half-inch and fits Bilstein shocks and larger anti-roll bars. Think of the Scat Pack as an SRT without the badges and for $7500 less. At $39,490, our base Scat Pack was both the cheapest and the most powerful car in this test.

A whole year has passed since the Chevrolet Camaro got its new head- and taillights, but it’s not yet wearing grooves in the porch with its rocking chair. The 426-hp SS 1LE is more or less a ZL1 without the supercharger. It pilfers a bunch of suspension parts, a strut-tower brace, close-ratio transmission with a cooler, and a high-pressure fuel system from the ZL1. With Recaros lifted from the Z/28, a boisterous dual-mode exhaust, and a few other extras, the Camaro tallies at $41,880.

If not Detroit, then where do cars like these belong? To test their high-tension suspensions, we set a course four and a half hours southeast to Pittsburgh and the Allegheny foothills. Just as many of Detroit’s assembly lines have slowed and stopped, the fires died one by one in Steel City’s mills, too. But today, Pittsburgh thrives as an Appalachian ­Silicon Valley, drawing the likes of Apple and Google and consistently ranking among the best cities in America for just about anything—starting a business, raising a family, or drunkenly brawling at football tailgates. And had Henry Ford settled in these hills instead of the flatlands of Detroit, an American car that handles might not be such an anomaly.

2015 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack

Third place: Pittsburgh Squealers.

2015 Ford Mustang GT vs. Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE, Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack

The Challenger R/T is the only car in its class weighing more than two tons and, until now, was the only one with less than 400 horsepower. Fitting the SRT engine into the more affordable Scat Pack, then, was an inspired move. From the ornery cough at startup to the active exhaust’s withering roar under wide-open throttle, the big Hemi defines the Scat Pack. With 50 more horsepower than the Mustang and 55 more pound-feet of torque than the Camaro, the Challenger posted a better quarter-mile run than either enemy, both of which are lighter.

But the engine isn’t even the Scat Pack’s biggest surprise. On our Pittsburgh loop’s wet blind crests—yes, it rained—and sharply decreasing radii, the Super Track Pak’s upgraded suspension managed the Challenger’s 4226 pounds far better than expected. And its stability control finally gets a full-off mode, although a brake override cuts the throttle if you try to roll a burnout for too long. (Hey, you know that this stuff matters when the Mustang offers a ­factory front-brake line-lock mode for mega burnouts.)

It might handle better than expected, but the Scat still doesn’t stick as well as the other two. Its 0.91 g on the skidpad is a full tenth behind the Camaro’s perform­ance, and it finished last in the slalom as well. Dodge’s engineers have done an impressive job of taming the Challenger’s bulk, but they would do better if they could simply reduce it. It’s the longest, widest, tallest, and heaviest car here. If we wanted to make a bad pony-car joke, we might call the Challenger a Clydesdale. But that would be inaccurate; it’s more like driving Hillsdale, Michigan (population: 8305). It feels about 1.5 lanes wide. Out on rural Pennsylvania’s Midget Camp and Hypocrite Creek roads, we pined for one of our other, smaller cars.

At least there’s plenty of crush space around all occupants should you meet anything larger than a three-wheeled tuk-tuk head-on. The Dodge is huge inside, with the most spacious front seat and the test’s only real, habitable back seat. We know from experience that you can fit six 7.5×17-inch wheels in the trunk—or, if you’d like to stick with the Scat Pack theme, 16 cubic feet of fertilizer. And when it came time to aim our convoy along Ohio’s flat and featureless I-80 for home, nobody complained about the Challenger’s comparatively cushy ride. But neither was anyone quite as impressed with the newfound control of that big body after sampling either of the two other cars here.

2015 Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE

Second place: Pittsburgh Squealers.

2015 Ford Mustang GT vs. Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE, Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack

Hand-me-downs lose their whiff of sadness when they come from someone you love. The Camaro ZL1 is one such someone, its greatest feat not being the 580 horsepower its supercharged V-8 produces, but the ingratiating way in which its chassis handles that output. That chassis lends the 1LE its toe links, rear shock mounts, and wheel bearings, while the anti-roll bars are modeled after those that tame the ZL1’s power. The 1LE also gets the ZL1’s front tires (Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar G: 2s measuring 285/35ZR-20) on all four corners.

The result is a car that feels as if it belongs on a racetrack and in a faster class than the Challenger and the Mustang. The steering is hefty and immediate and the unanimous favorite among our voters. So, too, was the neutral handling balance, a preference cemented at the test track, where the Camaro circled the skidpad at 1.01 g’s. A decade ago, you’d be lucky to get performance like that out of a six-figure supercar. We can’t say the same for the 145-foot stop from 70 mph, but only because you’d be lucky to get that out of a six-figure supercar today. Despite that fact, a touch of mush at the top of the pedal travel relegated the 1LE to second in the brake-pedal scoring. And we loved the faux-suede steering wheel, an easy grab for sweaty mitts.

The 2014 face lift also brought about a dual-mode exhaust system that isn’t an option so much as a privilege. The unmistakable shade of Corvette in the pipes gives this 426-hp pillbox an exhaust note that is pure battle cry. Back that engine up with a tight gearbox and a linear clutch and you’ve got a powertrain to match the neck-straining chassis.

But after cycling through the cars, senior editor Tony Quiroga stepped out of the Camaro and proclaimed it a great track car—a meaningful distinction, as he called the Mustang a great road car (and the Challenger a great SUV). For all its heroics, the 1LE’s stiff suspension beats up the occupants on bumpy drives. And while the ­Mustang brings an unprecedented level of in­teri­or polish to the class, the Camaro still plumbs the same old depths of penny pinching. It does have its upmarket touches—that steering wheel and the matching shifter for example—and the designers’ ambitions are apparent. But they’re executed in generation-old plastics on the lower dash, console, and elsewhere. It’s a jarring pairing, like wearing a custom-tailored shirt with sweat pants. Stained sweat pants.

The Camaro 1LE is a spectacular car, a testimony to what a group of focused engineers can accomplish even inside a monolith like General Motors. But it’s definitely single-purpose. The suspension trades comfort for capability to a degree that is hard to appreciate anywhere but on a track, and this interior would feel cramped and cheap at half of the 1LE’s price. We expect the sixth-generation Camaro to bow next year and for it to be a tidier package. Turn the 1LE team loose on a smaller, lighter car and even the new Mustang will be feeling the heat.

2015 Ford Mustang GT

First place: Pittsburgh Squealers.

2015 Ford Mustang GT vs. Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE, Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack

It can take many miles to understand an average car’s strengths, but in exceptional cars, virtues become apparent within the first few hundred yards. Even if you were to idle the new Mustang across a perfectly smooth surface—say, a showroom floor, an under­taking readers are advised to pursue—its specialness would show. It is remarkable how tight this car feels. The slightest steering input results in an immediate reaction. A salesman’s pen on the tile beneath a front tire would register as a mi­nute twitch of the steering wheel. It’s as if every bolt between the fire wall and the front hubs is torqued to the verge of snapping (minus the sense of imminent catastrophe). There is simply no slack here.

This example was further tightened via the Performance pack. It includes stiffer springs, bushings, and rear dampers. There’s a thicker rear anti-roll bar, a front-subframe K brace, and brakes from the outgoing GT500. Signals beamed from the tires reach your brain so clearly that you’d think the rear contact patches are your left and right buttocks. It’s a sensation amplified by the long hood and how far back in the car the driver sits. Ford says that with this package, the GT will lap a racetrack even quicker than the gen-five Boss 302. And, unlike the Camaro, the Mustang remains engaging but never abusive on public roads.

A great chassis demands an equivalent engine, and Ford’s reworked 5.0 is it. It revs freely and pulls linearly, and its quick throttle makes slight output adjustments easy. We ranked it behind the Challenger’s engine only because its muted vocals sound as though the mufflers are stuffed with cotton. That won’t do in the first vehicle to offer a factory line lock. Drag racers have been adding these locks to their cars for decades; this one should quiet those folks pining for the old stick axle. Activate the Mustang’s through the instrument-panel menu and it holds the front brakes tight while you dump the clutch and perform hellacious stationary burnouts. Ford cautions that it is “intended for use only on racetracks” and that “racing your vehicle will void your warranty.” But expecting owners to wait until the warranty is up to engage this function is like thinking Justin Verlander is waiting until marriage to test-drive Kate Upton.

For as similar as they are dimensionally, the Mustang feels dramatically different from the Camaro. It’s just 2.3 inches shorter, 0.1 inch narrower, and 0.2 inch taller. But the Mustang’s higher side glass grants the driver spectacular views all around, and trim B- and C-pillars make this the only car of the bunch that doesn’t desperately need a rearview camera. The stitched dash pad, soft-touch panels, and matte-silver toggle switches give the impression that designers fussed over every detail. A compact shifter that could have come from a Honda slides through snug gates as it actuates a tight new linkage. Certain aspects of the interior, such as the “ground speed” label in the speedometer and the vacuum gauge atop the center stack, slip into aeronautical silliness, but the Mustang’s interior is far and away the sharpest in class.

We voted the Challenger’s engine and the Camaro’s chassis our favorites, but both of those cars have glaring shortcomings not found in the Mustang. That bandwidth and adaptability make the Mustang our choice as the best product of Detroit’s muscle-car revival.

COMPARISON TESTS

VEHICLE
2015 Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE 2015 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack 2015 Ford Mustang GT
BASE PRICE $34,500 $39,490 $32,925
PRICE AS TESTED $41,880 $39,490 $45,885
DIMENSIONS
LENGTH 190.6 inches 197.9 inches 188.3 inches
WIDTH 75.5 inches 75.7 inches 75.4 inches
HEIGHT 54.2 inches 57.5 inches 54.4 inches
WHEELBASE 112.3 inches 116.2 inches 107.1 inches
FRONT TRACK 63.7 inches 63.4 inches 62.3 inches
REAR TRACK 63.7 inches 63.8 inches 64.9 inches
INTERIOR VOLUME F: 52 cubic feet
R: 31 cubic feet
F: 56 cubic feet
R: 38 cubic feet
F: 55 cubic feet
R: 32 cubic feet
TRUNK 11 cubic feet 16 cubic feet 14 cubic feet
POWERTRAIN
ENGINE pushrod 16-valve V-8
376 cu in (6162 cc)
pushrod 16-valve V-8
391 cu in (6410 cc)
DOHC 32-valve V-8
302 cu in (4951 cc)
POWER HP @ RPM 426 @ 5900 485 @ 6000 435 @ 6500
TORQUE LB-FT @ RPM 420 @ 4600 475 @ 4200 400 @ 4250
REDLINE / FUEL CUTOFF 6200/6600 rpm 6000/6400 rpm 7000/7000 rpm
LB PER HP 9.1 8.7 8.8
DRIVELINE
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual 6-speed manual 6-speed manual
DRIVEN WHEELS rear rear rear
GEAR RATIO:1/
MPH PER 1000 RPM/
MAX MPH
2.66/7.7/51
1.78/11.5/76
1.30/15.8/104
1.00/20.8/137
0.74/28.4/156
0.50/41.1/144
2.97/7.2/46
2.10/10.3/66
1.46/14.7/94
1.00/21.4/137
0.74/28.9/176
0.50/43.1/155
3.66/6.0/42
2.43/8.9/62
1.69/12.7/89
1.32/16.3/114
1.00/21.3/149
0.65/34.2/164
AXLE RATIO:1 3.91 3.90 3.73
CHASSIS
SUSPENSION F: struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
R: multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar
F: control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar
R: multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar
F: struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
R: multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar
BRAKES F: 14.0-inch vented disc
R: 14.4-inch vented disc
F: 14.2-inch vented, grooved disc
R: 13.8-inch vented, grooved disc
F: 15.0-inch vented disc
R: 13.0-inch vented disc
STABILITY CONTROL fully defeatable, traction off, competition mode fully defeatable, competition mode fully defeatable, traction off, competition mode, launch control
TIRES Goodyear
Eagle F1 Supercar
G: 2
285/35ZR-20 (100Y)
Goodyear
Eagle F1 Supercar
245/45ZR-20 99Y
Pirelli
P Zero
F: 255/40ZR-19 96Y
R: 275/40ZR-19 101Y
C/D TEST RESULTS
ACCELERATION
0–30 MPH 1.9 sec 1.9 sec 1.9 sec
0–60 MPH 4.5 sec 4.4 sec 4.5 sec
0–100 MPH 10.3 sec 10.2 sec 10.4 sec
0–150 MPH 30.2 sec 27.0 sec 25.4 sec
¼-MILE @ MPH 12.9 sec @ 111 12.9 sec @ 113 13.0 sec @ 113
ROLLING START, 5–60 MPH 5.1 sec 4.8 sec 4.9 sec
TOP GEAR, 30–50 MPH 11.0 sec 11.5 sec 9.6 sec
TOP GEAR, 50–70 MPH 10.8 sec 11.3 sec 9.0 sec
TOP SPEED 156 mph (gov ltd) 176 mph (drag ltd) 164 mph (gov ltd)
CHASSIS
BRAKING 70–0 MPH 145 feet 151 feet 149 feet
ROADHOLDING,
300-FT-DIA SKIDPAD
1.01 g 0.91 g 0.95 g
610-FT SLALOM 44.2 mph 42.0 mph 43.0 mph
WEIGHT
CURB 3884 pounds 4226 pounds 3810 pounds
%FRONT/%REAR 52.6/47.4 55.1/44.9 53.8/46.2
CG HEIGHT 19.0 inches 20.5 inches 20.0 inches
FUEL
TANK 19.0 gallons 18.5 gallons 16.0 gallons
RATING 91 octane 91 octane 93 octane
EPA CITY/HWY 16/24 mpg 14/23 mpg 15/25 mpg
C/D 700-MILE TRIP 17 mpg 16 mpg 17 mpg
SOUND LEVEL
IDLE 52 dBA 55 dBA 49 dBA
FULL THROTTLE 86 dBA 85 dBA 81 dBA
70-MPH CRUISE 72 dBA 72 dBA 72 dBA
Final Results
VEHICLE
RANK
Max Pts. Available
1
2015 Ford Mustang GT
2
2015 Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE
3
2015 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack
DRIVER COMFORT 10 9 7 8
ERGONOMICS 10 8 7 8
REAR-SEAT COMFORT 5 1 2 3
REAR-SEAT SPACE* 5 3 3 5
TRUNK SPACE* 5 4 3 5
FEATURES/AMENITIES* 10 10 6 6
FIT AND FINISH 10 9 7 8
INTERIOR STYLING 10 9 6 7
EXTERIOR STYLING 10 10 9 8
REBATES/EXTRAS* 5 0 0 0
AS-TESTED PRICE* 20 18 19 20
SUBTOTAL 100 81 69 78

POWERTRAIN
1/4-MILE ACCELERATION* 20 20 20 20
FLEXIBILITY* 5 4 4 4
FUEL ECONOMY* 10 10 10 9
ENGINE NVH 10 9 9 10
TRANSMISSION 10 9 9 9
SUBTOTAL 55 52 52 52

CHASSIS
PERFORMANCE* 20 18 20 16
STEERING FEEL 10 9 10 7
BRAKE FEEL 10 9 8 7
HANDLING 10 9 10 6
RIDE 10 9 7 9
SUBTOTAL 60 54 55 45

EXPERIENCE
FUN TO DRIVE 25 24 24 20

GRAND TOTAL
240
211
200
195

* These objective scores are calculated from the vehicle’s dimensions, capacities, rebates and extras, and/or test results.

(caranddriver.com)

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