Going into this test, and knowing the basic stats, we had an inkling how it might turn out. (All three cars, by the way, eke out impressive and nearly identical fuel-economy results -- though the Mustang's lack of a six-speed means it finishes last on EPA.) Never did we guess, though, how close the overall finish would turn out to be.
In third place, the Dodge Challenger R/T. Third of three, but hardly last. As MacKenzie well sums up: "Hugely endearing personality. Even though the Challenger starts to fall apart dynamically above 7/10ths you can't help but like the big guy. It's sorta like a Heritage Soft-Tail Harley; a carefully crafted and easy to own reminder of a simpler, sunnier America." Astutely executed, fast, and sit-back comfortable, the Challenger is the pony you'd ride for a 50-state tour. On the downside, the orange bruiser simply can't carve with the precision of its rivals, and though it starts with a mid-pack base sticker ($30,945), adding the good stuff (six-speed manual, 3.92 rear axle, limited-slip diff, 20-in. wheels and tires, etc.) pushed the price of our tester to a trio-topping $38,270.
Finishing in second place . . . the Ford Mustang GT. Mind you, this was a photo-finish. The Mustang with Track Pack blew us all away with its sublime steering, incredible front-end grip, stylish cockpit, and beauteous V-8. As Loh notes, "That's what most impressed me: Ford's two competitors had the advantage of sampling 45 years of Mustang DNA, yet they still couldn't pull out a runaway win." The Mustang scores well on value, too: base price for the GT is $28,845, and with Premium package, Track Pack, security package, and the comfort group, our test car totaled $34,330. The Ford might even have scored an upset, except it cannot match the Camaro's unfailing poise, its breathtaking power, or its styling drama. Those quality issues sure didn't help, either.
And so . . . our winner, the Prime Pony of the 21st Century is . . . the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS. Considering all the ways GM could easily have got this car wrong, it's nothing short of a triumph how unquestionably the company got it right. The Camaro might trail the Mustang in handling sharpness, and there's no doubt it finishes last for cabin and trunk volume, but, well, you don't pick your pony for the size of its saddlebags. Graced with massive power, excellent efficiency, unfailing refinement, and show-stopping looks, the Camaro SS nails every essential for its segment. What's more, it's priced to steal. Base sticker for the 1SS manual: just $30,995. With the Boston Acoustics audio package, our cloth-seat tester climbed only to $31,490. Go nuts with the options pencil -- adding leather, power sunroof, ground effects, six-speed auto, and more stuff you really don't need -- and you can nudge the SS just over $40K.
So there you have it: Chevrolet claims the ponycar title, circa 2009. Now, go to it, Hatfields, McCoys, and HatCoys. We've been waiting 35 years to witness once again perhaps the all-time greatest feud in Autoland. Where's my cigar? Ah, there's the opening bell!