The holiday season turned out to be a good one here in the Krome home: GM's elves loaned me a 2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS'”with a full tank of gas'”for the holiday week. It was a fitting choice, too, because it gave me a chance to help find out why the Chevrolet Camaro is going to outsell its arch-enemy, the Ford Mustang, for the first time in 25 years.
Hail to the Victors
Through the end of November, the Camaro had rung up 75,685 sales as compared to the Mustang's 68,264, and closing that nearly 7,500-unit gap in December was never a real option for the Ford. You just don't sell that many muscle cars in December. And really, when you look at those year-to-date numbers, it's safe to say that both cars will finish the year as winners anyway.
After all, you have to consider them niche vehicles, based on what they bring to the marketplace, and in that context, both have done extremely well. Theoretical competitors like the Nissan 370Z or Hyundai Genesis Coupe are well off that pace, with the former on track to finish 2010 with right about 10,000 units, and total Genesis sales (Hyundai doesn't break out the sales of the coupe from the sedan) looking like they'll just crack the 30,000-unit mark. The Dodge Challenger, for those curious, should finish the year with roughly 35,000 sales.
So, the Camaro and Mustang are in a class by themselves, and like that old sports cliche about "throwing out the record book" when two long-time rivals battle on gridiron, looking at the spec sheets here is largely irrelevant. Besides, at this stage in the game, any differences between horsepower, mpg and whatnot are relatively minor. The V6 Camaro has even managed to join the 30/300 club, with its 2011 ratings of 31 mpg on the highway and 312 horsepower under the hood.
The Camaro Experience
Let's get down to the nitty-gritty then: Even in a Detroit December, there's more than enough dry pavement around town to take advantage of the 426 hp/420 lb-ft on tap beneath the hood of the Camaro SS, and anyone with even a modicum of RWD experience can handle the car in the white stuff with just a little extra care. On the other hand, the vehicle can't quite escape its nearly two-ton curb weight when the road gets twisty. The suspension and Brembo stoppers manage all that mass without complaint, but you can always feel the weight taking something off the Camaro's responses in sharp cornering.
The cockpit is surprisingly comfortable, too. No, you can't see the stop lights if you get too close to them, and you can't see much at all in certain directions because of the vehicle's thick A and C pillars, but I like the sense you're wearing the Camaro almost as much as you're sitting in it. Chevy's interior designers also follow a growing trend by using shiny body-colored plastic trim accents in the door panels and elsewhere; the pieces help integrate the inside of the car with its exterior appearance, and are an ideal way to turn what's usually a negative'”hard plastic interiors'”into a positive.
As for the exterior itself, it certainly makes a bolder statement than the Mustang's, with a high belt line and some nice business as the sheet metal flows over the rear wheels. Chevy's aim was to build on the classic style of older Camaros from the 1960s, and the brand definitely hit the target: While the Mustang looks like a heritage design that has been updated for today's buyers, the Camaro looks like a distinctly 21st century entry that happens to incorporate some retro cues. It's a fine but notable difference between the two and gives the Chevy a definite advantage in attracting new customers.
Time to Lasso a Mustang GT?
Based on my seat time in the Chevy, I've got a new-found respect for the Camaro and would likely give it the nod over the Mustang GT if I had to make a choice between the two today. Of course, it's been a while since I've had a go with the 'Stang, and a fair comparison would require me to rectify that situation in the near future. I mean, just in case anyone from Ford is reading this ... .