Chevrolet Camaro V-6 vs. Ford Mustang V-6
Last year, the wowed us with its 304-bhp V-6. Yeah, it was thrashier and slower than the V-8, but compared to the Mustang’s anemic cast-iron V-6 lump, it rocked. The Camaro’s all-aluminum 3.6-liter V-6 with direct injection trounced Ford’s larger 4.0-liter, a sohc engine that made a sad, rental-car-destined 210 bhp. Like V-8, its V-6 was simply outdated. That’s been remedied with a 3.7-liter Duratec borrowed from the Lincoln lineup, necessitating a longitudinal mounting. It’s a modern engine with dual variable valve timing that makes excellent torque from down low and one more horsepower than the. with 305 bhp. Noticeably missing, however, is direct injection. A future version might include this for an extra boost in performance. Even without DI, the Mustang V-6 makes more power than the 1999 Mustang Cobra, and rivals Acura’s high-performance V-6 engine in the TL!
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Best, though, is its nod to the enthusiasts who don’t need the V-8 power or insurance premiums that go with it. What’s more, the V-6 can be outfitted with a $1995 performance package that ups the suspension settings to a level comparable with the GT, but also includes a 3:31:1 final drive, the same Pirelli P Zero tires and brakes from the GT with performance pads and a strut tower bar. Our car had this and a $995 Mustang Club of America looks package with a unique billet grille, side stripes and blacked-out decklid. The MCA 18-in. aluminum wheels were replaced by the larger ones included in the performance package.
With two fewer cylinders hanging off the front end, there’s a better weight balance of 53/47, though not quite as good as the Camaro V-6’s 52/48. Our test car was also outfitted with the 6-speed manual. It makes for a spirited drive that any enthusiast would enjoy. Not quite to the level of the V-8s, but far beyond what the Camaro V-6 offers, even when equipped with its 6-speed. And both V-6s offer decidedly better fuel economy than the V-8s. Yeah, they’re still destined for the rental car fleet, but this isn’t their only home.
On our travels with the V-8s, the V-6s followed. Bornhop noted, “In an odd sort of way, it’s more fun to extract max performance out of a lesser-powered car than one with, say, 426 bhp.” Around Big Willow it wasn’t much different. The V-6s did everything the V-8s did, just slower and with more understeer. It was quite interesting to find the V-6 hit its 113-mph speed limiter entering Turn 8 and again down the main straight. All told, it spent about 8 seconds per lap on the limiter, but it still creamed the V-6 Camaro by over a second. And that’s with the Camaro V-6 just touching its limiter of 118 mph down the straight. What hurts the Camaro V-6 is its soft suspension that clearly isn’t meant for track driving. The Mustang V-6 has the market cornered on performance here.
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Everywhere else on our drive, the V-6s held their own with very similar levels of grip. Curiously, though, the V-6 Mustang was also the car we turned to when it was dark and we needed directions to the nearest steakhouse. The large screen of its optional navigation system gave us directions and weather updates through Travel Link. Currently, navigation is not an option on the Camaro models.
And although Bornhop and I both preferred the Mustang V-6, our Associate Managing Editor Cheryl Cooper found the Camaros more to her liking than either Mustang. Not just for their styling, but ease of driving. With the Mustangs, “Shifting to 5th required some awareness on my part; it’s a deliberate movement of the shift knob to the right. I sometimes found myself reaching 3rd instead.” She found no such fault with the Camaros.
What we know for sure is that Ford won’t let the Mustang stagnate. It’s been improved for the past two years, and there’s no sign of letting up now. Maybe there’s hope yet for a twin-turbo Ecoboost V-6? The Camaro, on the other hand, needs attention. It’s only been on the market for a year and Ford has raised the stakes. Can Chevrolet get its game back and take the fight to Ford?