Red and Blue forces face-off again Down Un­der, only this time the con­flict’s for­eign

THUN­DER. That’s what erupts af­ter press­ing the round, pol­ished but­ton la­belled ‘EN­GINE’ on the Ford Mus­tang GT’s cen­tre stack. Throt­tle in­ten­si­fies its bar­rage. And you in­stantly sus­pect this might be the best sound­ing car un­der $100,000 – ex­cept, maybe, for the omi­nous Chevro­let Ca­maro that’s about to fire up along­side it.

To­gether they are writ­ing the se­quel to the Aus­tralian reardrive V8 per­for­mance sedan. It’s been more than a year since Holden shut off its lo­cal fac­to­ries. Yet while Ford V8 fans have feasted on the Mus­tang since 2016, it’s only now that the GM faith­ful are get­ting their equiv­a­lent fix. And it’s all thanks to the fine folk in Clay­ton at Holden Spe­cial Ve­hi­cles.

HSV ze­roed in on the Ca­maro af­ter learn­ing GM would kill the V8 Com­modore. It suc­cess­fully gained ap­proval on a right­hand drive project in 2015 and now, with Chevro­let’s six­th­gen­er­a­tion V8 bruiser fi­nally ready, it starts a new Red and Blue ri­valry that feels par­tic­u­larly nos­tal­gic.

They’re both re­mark­ably sim­i­lar to each other and our by­gone boof-heads. They count eight cylin­ders each, drive the rear wheels and are only just short of five me­tres. But while they’re sep­a­rated by a cou­ple thou­sand dol­lars back home, the scales aren’t so even in Aus­tralia.

HSV vir­tu­ally re­builds the car in Clay­ton. Its fire­wall is redrilled, its loom is rewired, the footwells are mod­i­fied and it’s com­pletely stripped dur­ing the process. This in­flates its cost well above the Mus­tang that leaves its Michi­gan fac­tory (only a cou­ple hours’ drive from the Chevro­let one) with the steer­ing wheel on the right side. But we’ll get to dol­lar fig­ures later.

HSV also uses Ar­gen­tinian core ve­hi­cles, not be­cause some­one at GM’s ship­ping docks mis­read the des­ti­na­tion ad­dress, but be­cause their car of­fers the most ADR com­pli­ant parts. This saves de­vel­op­ment costs, but it’s also why, for now, HSV of­fers the Ca­maro only in 2SS trim. The ‘2’ means it packs more fruit like Bose au­dio, in­te­rior mood light­ing and power seats with heat­ing and ven­ti­la­tion.

Ar­gentina must be sunny be­cause, whether you like it or not, ev­ery sin­gle car also comes with a sun­roof. Mean­while, the re­stricted spec also means Mag­netic Ride Con­trol, Re­caros, dif­fer­ent style wheels and styling packs are all miss­ing from the HSV brochure, even though they’re avail­able in Amer­ica.

Ford’s prod­uct plan­ners en­joy much more free­dom. Af­ter lu­di­crous suc­cess in both left- and right-hand drive mar­kets it’s re­vamped the Mus­tang to keep a firm grip on a sales lead it has back home. The new car’s aero­dy­nam­ics are slip­perier, the en­gine is more pow­er­ful, the sus­pen­sion is stur­dier, while the in­te­rior and styling ooze more ap­peal.


Our Mus­tang also flaunts a slew of new op­tions made avail­able for the 2018 model year. It’s fit­ted with the new op­tional ‘off-the-deck’ rear spoiler ($750), forged 19-inch rac­ing wheels ($2500), Re­caro seats ($3000), adap­tive dampers ($2750) and rac­ing stripes ($650). Most im­por­tantly, it fea­tures the new 10-speed torque con­verter au­to­matic that, in its early stages, was co-de­vel­oped with GM.

You’d think swap­ping cogs your­self would crown you king in a Mus­tang GT, but an au­to­matic honed for the track and strip with spe­cialised modes suit the big­ger, brawnier Coy­ote V8 per­fectly. That en­gine en­ters a third gen­er­a­tion of tune af­ter en­gi­neers plasma coated its bores, fat­ten­ing ca­pac­ity by 84cc, and re­designed its cylin­der heads around larger valves. There’s dual-fuel in­jec­tion and a higher red­line, too, of 7400rpm.

We’ve all seen a V8 ‘SS’ wear­ing bow-tie badges be­fore, but now the link is bona fide. While the Ca­maro’s LT1 en­gine shares its 6162cc ca­pac­ity and bore spac­ing with an LS3, new vari­able valve tim­ing, di­rect in­jec­tion and cylin­der de­ac­ti­va­tion curb its con­sump­tion and lift power. A re­designed ro­tat­ing assem­bly for the pushrod small-block, along with new high-com­pres­sion pis­tons, also helps it spin to 6500rpm.

It de­vel­ops 339kW at 5700rpm while the Mus­tang’s dou­ble over­head camshaft ar­range­ment, also breath­ing through an


80mm throt­tle body, pro­duces the same grunt at 7000rpm. The match­ing power num­bers are more an in­con­sis­tency than co­in­ci­dence. Ford’s quoted 339kW is gained from DIN test­ing meth­ods, where en­gi­neers leave the ex­haust and an­cil­lar­ies on the en­gine dur­ing its dyno run. The Ca­maro’s power fig­ure, how­ever, is achieved us­ing an SAE method car­ried over from Amer­ica that tests en­gines on the dyno with­out power-sap­ping ac­ces­sories.

No mat­ter how much the DIN test would dock the Ca­maro’s fig­ures it still would eas­ily hose the Mus­tang for torque. Each car makes max­i­mum torque at an iden­ti­cal 4600rpm, but the Ca­maro’s 617Nm tow­ers over the Mus­tang’s 556Nm. That might be why Ford hud­dles the 10-speed trans­mis­sion’s ra­tios so close to­gether. Di­rect drive is seventh gear and, un­lim­ited, it runs to 293km/h. Mean­while 1:1 in the Ca­maro is sixth and is geared to 310km/h.

Can the Ca­maro prove there’s no re­place­ment for dis­place­ment? Heath­cote Race­way’s drag strip will an­swer that. You’ll find its cir­cle-shaped starter but­ton to the right of the cen­tre screen. Prod it and the LT1 ex­plodes into life with a hard-edged growl. The noise is dense and yet, when you tickle the throt­tle, it bursts into a free-revving roar.

Af­ter build­ing a 1500rpm stall against the 8L45 trans­mis­sion, we roll into the throt­tle. Grip is good, even in its looser ESP set­ting called Sta­bil­iTrak, but the times aren’t. Man­u­fac­turer claims sug­gest 100km/h should drop in 4.4 sec­onds with the au­to­matic. We’re get­ting 5.5sec, 13.5sec at the quar­ter and 180km/h on the Drift­box.

We squeeze the brakes harder next time. The revs creep to 2000rpm on the stall, then we feel out the launch, bleed­ing off the brakes smoothly be­fore stomp­ing the throt­tle when there’s enough grip. With 275mm wide Goodyears we get away with small chirps of wheel spin. Triple fig­ures ar­rive in 5.0sec flat and the quar­ter mile in 13.0sec. Top speed bumps to 182km/h.

We go through more runs with­out much im­prove­ment un­til we switch to man­ual mode. It nets an in­stant gain, drop­ping quar­ter miles into the 12.8sec range, by let­ting the en­gine wind out to red­line rather than up­shift early. Soon 4.68 sec­onds to 100km/h and a pass of 12.8 with 181.76km/h flashes on the Drift­box screen and we know that’s it.

Time for the Mus­tang. Right away we un­der­stand why the new gear­box’s Drag mode is its party piece. We spend the first run catch­ing the rear end as it dances down the strip. The

mode keeps torque flow­ing dur­ing shifts, so the force of each en­gage­ment is so savage, ESP has to be turned off to let the car move around. Make sure you’re caf­feinated be­fore try­ing it.

A few more runs in­ject cru­cial heat into the tyres, slash­ing times to 4.95sec/12.89sec while lift­ing trap speeds to around 187km/h. But with sur­face grip not as good as it could be, it musters a 2000rpm stall be­fore the rear Miche­lin Pi­lot Sport 4 S tyres start grat­ing against the sur­face.

The next run nets its fastest fig­ures. They’re a mar­ginal im­prove­ment, and slower than the Ca­maro, but the fact we’re well into fifth gear over the line with an­other 6km/h hints at its po­ten­tial. We’ve ex­tracted 4.59sec/12.49sec from a grip­pier run­way, how­ever, we can’t spend all day tear­ing down the drag strip. Fall­ing trap speeds sug­gest ris­ing cylin­der head tem­per­a­tures could be sap­ping en­gine power. Be­sides, there are a lot things go­ing on un­der­neath these cars that are worth roads more wind­ing.

These mus­cle cars now pack the chas­sis smarts to chase down hot hatches and mug them for their lunch money. Their lay­outs are har­nessed by front struts and multi-link rear sus­pen­sion that con­trol stag­gered tyre widths. Beefed-up front knuck­les for the Mus­tang’s adap­tive sus­pen­sion find more pur­chase and the tweaked rear-end is more con­trolled un­der

power. It also sits nice and flat through cor­ners un­til the odd lump ex­poses lin­ger­ing re­bound and float.

Poke it and it can bite, with­out warn­ing, too, thanks to mute, but pre­cise, elec­tric steer­ing. Luck­ily, if you get into trou­ble, its six-pis­ton Brem­bos bite fast and hard. They re­act sen­si­tively to slight brake pres­sure, which is more wel­come when the Mus­tang’s 1756kg bar­rels into cor­ners.

The trans­mis­sion, too, thrives in a fast-paced en­vi­ron­ment. It comes alive when you at­tack in Sport Plus or Race­track mode, fir­ing down gears when you’re hard on the stop­pers or quelling over­steer by skip­ping up through them.

Con­versely, the Ca­maro’s chas­sis emerges as its true high­light. Thanks to GM’s Al­pha plat­form, which suc­ceeds the Zeta plat­form that un­der­pinned the VE/VF Com­modore, it has a longer wheel­base than the Mus­tang, re­sult­ing in a more cen­tral driv­ing po­si­tion.

This gives you a greater sense of con­trol. Get the front to stick and the throt­tle dishes out small dabs of over­steer through a clutch-pack LSD. Mean­while, the Sta­bil­iTrak ESP keeps things tidy with the same fi­nesse as HSV’s Com­pe­ti­tion Mode in the Gen F2 range.

Its con­trols are easy to use. The brakes, com­pris­ing fourpis­ton Brem­bos that clamp smaller discs, feel more nat­u­ral and need a firmer squeeze. Mean­while the steer­ing is just okay. It prefers slow, pre­cise in­puts, and is heavy. Feel or feed­back van­ishes with the ef­fort re­quired to steer when in Sport or Track mode.

Back-to-back, the Ca­maro feels like the faster car and its speed is eas­ier to ex­tract. There’s more grip, feed­back and the LT1’s midrange is dev­as­tat­ingly ef­fec­tive on the open road. Its gear­box also im­per­son­ates a race se­quen­tial ’box on up­shifts, vent­ing a pop of pres­sure from the ex­haust, but it feels tardy on the fly, es­pe­cially in man­ual mode. We’d also like its small pad­dles to re­spond with a nicer click, rather than their cur­rent ar­cade-ish tap. It’s dull.

Buy­ers might en­vi­sion them­selves sit­ting next to Play­mate of The Year in the Ca­maro, but she’ll be swap­ping into the Mus­tang if the road sur­face is ugly. Its huge, low-pro­file run-flat Goodyears oc­ca­sion­ally thud into holes while its FE3 sus­pen­sion of­fers one type of ride: firm. The Mus­tang’s adap­tive sus­pen­sion is smoother where the Ca­maro po­goes about, but you an­noy­ingly can’t set the sys­tem sep­a­rately to the drive mode. So if you want to dial up the com­mit­ment with the pow­er­train then you’re go­ing to have to en­dure ag­gres­sive damp­ing as well.

The ac­tive ex­haust, at least, of­fers more cus­tomi­sa­tion. Its 12.4-inch dig­i­tal clus­ter lets you di­vide your ex­haust, drive mode and steer­ing to your lik­ing. Its Quiet mode is much more no­tice­able than the Ca­maro’s equiv­a­lent Stealth set­ting but all other times the Coy­ote’s growl is an om­nipresent force. Whether it’s throb­bing on idle, tick­ling along at a cruise on a free­way, or feath­er­ing the throt­tle in a car park, you’re im­mersed in proper mus­cle-car the­atre.

How­ever, that’s not the case in the Ca­maro. In more re­laxed sit­u­a­tions it shuts down cylin­ders to run as a V4. You’ll hear an off-beat tick af­ter the switch, then you’ll no­tice a lack of bot­tom-end re­sponse.

At first it’s in­trigu­ing. Af­ter a week it’s mildly an­noy­ing. Af­ter a year we imag­ine our­selves madly scrolling Google pages in search of a tuner to dis­able it. Some don’t mind it – af­ter all, it saves fuel – and keeps the Chevro­let small-block vi­able. Yet, we’re not sure you buy an SS for a part-time V8.

It might work only for a small por­tion of the time, but our prob­lem is with when that is. Lazily cruis­ing around on small throt­tle open­ings in a V8 mus­cle car is a big part of the

ex­pe­ri­ence. Trad­ing that to gain a litre of fuel over each 100 kilo­me­tres on our road test, that in­volved some cruis­ing and a good dol­lop of hard driv­ing, isn’t wor­thy in our opin­ion.

Even though this hurts the Ca­maro’s emo­tional ap­peal, it’s ex­tremely hard to sep­a­rate these two based on sub­jec­tive feel­ings. They’re both icons, and ei­ther car’s looks would en­chant the brand ag­nos­tic. The sixth-gen­er­a­tion Ca­maro de­sign, at least for the 2017 model year, chan­nels the orig­i­nal car’s an­gu­lar ag­gres­sion. It will twist by­stander’s necks ev­ery­where it goes.

The Mus­tang’s cab-rear­ward sil­hou­ette is just as pretty in the metal. Low­er­ing the bon­net this year might have smoothed off its iconic snout, but reg­u­lar at­ten­tion from strangers con­firms its retro de­sign is in­stantly recog­nis­able.

So let’s look at this more ob­jec­tively. Yes, the Ca­maro is faster and eas­ier to ap­proach on the limit. Its en­gine de­liv­ers fear­some mid-range and we can’t wait to ex­plore its po­ten­tial with a 10-speed trans­mis­sion.

The right-hand drive swap doesn’t pe­nalise it, ei­ther. Be­sides some mi­nor flaws on our ‘pi­lot’ press car, like the rough look­ing mi­cro­phone holes in the right A-pil­lar, the Ca­maro feels as if it emerges from Michi­gan al­ready in right-hand drive.

But it doesn’t, and it costs $85,990, or $20K more than a $65,990 au­to­matic Mus­tang GT. This forces HSV to po­si­tion the Ca­maro as a more ex­clu­sive prod­uct than the Mus­tang. It’ll cer­tainly be a rarer car, HSV is ex­pect­ing to sell 1000 per year when Ford has al­ready sold 18,000 Mus­tangs with a healthy chunk of them be­ing the V8. But it’s hard to be­lieve its pre­mium stance when it lacks all the fea­tures found in the Mus­tang. Like sat-nav, for in­stance.

Our heav­ily op­tioned Ford closes the price gap to $10K. But if it were our car it’d only have the elec­tric Re­caro seats and maybe the adap­tive sus­pen­sion. Maybe.

Okay, the Mus­tang lacks pol­ish when you dig in your spurs, but if the mea­sure of a mus­cle car is how it makes you feel, then dol­lar-for-dol­lar it wins. It rides bet­ter, looks great and sounds grouse for much less. The Ca­maro may be light­ning fast, but thun­der al­ways gets the last say.


TOP Thin­ner head­lights with new LED tech­nol­ogy al­lowed Ford to widen the Mus­tang’s grille. Its snout is now slightly sharper

LEFT There re­ally isn’t much be­tween them for size, as the Ca­maro is only 5mm shorter, 19mm thin­ner and 48mm lower than the ’Stang

OP­PO­SITE Part sports car, part mus­cle car, part four seat GT, the Mus­tang and Ca­maro will ap­peal to a broad church for dif­fer­ent rea­sons

RIGHT The Ca­maro range is big. Amer­i­cans can buy one with a four cylin­der, V6, or V8 and vary­ing states of trim, like the 1LE han­dling or 485kW ZL1 packs

ABOVE The Ca­maro is the pride of Chevro­let af­ter the Corvette; its LT1 en­gine was re­leased in the base Corvette back in 2014

1. NEW GEAR 2018 Mus­tang in­te­rior high­lights are dig­i­tal clus­ter and (op­tional) Re­caro seats. The 12.4-inch screen of­fers plenty of fun cus­tomis­ing the dis­play; there’s all the teleme­try you’ll ever want 2. QUIRKS Like the Ca­maro, the cup hold­ers rest on the cen­tre con­sole’s ‘wrong’ side. You sit a lot higher in the Mus­tang than you do the Ca­maro, how­ever for­ward and rear­ward vis­i­bil­ity is bet­ter 3. GOOD­IES There’s radar cruise con­trol and auto emer­gency brake. Up­graded in­te­rior over reg­u­lar GT in Amer­ica helps lift am­bi­ence but the Ca­maro’s in­te­rior, even with less equip­ment, feels slightly more pre­mium

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.