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

In previous incarnations of this journal, the procedure for writing a headline for a comparison test similar to this one would have been to add up the peak horsepower of all the participants, add an exclamation point or two or three, and be done with the thing. But in these more enlightened times, simply typing “2207-hp Smackdown!” just doesn’t cut it.

Why, just last month, we estimated Car and Driver‘s carbon footprint. If you didn’t catch that piece, know that it’s sasquatch large. So instead, we’re starting this 2207-hp comparo by noting that the 797-hp Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye Widebody is saddled with the lowest gas-guzzler tax of the three cars, at $1700. The feds have decided that buyers of the automatic-equipped Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE need to pay $2100 because of its thirst. Choose the new Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 and you’ll need to pony up $2600. In our driving, the trio averaged less than 14 mpg. And that’s not including the tanks of fuel these vehicles mainlined during performance testing and hot lapping at a racetrack. Goodness gracious.

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. Here we have the most outrageous, most capable version currently available, with nearly 800 horsepower and tacked-on fender flares to cover its fat tires. Our test car came with optional summer-­only Pirelli P Zero PZ4 rubber ($695) and a shorter, 3.09:1 rear axle ($1095). Otherwise, the options—which take the Challenger’s as-tested price to $92,785—are all comfort and convenience items.

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 and spec’d the $7500 track-­focused 1LE package, which adds a road-racing-style wing and front dive planes to the increasingly futuristic-­looking Camaro. We also specified the 10-speed transmission ($1595) to better match the automatic-­only competitors.

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. To buttress that claim, the company fitted our test car with the $18,500 Carbon Fiber Track pack. It includes carbon-fiber wheels and a big manually adjustable wing along with some special trim.

With these three powerhouses, we were destined to burn some fuel—okay, a lot of fuel. But we decided to make the most of our carbon output by taking these cars to the wide-open spaces and mountain roads near Death Valley National Park in California and exploiting them to the maximum in the only place where one can do such a thing: the racetrack. Because 2207 horsepower!

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