Mustang Shelby GT500 vs Camaro ZL1 1LE vs Challenger Hellcat Redeye

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Ford vs Chevrolet vs Dodge

Mustang Shelby GT500 vs Camaro ZL1 1LE vs Challenger Hellcat Redeye


These cars live in an alternate universe where downsized engines and hybrid this and that simply do not exist. Hell, two of the three engines in this comparison test have pushrod valvetrains (incidentally, those two delivered slightly better fuel economy than the smaller-displacement DOHC engine). Instead of turbochargers, they all compress air with superchargers, a type of performance enhancer nearly as old as gas-powered engines. And they are, it must be said, glorious and garish in equal measure.

Leading the old-school charge is the Hellcat Redeye Widebody. It’s not just the look that’s old school; the chassis underneath the Redeye dates back more than a decade. But Dodge has made a virtue of the Challenger’s antiquated chassis and tough-guy looks with increasingly outrageous editions.

The last two generations of the Camaro also had a bit of retro at their core, but with this one, Chevy has turned its classic pony car into a modern sports car. For this test, we opted to include the 650-hp ZL1 model, which adds a road-racing-style wing and front dive planes to the increasingly futuristic-¬looking Camaro.

The star of this particular show, the new Mustang Shelby GT500, is Ford‘s bid to dominate the class. Its 760-hp supercharged DOHC 5.2-liter V-8, which is bolted exclusively to a Tremec-sourced seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, has certainly raised a few eyebrows in this rarefied segment. But we’ve seen big horsepower from GT500s before. What we haven’t seen is a balance of power and handling. Ford promises that it’s different this time.

Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye


The Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye Widebody tested here was equipped with a trunk-mounted subwoofer, whereas the GT500 came with carbon-fiber wheels and without rear seats. If there is a clearer indication of how the Challenger differs from the other combatants, our horsepower-addled minds cannot conceive of it.


Sure, the thumper is optional, but we can’t imagine the Challenger without it. At adequate volume, the whole backside falls into vibratory bliss. We popped the trunk lid to find Cheetos crumbs bouncing to the bass and beef jerky fluttering across the floor. It was bumpin’ in there. Which reminds us: Sorry about the mess in the trunk, Dodge.

More Details about Challenger Hellcat Redeye

Point is, the Challenger shouldn’t be much of a challenger in this group. From acceleration to braking to road-holding, the Redeye did, indeed, bring up the rear. Yet, it has charm, and charm goes a long way. Once you get used to the nautical body motions and vague steering, this car is old-school fun. Even on Willow Springs International Raceway, where our expectations of the Dodge were low, it proved a hoot. The broad front rubber of the Widebody means that the Challenger turns pretty well and evidence balanced handling.

With the Challenger SRT Redeye Widebody, Dodge has tapped into the country’s latent muscle-car affection. It is retro done right. Sure, the seats are terrible, unsupportive things. And high price tag seems like a high price to pay for a remastered muscle car. But the Challenger defines its unique measure of success and then nails it, knocks it down, and does a lurid burnout on top of it. It couldn’t care less about any Mustang or Camaro.

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Highs: Muscle-vehicle retro done right, a usable back seat and trunk, comfortable ride, WHINE.

Lows: Terrible seats, wobbly body, dead steering, more power than it’s prepared to deal with, WHINE.

Verdict: Plays to its drummer, loudly.

Ford Mustang Shelby GT500

Down the front straight at Willow Springs, traveling at 150 mph, the GT500 broadcasts a wall of sound so dense, menacing, and percussive that it would knock the wig right off a trembling Phil Spector.


At full revs, chugging high-test, the GT500 is an event, an automotive happening. But it’s a limited-time offer because, with its mighty thirst and relatively small fuel tank, it seems to spend as much time at the pump as it does on the track.


Despite its gooey 315/30ZR-20 Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rear tires, programmable launch control, and quick-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch, the GT500 simply can’t harness its full power—assuming the ground is not covered in sticky traction compound, such as at a drag strip. We managed a 3.6-second sprint to 60 mph. That’s a solid number, but it’s not as quick as the run in the Camaro, which has 110 less horsepower. By 100 mph, though, the Ford is quicker than the Chevy by 0.3 seconds, and by 160 mph, it’s more than five seconds quicker. Its 132-mph trap speed in the quarter is ample proof of the Mustang’s power.

More Details about Mustang Shelby GT500

But power was never really the problem with previous GT500s, especially the last couple versions. The problem was always that the cars were, well, push pigs. No more. The sticky Michelins have something to do with that. At Willow, the GT500 proved an excellent track car, particularly after we removed the rain tray from under the huge hood vent, fitted the included splitter wickers, and adjusted the wing to its high-downforce setting.


The GT500 is alive on the track. After only one session, it was identified as the car most likely to end up in the dirt. That’s not because of any failing on the part of the GT500. Rather, it’s because the Mustang goads the driver the most. Its failings on course were the same as those on the road: Its steering is disconcertingly numb.

Highs: An engine that just keeps on giving, snappy dual-clutch gearbox, a track-day joy.

Lows: A fuel tank that just keeps running dry, numb steering, costly.

Verdict: A GT500 to make you forget about all those old push-pig GT500s.

Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE


Our affection for the current-generation Camaro is well documented. It has the finest-handling, best-steering chassis ever shoved under a pony car. It is a machine of great precision and trustworthiness. Carrying the least weight and riding on Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar 3R near-slicks, the Camaro manages the shortest stops from 100 mph (11 feet shorter than the GT500 and 35 less than the portly Challenger) and the most outright grip (a stunning 1.17 g’s on the skidpad). With a talented ‘shoo-in control, the Camaro is quickest to 60 mph, a feat it manages in 3.4 seconds. At 11.5 seconds in the quarter-mile, it’s only a tenth off the much more powerful GT500 because one had traction and one did not.


This trait is almost always a good thing. It’s the nature of the specialized 1LE package. In addition to aero doodads and cosmetic touches, the 1LE package nets buyers the track tires and a retuned suspension with trick Multimatic-supplied spool-valve dampers. Because Chevy figures 1LE buyers know what they’re getting into, the company stiffens the suspension to a stunning degree. It was almost too stiff for bumpy Willow Springs. It was too stiff for the bumpy desert roads outside Death Valley, where the Camaro’s unyielding suspension forced this writer’s head into contact with the roof three times in rapid succession. Perhaps slowing down would have somewhat mitigated the severity of the whacks.

More Details about Camaro ZL1 1LE


Also, please add to this section of the story our usual complaints about the poor quality and tortured design of the Camaro’s interior. On the upside, this particular car came with the test’s best seats, and most of its touchpoints were covered in silky-soft synthetic suede. And as for the optional automatic, you can forget about using the shift paddles; this 10-speed shift programing is so spot on, it makes any manual control a moot activity.

Highs: Best real-world performance, most confident track-day tool, value.

Lows: The Camaro interior, head-splitting ride.

Verdict: The best modern muscle car is the least powerful one that also looks like your future robotic insect overlord.

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