Picking the best muscle car on the market today is no easy task, as the modern-day trio of the Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger and Chevy Camaro all represent the best muscle cars that their individual brands have ever offered—or at least the most powerful. Then there's the fact that the three current entries are all at different points in their life cycles, with much about the 2015 Mustang, for example, still in the air ahead of its fall debut. On the other hand, is there a better way to celebrate America's birthday than by celebrating that most American of car segments, complete with Autobytel's take on just which of those three hi-po production cars actually does make the best muscle car of the 2014 calendar year?
The Best Muscle Car: Power
Although the current crop of contenders can boast handling prowess undreamed of by the originals, pure power remains the No. 1 priority for most buyers trying to select the best muscle car to meet their needs. And that works out pretty well for the Dodge team, which recently introduced the 2015 Challenger SRT Hellcat as the most powerful production muscle car of all time: With a 6.2-liter supercharged HEMI V8 under its recently restyled hood, the Hellcat spits out 707 hp and 650 lb.-ft. of torque. Both numbers are safely above the outputs of the 2014 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, with an even bigger falloff coming before you get to the most powerful 2015 Chevy Camaro, the ZL1.
Looking at the current leaderboard for muscle-car motivation, and including both 2014 and 2015 Mustang models in the mix, gives us the following cheat sheet for choosing the best muscle car in terms of power:
- 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat—707 hp, 650 lb.-ft. of torque
- 2014 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500—662 hp, 631 lb.-ft. of torque
- 2015 Chevy Camaro ZL1—580 hp, 556 lb.-ft. of torque
- 2015 Chevy Camaro Z28—505 hp, 481 lb.-ft. of torque
- 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT8 392—485 hp, 475 lb.-ft. of torque
- 2015 Chevy Camaro SS—426 hp, 420 lb.-ft. of torque
- 2015 Ford Mustang GT—"at least" 420 hp, 390 lb.-ft. of torque
- 2015 Dodge Challenger R/T—375 hp, 410 lb.-ft. of torque
- 2015 Chevy Camaro V6—323 hp, 278 lb.-ft. of torque
- 2015 Dodge Challenger V6—305 hp, 268 lb.-ft. of torque
- 2015 Ford Mustang EcoBoost—"at least" 305 hp, 300 lb.-ft. of torque
- 2015 Ford Mustang V6—"at least" 300 hp, 270 lb.-ft. of torque
Note: Along with a likely 2015 Mustang Shelby, Ford also will probably introduce a model between it and the GT to fill the hole left by the previous-gen Mustang Boss 302. But we'll deal with that the next time we're trying to rank the best muscle car choices.
The Best Muscle Car: Style
The best muscle cars also serve up plenty of attitude to go with their tire-shredding performance, and that's certainly the case with the 2014 roster. But it's also certainly the case that style is subjective, so there are going to be some folks who think the striking new 2015 Ford Mustang may have wandered a bit too far into Euro territory for its own good. The retro silhouette that was so successful for the 2014 models can still be seen in the new ones, yet there's an almost Audi-esque flair that doesn't quite translate into "muscle car" for me.
As for the 2015 Challenger, it actually goes all in with throwback design by introducing style enhancements specifically inspired by the classic 1971 model. There's even a "shaker" hood with functional air scoop and old-school hounds-tooth cloth appointments available in the cabin, as well as a typically deep menu of graphics and striping packages. Yet there is something missing here that prevents the Challenger from earning the nod as best muscle car for style: a drop-top version. Even though both the Mustang and Camaro continue to showcase convertible models, and even though Dodge originally did offer an open-air Challenger back in the day, there's still no sign of a new one.
Which brings us to the Chevy Camaro. With a massive road presence that combines classic and cutting-edge design cues, the Camaro sort of splits the difference between the Challenger and the Mustang. And while the coupe—IMHO—isn't the looker that the Challenger is, the availability of a Camaro convertible could be a difference-maker for a nice chunk of buyers as they try to determine the best muscle car.
The Best Muscle Car: Sales and Awards
Next, for a more objective approach to our best muscle car comparison, let's check the first-half sales totals for the Mustang, Challenger and Camaro. This provides a chance for us to see how customers are voting with their wallets in the contest, both in June and for the year to date (YTD) after six months of sales:
- Chevy Camaro—7,721 Junes sales, up 6.7 percent; 46,672 YTD sales, up 10.3 percent
- Ford Mustang—7,631 June sales, down 17.4 percent; 44,231 sales YTD sales, up 2.6 percent
- Dodge Challenger—4,377 June sales, down 14 percent; 26,281 YTD sales, down 12 percent
For those interested in comparing third-party survey results as a way of finding the best muscle car, it's worth noting that, like most people, the critics can find something to love about each one. Consider: J.D. Power, one of the most well-known of the industry's quality gadflies, provided prizes to all three modern-day muscle cars in its latest round of surveys. The Mustang currently reigns in its segment in the Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) study, the Challenger is the most recent category leader in the Initial Quality Study and the Camaro is ahead of the pack in the 2014 Vehicle Dependability Study.