Here’s the thing,
Every Ponycar on the market these days is going the route of downsizing. And let’s be honest, that mission is just a realignment with their original ideals. The original Mustang and Camaro were lightweight, tossable alternatives to the muscle cars of their day. There’s a reason that Bullitt’s penultimate scene was a car chase through a challenging course in a bustling downtown metropolis. Contrary to its name, the Mustang just simply wasn’t made to stand on its hind legs as they come from the factory.
However, there is one place these cars are being downsized that is leaving traditionalists clutching their pearls: the engine. Both the new-for-2015 Mustang, and new-for-2016 Camaro launched with a turbocharged 4 cylinder available in their first years. As many detractors as there have been, there’s also been a major upside: new blood. Pony and muscle car buyers are a very loyal group. They will continue to buy these cars as long as there is a V8 option offered, living by the motto “no replacement for displacement”. But the pony car group has traditionally not been one that is able to convert non-class-exclusive buyers, making these 4 cylinder options all the more important. And they’re succeeding.
These cars are now being cross-shopped with hot hatches, sport compacts, and personal luxury coupes. The last generation Boss 302 earned the nickname “The American M3” back when that was still possible to get with 2 doors, and the new Ecoboost model is pulling customers out of Ford’s own Focus ST when they come on-lot. V6 Camaros have been going head-to-head with Accord Coupes since its re-emergence in the market in 2010, and in the new generation is poised to step up and go head to head with Audi’s luxurious A5. This is due in no short amount to the fact that the new Camaro is mostly a Cadillac CTS underneath. Packing the turbocharged 2-liter simply evens the playing the field.
What’s more, both of these cars have legitimate performance credentials. Both are capable of reaching 60 in under 6 seconds, and due to the lighter curb weight of carrying more compact powerplants, often match or exceed handling characteristics of their performance labeled stablemates when comparably equipped in the department. That is undoubtedly hard for the purists to argue with, but they’re not the ones Ford and Chevy are aiming at with these options. And it looks like that shot is hitting the mark. It’s now only a matter of time until we see traditional american muscle in the buff mags taking on the likes of GTIs and 428is.
And that, that’s the thing.