|2010 Chevrolet Camaro
|2011 Ford Mustang
By Bill Clark
Pony Car Retro Face-Off:
Who wouldn’t want a ’68 Camaro or 64-1/2 Mustang in their garage – much less as their daily driver? I have lusted after a ’68 Camaro ever since I skipped school one day of my sophomore year in high school with my older brother’s friend. He had a bright orange 1968 Camaro – rusted out and torn up, but with a pumped up V8 engine and manual transmission. We practiced burn-outs for a few hours in an abandoned parking lot and then when all the kids were out front waiting for the buses, he performed an amazing display of power by leaving 30 feet of skid marks and plenty of smoke. Those were the days!
But that was then. Now I’m a middle-aged engineering professional and parent, working 50-60 hours per week with responsibilities at home too. Who has the time and money for the classic muscle car obsession? And for those that do, can you daily drive it? Would you daily drive it?
It’s no secret that I love the modern retro cars that U.S. manufacturers have been churning out the last few years. But retro is only cool to a point. There are actually good reasons why certain design elements have been discarded over the years. I was fortunate enough to drive a couple examples of modern retro back-to-back. The classic rival pair – a 2010 Chevy Camaro and a 2010 Mustang – both very impressive cars, yet in very different ways. I have always been an import sports car driver and I have never driven a Mustang or Camaro – new or old. So comparing the two were a revelation to me. I’d always just arbitrarily chosen to prefer Camaros over Mustangs. Now I’m questioning that decision.
The main thing I was looking for driving these cars was which one hits home and really stirs the soul. Which one takes you back to those magical days when no one worried about ‘the law’, or the price of gas, or how bald your rear tires were. Which one is the driver’s car? Which one would I choose?
They both managed to make the freeway miles disappear, but in different ways. The Mustang was fairly stable in a straight line, but I felt the suspension was not well damped. This gave it a kind of retro floaty feeling going down the highway – not my preference. The Camaro, on the other hand, was a rock solid freeway cruiser that was very well damped. The same held true for cornering performance where again, the Camaro felt rock solid and the mustang felt uninspiring. The Camaro was perfect for my tastes for highway and canyon carving traits.
From a driving dynamics, ergonomics and driver interface standpoint, the Mustang was the clear winner. The V8 helped of course, but I felt like I was driving the Mustang and just riding in the Camaro. The Camaro isolated the driver from the driving experience too much.
The new Camaro is, hands-down and by a wide margin, the best looking of the two cars. Despite the enormous size of the Camaro, everyone who saw it loved it. The Imperial Blue Metallic color was just spectacular on our tester. My test vehicle was appointed with the ‘RS’ appearance package, which is a must-have, no-brainer option at $1,500.00. It comes with powerful HID headlamps trimmed out with striking Halo rings, 20-inch wheels with 245 front and 275 rear tires, rear trunk-lid spoiler, and RS-unique tail lamps that are smoked just a shade darker than the non-RS. It really has a presence on the road. I have never driven a car that turned so many heads. Older Camaros weave through traffic to get a look. Import-tuners cower and don’t make eye-contact. BMW drivers size up the car, not sure what to do – they try not to let you see them staring.
The 2010 Mustang isn’t so lucky in the looks department. The front-end is definitely an improvement over the 2009, but I preferred the 2009 rear end styling. In-between the front and rear? I dunno – it looks kind of pieces together and doesn’t seem to flow well as one cohesive unit. Part of it could have been that hideous Grabber Blue paint. It turned heads alright – but mostly away from the car. Repulsive blue is more like it. Maybe that’s too harsh. Out of all the hundred or so people that saw the Mustang over the course of a week, only two people said they liked the paint; Peter and some random older woman at the grocery store.
Build quality goes to Ford. Switches are solid without feeling clunky. Materials just look better and feel better and controls like shifters, blinkers, etc feel very solid. The Mustang delivers a decidedly upscale interior.
All the controls and surfaces in the Camaro just feel like cheap plastic.
Does anyone care about trunk space in a muscle car? The Mustang had decent usable space, but the Camaro’s trunk opening is so small once you open the large-ish metal deck lid, I had to laugh. So there’s space in there, but you won’t be getting much use out of it because getting things to fit through the opening is worse than an 80 pound Labrador trying to squeeze into a rabbit hole. Good thing the rear seats fold down.
Interior Comfort and Ergonomics:
Interior comfort is a draw. The seats in the Mustang felt well-bolstered and seemed to fit my small frame better, but the thick, black leather used on the seats does not breathe at all. My backside was literally sweating – even on a cool day with the A/C on. Yuck! The seats had heaters, but I was sweating already without the bun-warmers. The seats in the Camaro were made of buttery soft, perforated leather that breathes very well. Even with the seat warmer on, I was still comfortable, although they seemed a bit large for my frame. Very nice indeed.
Ergonomics and driving dynamics go to the Mustang, hands-down. Everything is in the right place and feels great – the retro-looking, yet very comfortable and modern-feeling steering wheel, the wonderful round billet shifter knob. The seating position was great. The transmission throws were rifle-bolt action smooth and positive, the clutch pedal pressure was perfect and the friction engagement point on the transmission was linear and predictable and made it very easy to launch – for both aggressive and easy driving. Rear visibility is great. From a driver input/ergonomics standpoint, it does not get much better. The pedals even facilitate heel-toe shifting! Who knew Mustangs were this good?
The Camaro wasn’t so lucky in the ergonomics department. The temperature and pressure gauges were on the floor, partially blocked by the shifter and their shiny plastic covers reflected every bit of glare from the sunlight, making them useless for normal driving. Maybe they’d be okay at the drag strip when you are not looking at any gauges for 10-15 seconds and then maybe just between runs, but the serious ¼ mile junkies will probably throw them out in favor of some custom gauges.
The Achilles heel for the Camaro’s ergonomics is the steering wheel. It looks retro and all, but it’s an odd shape. Sure, its round, but the cross-sectional shape of the steering wheel grip surface gives a fairly sharp ridge where your palms are. There was never a comfortable way to grip the wheel for any driving. For twisty mountain road driving, I use the wheel to brace my weight under heavy braking or press my back into the seat under heavy cornering. I chose a 30-mile twisty road out to the coast and half-way through, I was sorry I did. I didn’t even know it was possible to become fatigued from a steering wheel that dug into your palms as you drove the car. That’s two retro failures right there. That steering wheel is just so bad.
There were also ‘faux’ paddle shifters. The paddle-shifter-looking bumps that stick up from on the steering wheel spokes with the “+” and “-“ indicators are not actually paddle shifters. Instead they are indicators to let you know that there are button shifters there on the back-side of the spokes. Button shifters? Really? And no, shifting is not fast using the buttons; lethargic, maybe.
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