Ford caught everyone by surprise when it introduced the original Mustang at the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens, New York. Chevrolet fired back by launching the first-generation Camaro in the fall of 1966. The rivalry between America’s favorite pony cars continues to this day, and it’s more intense than ever. Not sure which side to root for? In this comparison, we highlight tech, performance, design, and safety to help you make up your mind.
Muscle cars have gotten smarter in recent years. Ford upped the tech quotient when it gave the Mustang a mid-cycle update for the 2018 model year. When fully loaded, it now offers a driver-configurable 12-inch digital instrument cluster, an 8-inch screen that runs Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system, and voice-controlled navigation. Audiophiles will appreciate the Shaker Pro Audio sound system. Ford didn’t skimp on driving aids, either. Buyers can order adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection, and a reverse sensing system. Note most of those features cost extra.
The Camaro offers slightly less tech — it’s not available with a fully digital instrument cluster, for example. The list of tech features nonetheless includes a cloud-connected infotainment system, a wireless charging pad, a head-up display, a teen driver function, a driver information display that’s integrated into the instrument cluster, rear park assist, lane change alert, and side blind zone alert. Again, you’ll have to tick a few boxes on the options list to get a model that speaks tech fluently, though 2SS and ZL1 models come standard with a trick rear camera mirror. Chevrolet’s Performance Data Recorder and a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot are offered, too.
Performance and fuel economy
The Mustang and the Camaro each offer a dizzying selection of engines. Let’s start with the Ford. The base Mustang comes with a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 310 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 350 pound-feet of torque at 3,000 rpm. It’s the same basic engine found in the Focus RS and the Ranger. In this application, it spins the rear wheels through a six-speed manual transmission. Ford also offers a 10-speed automatic at an extra cost.
Muscle cars and fuel economy sound like they’re mutually exclusive but that’s not necessarily the case.
With the six-cylinder Mustang no longer available, the next engine up is the Mustang GT’s 5.0-liter V8. It generates 460 hp at 7,000 rpm and 420 lb-ft. of torque at 4,600 rpm. The eight-cylinder comes with the same transmission options as the turbo four. Flick the Drag Strip mode on and Ford promises it will hit 60 miles per hour from a stop in under 4 seconds.
Ford designed the hot rods of the Mustang lineup with input from famous American tuner Shelby. The GT350 and GT350R receive a 5.2-liter V8 engine with 526 hp and 429 lb-ft. of torque. Both come exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission. The R model also receives a cool set of upgrades, including wheels made entirely out of carbon fiber. It’s the top Mustang — for the time being. Ford recently confirmed plans to bring back the GT500 next year with more than 700 hp under the hood. We can’t wait.
Let’s walk over to Chevrolet and check out the Camaro. Base models come with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 275 hp at 5,600 rpm and 295 lb-ft. of torque between 3,000 and 4,500 rpm. Rear-wheel drive and a six-speed manual transmission come standard, while an eight-speed automatic is offered at an extra cost. The list of options also includes a 3.6-liter V6 with 335 hp and 284 lb-ft. of torque.
The Camaro SS ups the ante with a direct-injected 6.2-liter V8 engine rated at 455 hp and 455 lb-ft. of torque, which is enough power for a 4.1-second sprint from zero to 60 mph. The hierarchy doesn’t end there. Designed for the track, the Camaro ZL1 gets a supercharged version of the SS’ 6.2-liter that pumps out a solid 650 hp and 650 lb-ft. of torque. Both V8-powered models come with a six-speed manual transmission, and both are available with a 10-speed automatic transmission at an extra cost.
Muscle cars and fuel economy sound like they’re mutually exclusive but that’s not necessarily the case. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports the most efficient Mustang (with a turbo four and an automatic) returns 21 miles per gallon in the city, 32 mpg on the highway, and 25 mpg in a combined cycle. The least-thirsty Camaro (also with a four-cylinder and an automatic) posts figures of 22, 31, and 25, respectively.
Interior and exterior design
The 2019 Ford Mustang still wears the long hood, short deck proportions of the original model introduced in April of 1964. Designers created several visual links between the two models but it’s not full-on retro like the Mini Hardtop and the Volkswagen Beetle. We think it’s one of the sharpest-looking ‘Stang models to date, but maybe that’s just us. Step inside and you’ll find a three-spoke steering wheel, round air vents, and a tall center console. It’s technically a four-seater but the rear seats are best-suited to carrying groceries or small children.
We think it’s one of the sharpest-looking ‘Stang models to date, but maybe that’s just us.
Chevrolet took the 2019 Camaro in a similar design direction. The current model pays tribute to its predecessors without aping the styling. It still boasts the traditional Coke bottle shape that made hundreds of thousands of American motorists fall in lust with the original car. The styling is sharper, with LEDs integrated into the headlights and thin taillights. The front-end design varies from model to model. The interior is just as style-conscious as the exterior. Sit behind the wheel and you’ll feel like you’re sitting in a sports car just by looking around you. Design is a big part of its appeal.
Every Mustang regardless of engine or trim level comes with dual front, side, curtain, and knee airbags for the front passengers, an alarm, and a tire pressure monitoring system. It’s surprisingly well-equipped in that regard; some cars that cost twice as much as an entry-level Mustang don’t offer a single knee airbag, let alone two.
The Camaro comes with a similar level of equipment. Select the base model and you’ll still get dual front, side, curtain, and knee airbags for the front passengers. The list of standard features also includes a five-year subscription to the basic OnStar service, the aforementioned teen driver function, and a tire pressure monitoring system.
If it’s a Mustang you’re after, plan on spending at least $26,120 for a base hardtop with the 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine. The V8-powered GT starts at $35,355. Going topless will cost you $31,620 for a four-cylinder and $44,855 for a V8. This places the V8-powered drop-top in luxury car territory. Finally, Ford priced the Shelby-badged GT350 and GT350R models at $57,240 and $64,740,, respectively.
Equipped with a turbo four, the Camaro starts at $25,000. Selecting the V6 bumps that figure up to $28,490, while the V8 model starts at $37,000. Chevrolet priced the supercharged ZL1 model at $61,500. The convertible model starts at $31,500 for a four-cylinder engine and tops out at $67,500 for a ZL1 with a supercharger.
Note the aforementioned prices don’t include the mandatory destination charge. Ford and Chevrolet both charge $995.
The Mustang and the Camaro face serious competition from the retro-styled Dodge Challenger. It’s bigger and heavier than its two rivals, so it won’t handle nearly as well on a twisty road. It’s also remained much closer to the spirit of the muscle cars that rumbled across America in the 1960s. And neither the Mustang nor the Camaro match the Challenger Hellcat in terms of power.
There are other options. The base convertibles land in the same price bracket as a nicely equipped Mazda MX-5 Miata. They are, of course, two completely different animals. Buyers can also consider the Fiat 124 Spider, the Miata’s Italian twin. Moving up, the more expensive V8-powered models square off against German machines like the Audi A5, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe, and the BMW 4 Series.