While we’ve said goodbye to the Commodore and Falcon, the muscle car war hasn’t died off completely. For the first time, it’s the traditional US rivals that square off Down Under, with the 2018 Chevrolet Camaro 2SS now on sale (albeit in limited numbers) alongside the 2018 Ford Mustang GT.
In the current, ahem, climate of electric this and hydrogen that, let’s put greenhouse gas considerations aside for a few minutes and rejoice in the bellowing, snarling, octane-fed thunder of yesteryear. I, for one, love it.
And let’s also thank GM and Ford that such frivolous pastimes are still within our enviro-‘mentalist’ reach. In fact, add in Chrysler – building a bunch of monstrous V8 muscle cars that we don’t get here – and it’s very much game on in the good old USA in the grand tradition of the pre-fuel-crisis late ’60s.
Thankfully, Ford has come to the party in a factory sense, and the HSV group has added the Camaro to its portfolio of high-quality RHD conversions. We know how successful the Mustang has been in Australia, and HSV has reported strong interest in the Camaro from the minute it was announced. There’s no doubt that traditional platforms like these still resonate with Australian buyers.
In fact, I’d argue that it ultimately doesn’t matter which is the better car either. If you’re a Ford fan, you’re hardly buying a Camaro. And if you’re a GM fan – even a dyed-in-the-wool Commodore tragic – you’re not walking into a Ford dealership unless you’re bound and gagged. Therefore, you’ll have picked your favourite long before you’ve worked out which is better than the other.
Read more: Camaro news, reviews, comparisons and videos
Rather than worry too much about that then, we’ll take a look at the factors that make them different, their strong points and weak points, and why in their own way we have a sense of nostalgic attachment to both of them. A bit like the accompanying video that Curt and I have put together – it’s a celebration of why each car is a modern icon.
You can read the pricing and specification breakdowns for each vehicle to get a full rundown, but this is where things get hairy for the Camaro in Australia. Given it is a low-volume RHD conversion, the harsh reality is that it was always going to cost more than the Mustang in our market. Keep in mind also that the Camaro we get here is pre-facelift, meaning it goes head-to-head with a ‘newer’ Mustang.
Pricing for the Camaro starts from $85,990 before on-road costs. That’s against $62,990 for the Mustang, so there’s an appreciable gap there. Interestingly, the Ford’s price rose by more than five grand from the MY17 version, and perhaps a sign that Ford might not have been charging enough? Or that the Camaro’s arrival was imminent at a higher price? Who knows?
Regardless, the Mustang seems affordable (cheap is a dirty word), even with that price hike, while the Camaro sits at another level despite going head to head with the Mustang in its homeland. I’m still not so sure that the price will be a determining factor, though – for most buyers anyway. A small percentage might cross-shop, but mostly this tussle is extremely parochial.
The conversion isn’t a simple affair either, as you’d expect given the complexity of modern platforms. There’s engineering and CAD data provided to HSV by GM, and new parts comprise the dash support, the heater box, HVAC pipework, steering rack, full body wiring harness and the instrument panel. The seats are modified, and the HID headlights are disassembled and modified to work on the opposite side of the road.
Both are decently equipped, as you’d expect, and both take the affordable muscle car game a long way beyond where it ever would have been previously. Once upon a time, these cars had plenty of engine, a rudimentary gearbox, some brakes (not always) and… Not much else.
Camaro highlights include: BLIS, rear cross-traffic alert, keyless entry, heated/cooled leather seats, driver memory presets, 8.0-inch digital instrument cluster, Bose nine-speaker audio system, 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, climate-control AC, ambient interior lighting, wireless phone charging and sunroof.
The Mustang counters with a 12.4-inch digital driver’s gauge cluster, extended memory function that stores your driving preferences, AEB with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, and an 8.0-inch centre screen with Sync 3.
Let’s face it, under the skin is where the majority of us are most invested, and there’s plenty to dissect in the way of performance capability. The V8 engine remains one of the world’s great automotive contributions, and these two in their own way are both masterpieces of traditional power generation.
The Camaro gets a potent 6.2-litre LT1 engine, naturally aspirated, which pumps out 339kW and 617Nm. The soundtrack is sensational, listen to the audio in our upcoming video, and high up in the rev range it sounds like a NASCAR engine at redline. Modern engines cop a barrage of criticism for their soundtrack, but these two sound brilliant.
Read more: Everything Chevrolet
Drive is sent to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic that gets a paddle-shift manual mode. At the moment, we don’t get the manual option, but that’s okay because the eight-speed is exceptional in this application and would be the gearbox I’d choose if I were buying a Camaro.
The Mustang gets a naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V8 engine that punches out an equal 339kW, but slightly less torque at 556Nm. Is the Camaro the winner because of its bigger displacement? Not really. It’s rarely that simple, and while the ‘mine is bigger than yours’ argument is as blokey relevant as it’s always been, there’s more nuance to the story.
Backing the Ford’s bent-eight and sending the drive rearward is the new 10-speed automatic, which faces two problems the way I see it. First, it’s actually too many ratios – as revealed in our single car reviews – and second, the Mustang’s manual gearbox is so bloody good that it’s the option I’d take in this car.
Depending on how hard you push, you can use up to 13–14L/100km in either car, but as low as eights on the freeway, so they can be far more efficient than their older brethren ever were too, despite delivering more power than ever.
As you’ll hear in our audio below, this is a contentious area, even for those of us within the CarAdvice team who respect both vehicles.
The Mustang is kitsch, but maybe too much so, and for me the Camaro feels like a more premium interior.
We’ve tested Mustangs with and without the optional seats – don’t tick that box. The standard seats look less silly and are comfortable enough.
It’s easy to look at the Camaro, for example, and criticise the location of the cupholders in the conversion to RHD, but then Ford has done the same thing and its steed is built to RHD specs from the get-go.
Both have quality infotainment systems that work well, and some of you will prefer the Mustang’s interactive driver display cluster.
Rather than tricks and screens, though, I feel like you sit down into the Camaro more than you do in the Ford, enhancing that driving-focused feeling you expect from a performance car.
The quality of the fit, finish and the materials has the Camaro ahead of the Ford for me in terms of that hard-to-define air of premium.
While there’s nothing specifically wrong with the Mustang – aside from the fakery of some of the trim – it just feels a bit more like it’s been built to a price than the Camaro.
You could argue away some of that with the price disparity here in Oz, but remember they are very close in price in the USA.
For me, the Camaro is the better all-round performance car except for one crucial area. The Mustang’s ride – around town especially and on poor surfaces – is way more sorted, significantly more comfortable, and much more compliant. As such, we’d have to give the ride and handling win to the Mustang.
Back to the Camaro, though. I absolutely love the way the LT1 generates and delivers its power, and with traction control off, on a track, you’d be leaving liquorice strips everywhere if that’s what you wanted to do.
In traditional muscle car style, the Camaro is beautifully neutral when you do want to hang the tail out, but with all the electric aids on, you can push hard on a twisty road and not feel like a lair.
Where both these muscle cars have made giant strides forward is in the relationship between chassis and the road beneath it.
A variety of CarAdvice testers, myself, Curt Dupriez, Mike Costello and Anthony Crawford (who in fact bought a Bullitt), have all noted the vastly improved way these two cars get their power to the ground and control it compared to their predecessors.
The Camaro delivers sharp turn-in, excellent braking, and tidy balance through corners – areas where the firmer around-town ride comes into its own. The steering has excellent feedback through the wheel and doesn’t feel remote or disconnected.
It’s an enjoyable car to punt enthusiastically, and it feels safe and assured when you do get into it. Shift into go-fast mode and the paddle-shift action is snappy, and accompanied by just enough rev-matching to enhance the soundtrack.
The engine bellows to redline and keeps hammering power to the tyres, never finding a flat spot or dip in power. It has that beautiful linearity that the best V8 engines have, and the relationship between engine and the eight-speed auto is noteworthy – largely for the two ratios it doesn’t have compared to the Mustang.
Whereas 10 feels too many, eight feels perfect, and I’m dubious as to whether the switch to 10 ratios will add spice to the Camaro’s already tasty main course.
Given the Mustang makes the same power figure, does it feel a little more highly strung than the Camaro? Yes, somewhat, but certainly not in a bad way.
The Camaro is lazier and more effortless – well, seemingly so – around town under give-and-take driving conditions, aided by two less ratios to confuse the transmission’s brain. The word lazy isn’t a criticism either. It’s more effortless in the way it does the same job.
That said, once you wind the wick right up, the Mustang never feels breathless or like it’s punching itself out either, such is the free-revving nature of the 5.0-litre – a properly brilliant V8 engine.
The gearbox is a conundrum to me, though. I’d never thought I’d ever suggest a manual option in any V8 US muscle car, and yet with the Mustang that’s exactly what I’d do.
For mine, the Mustang’s manual is excellent – sharp, precise and direct. And the 10-speed auto seems to be constantly searching for the highest ratio it can practicably use, meaning you’ll find yourself in ninth at 60km/h, for example. Nail the throttle pedal then, and the gearbox has to downshift through way too many gears to find the sweet spot.
Regardless, though, Ford’s V8 engine is a sledgehammer. While the GM soundtrack pips it – just – tip the Mustang into loud mode and the exhaust note is thunderous, screaming up to redline with the nasty intent we expect of any great engine.
The Ford’s more compliant ride means it is less likely to be knocked off-kilter in the middle of a rutted country corner, and as such, the chassis delivers the confidence to push on.
The way in which Ford has tuned in as much comfort as it has, into a chassis that can also handle with alacrity, is impressive. Makes you wonder where such nous has been for so many decades…
The Camaro has seven airbags but no ANCAP rating. It has been internally tested by HSV to ensure the conversion doesn’t affect any of the on-board safety systems and that it meets ADRs, but there is no official ANCAP score.
HSV does a full validation of all vehicles before delivery, as you’d expect, and the Camaro is covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty. Services are due every nine months or 12,000km, whichever comes first.
Slightly better than its predecessor, the Mustang still scores only three stars in the ANCAP ratings, and our advice remains that if you’re using the back seats for occupants rather than overnight bags, you need to take the crash rating into account.
The Mustang is covered by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, and has a capped-price servicing scheme with prices ranging from $445 to $500.
As I stated at the outset, I’m not sure it matters which is the better car. On paper, the numbers are close, and that translates to how potent and muscular they feel by the seat of the pants on the road. In many ways, an impartial tester would struggle to split the two. Buyers almost certainly won’t be impartial, though, so that doesn’t come into it.
The Camaro is more expensive, and it’s a reality that buyers on a budget will have to confront. Then again, how many people have saved money and bought the EcoBoost Mustang? Not many…
If money weren’t a concern, I’d buy the Camaro. It feels like a more premium product. I have no set loyalty to either brand, and it feels like the slightly better car to me. However, the Mustang is undeniably solid value for money, whichever way you cut it.
The muscle car war is alive and well, and we should enjoy it while we can. Let us know below which one you’d have in your garage.