Camaro Beats Mustang: Here’s Why

The Drive’s chief auto critic explains his controversial stance in the muscle-car wars.

byLawrence Ulrich|
Mongoose Urban Hardshell Helmet

Call the Camaro the Alpha Dog.

The first 2016 Chevrolet Camaros are headed to showrooms from General Motors’ Lansing Grand River plant, the same Michigan facility that builds the acclaimed Cadillac ATS and CTS sport sedans. And that close household relationship—all three cars are built on the rear-drive Alpha platform—is one reason the new Camaro out-handles and out-guns its nemesis, the Ford Mustang.

Chalk up another home-team advantage: The Camaro’s direct-injected V8 engine is derived from the Corvette Stingray’s V8. With 455 horsepower and 455 pound-feet of torque, the LT1 V8 hustles the Camaro to 60 mph in 4 seconds flat, and through a quarter-mile drag in 12.3 seconds, leaving the Mustang in its dust. With its cylinder-deactivation technology, the Camaro SS also tops the Mustang GT in fuel economy, earning a 17/28 mpg split versus 16/25 for the ‘Stang. It’s the same story with the Cadillac-based, 335-horsepower 3.6-liter V6: The six-cylinder Camaro is significantly quicker than its Mustang counterpart.

Ford might also look with envy on the Camaro’s stellar ZF rack-and-pinion steering, sophisticated adjustable magnetic suspension and eight-speed automatic transmission—all generous donations from Cadillac, Corvette or both. You can’t get any of them on a Mustang GT. And the Camaro scores on steering, handling and slick shifting in part because of that techno trickle-down; including the brilliant chassis that happens to underpin the BMW-beating ATS-V and 640-horsepower CTS-V.

Do we detect a pattern here? GM, at long last, is leveraging its giant corporate toolkit to build the best performance cars its designers and engineers can imagine. It’s not being hamstrung by the old turf wars, the idea that one division’s best technology is too good or valuable to share with other brands.

GM, of course, was once the king of wrong-way platform sharing and so-called “badge engineering,” with Chevys, Pontiacs and Buicks that were largely identical—and mediocre or worse—under the skin. The company spun the execrable Chevrolet Cavalier of the early Eighties into the Cadillac Cimarron, still perhaps the most notorious bait-and-switch in luxury-car history. The Camaro finds GM taking the opposite tack, opening up its finest china cabinet of technology to serve its most populist brand.

But while GM is doing the noblesse oblige thing, Ford can’t do the same: Its Lincoln division has nothing that Ford wants, whether in design, technology or performance. Lincoln has been the dirty urchin of luxury brands, rattling its cup and begging for leftovers from its heartless Ford parent.

Sure, that didn’t prevent Ford from building its own worthy Mustang, or a brilliant Shelby GT350 that we wish the late Carroll Shelby could have seen, and driven.The good stuff includes the overhead-camshaft 5-liter Coyote V8, and history’s first mass-produced Mustang with an independent rear suspension. Ford, to its credit, has developed solid hybrid technology and shared it with the Lincoln brand.

But in sharp contrast to GM’s Alpha platform, Ford isn’t getting any extra bang for its Mustang R&D buck. And on the luxury front, Ford’s sharing has gone the wrong way, with tarted-up Lincolns based on Ford front-drive platforms.

Sure, Lincoln is expected to roll out its reborn Continental sedan in January at the Detroit auto show. It’s a looker, too, a nice change from the brand’s usual whale-faced Ford retreads. But it’s a decade late, at minimum. The Continental name, held out as some kind of magic talisman, means less than nothing to today’s luxury buyers—except perhaps as an analog to Magnavox, Woolworth or another dusty relic that could no longer compete.

The Continental will be based on yet another Ford Fusion-derived front-drive platform (modified to allow all-wheel drive) that has doomed Lincoln after Lincoln. These rides have fallen flat for years, so why should this Continental be any different? Yet right on cue, the media is trotting out the same bogus Lincoln revival story that Ford has been pushing for decades.

As Acura did a few years ago—with middling results like the insipid RL and RLX sedans—Lincoln has been insisting that it doesn’t have to compete with the Germans, or apparently Cadillac, to be successful. (Read: We don’t have to mess with rear-drive, high-performing cars.) To that end, Lincoln has a new slogan, “Quiet Luxury,” that recalls a down comforter more than it does a car. And from the evidence of crossovers like the MKC and MKX, based respectively on the Ford Escape and Edge, that’s what Lincoln intends to build: cushy fluff for sleep-deprived buyers, or retirees who couldn’t use that Googly thing to find a Lexus dealer.

Ford could easily share its own cup of sugar. The Mustang platform and its fierce-revving V8 could help reinvigorate its luxury marque via a performance coupe, one that would give the brand desperately needed cred with younger, sport-minded luxury buyers. (Unlike some Fords, the Mustang has a platform worth sharing.) Ford could make Lincoln a hotbed for the latest technology and German-baiting, brand-boosting performance.

Will that happen? “Quiet Luxury” suggests no.

GM’s commitment to building and sharing its Alpha platform and technology tells you not just why the Camaro kicks the Mustang’s butt, but why Cadillac will continue to kick Lincoln’s. That’s not to say Cadillac is faultless. It sorely needs German thinking in its cabins and Jaguar thinking on its pricing strategy, but at least GM has developed the necessary tools to make the cars worthy of battle.

As for Camaro vs. Mustang? Well, when a Chevy wields such weaponry, it makes for an unfair fight.