One Big Reason Why Ford Might Win the Pony/Muscle Car Race (Another Why It Won't)

The Blue Oval fans can rest assured that Ford's S650 Mustang is on the right track - it still has V8 power under the hood - and it shows. But what if the competition – the ones that are left – strike back with straight-six turbo force?
Ford Mustang V8 vs Dodge Charger Hurricane 9 photos
Photo: Ford / Dodge
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As we stand today on the precipice of the EV era, America's pony and muscle car sector looks forever transformed. Starting next year, the sixth-generation Chevrolet Camaro will be no more, and GM hasn't planned a direct successor. At least not yet, because the company pledged that this is not the end of the road for the iconic nameplate that was born in 1967.

At Ford, the road is narrow and straight – the 2024 model year of the legendary Mustang, the first for the S650 seventh generation, shows nothing but love for the ICE-powered age. It's almost like a mammoth appears in the middle of a pack of elephants – it looks majestic alongside its descendants but also slightly out of place.

However, few will see the Ford Mustang like that – all thanks to Blue Oval's efforts to make it enticing both on the street and on the track. Heck, there's even a Mustang GTD now, a spiritual successor of the Ford GT supercar with more than 800 hp on tap but without the fancy mid-engine EcoBoost powertrain.

Instead, aside from the base 315-hp EcoBoost four-pot, the FoMoCo's corner office head honchos went all in on the idea that they might appeal one last time to lovers of the mighty V8 engine. So, the Coyote is present in the 480-486-hp Mustang GT and also on board the 500-hp Dark Horse. Interestingly, the Mustang GTD uses the 5.2-liter supercharged V8 seen inside the Shelby GT500 and, most recently, under the hood of the big and brawny Ford F-150 Raptor R full-size light-duty high-performance pickup truck.

Recently, Ford also opened the floodgates for the upcoming special editions and new versions plus packages of the 2024 Ford Mustang. The first one is the Mustang GT California Special package, a classic showcase sprinkled with the S650's modern style. As the Mustang prepares to celebrate its 60th anniversary, we can be pretty sure that this is just the subtle, blue-tinted beginning.

The touches are light but easy to spot – and are primarily visual, hence the awkwardly low MSRP – just $1,995. On the other hand, you can only have it on the Mustang GT Premium Fastback or Convertible, so you have to shell out at least $47k and $52,515, respectively, to begin with. Hopefully, some of the upcoming special editions and limited versions will also be available on cheaper Mustangs, and Ford will one day give us the surprise of lowering the model year MSRPs instead of raising them.

Quite frankly, I wouldn't bet on that, though, unless Dodge pulls a rabbit out of the ICE-powered hat. They, too, announced the retirement of the 2023 Charger and Challenger with seven 'Last Call' special editions as the mighty Hemi V8 is going the way of the dodo. There's also the Dodge Charger Daytona SRT Concept previewing the nine levels of Banshee EV things to come – to complicate matters more.

First and foremost, it seems the Charger nameplate is reverting to its two-door body style – so the Challenger might be dead starting with the 2024 model year, just like Chevy's Camaro. Secondly, adopting the EV lifestyle means no more ICE power is under the hood. Alas, the rumor mill claims that Stellantis' bosses have second thoughts about exclusive battery power.

That means it all hangs by a thread – Ford's potential domination of the novel pony/muscle car market is only possible if Dodge doesn't go back on its sustainability thoughts. You see, the Blue Oval has one major advantage – in a world overrun by downsizing, the 5.0-liter Coyote V8 is exactly the right size to escape with an additional lease of life. That way, people can still be proud they drive a V8-powered machine but also don't kill the environment as much as a Chevy or Dodge 6.2-liter supercharged V8.

Alas, I feel there's one major caveat. If the Chevy Camaro stays dead for good, GM won't matter into the pony/muscle car territory because the C8 Corvette is way too expensive and closer to supercars. Suppose the Ford Mustang is allowed to live rent-free in the sector. In that case, the money-grabbing executives over at FoMoCo will surely keep raising the prices of the S650 until we see it go deep into $40k territory, even with the base models.

However, suppose Stellantis goes back on its exclusive EV lifestyle promises and indeed offers the next Dodge Charger two-door with Banshee EV powertrains and ICE power. In that case, it will be a lot better for the customers. It will also be an exciting competition because the options will most likely involve the fresh 3.0-liter Hurricane SST (straight-six turbo) family of engines. Plus, if they come like with the 2025 Ram 1500, they will be tucked smack in between the Mustang EcoBoost and GTD.

More precisely, a Dodge Charger two-door with the 3.0-liter Hurricane SST could have 420 horsepower – less than the Mustang GT V6 but much more than the Mustang EcoBoost. If the company also grants access to the H/O – that's 540 horsepower going against the 500-hp Mustang Dark Horse. Of course, Ford could also watch its peers to see what the competition comes up with – and maybe that's why we haven't heard anything just yet about new Shelby models.

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About the author: Aurel Niculescu
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Aurel has aimed high all his life (literally, at 16 he was flying gliders all by himself) so in 2006 he switched careers and got hired as a writer at his favorite magazine. Since then, his work has been published both by print and online outlets, most recently right here, on autoevolution.
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