Ask AutoGuide No. 7 – Affordable American Performance

Ask AutoGuide No. 7 – Affordable American Performance

Fuel economy… who needs it? Luggage capacity, rear-seat legroom, creature comforts, they’re more overrated than all the bacon memes on Facebook put together and raised to the power of Justin Bieber. That’s one hell of a confusing math problem, but it’s true. Needless add-ons and frou-frou features waste more time and energy than a month-long filibuster in the U.S. Senate. Anyone up for reading the phonebook?

So far the illustrious, esteemed and downright awe-inspiring AutoGuide Oracles have been faithfully answering reader questions about practical work-a-day vehicles. Swimming in a sea of sensible sedans and capacious crossovers has pushed them to the brink of a monotony-induced coma. Thank goodness for them there’s been an E-coli breakout this week and Boredom Beach is closed. Stay out of the water and avoid the clam bake at Sal Monella’s Seafood Shack. Holy carp!


Performance is on the menu, affordable performance. Jose is in the market for a fun-to-drive coupe that won’t pillage his wallet like Somali pirates hijacking a shipment of iPhones. With a little wiggle room he’s got about $25,000 to spend and wants to buy domestic. As such, six-cylinder muscle cars are the vehicle segment du jour in this week’s installment of Ask AutoGuide.

No doubt some of you are screaming at your computer’s flickering CRT monitor right now saying “This is bullshit! How DARE those effeminate douches call V6-powered vehicles ‘muscle cars!’” You’re right; and that’s a fair point. The automobiles in question are not fire-breathing rocket ships; they haven’t been shooting steroids and living at the gym like their eight-cylinder counterparts, but they’ve at least been playing Wii Fit so they’re reasonably toned. All of them bring more than 300 horsepower to the table.

To fill Jose’s request the Oracles have hastily assembled a patriotic trifecta (a bifecta plus one?) of cars, one for each color of the American flag, but they haven’t got all day; they’re already late for step-aerobics at their local Curves. So without further ado here are their recommendations.

Suggestion #1: 2013 Ford Mustang V6 Premium – $28,190

Information Card -- Ford MustangRepresenting the color blue is Ford’s venerable Mustang, America’s original ponycar. In nearly five decades of production the company has built more than 8.5 million of these fun and affordable fillies.

That strategy continues to this day and the 2013 car’s smile-to-dollar ratio is very high. Base price for the Mustang is less than $23,000 including freight charges. That’s a screaming deal for 305 horsepower, rear-wheel-drive and good looks.

Of course the entry-level car is a little sparse so the Oracles have recommend Jose shell out a few more greenbacks and upgrade to the Premium model. He can even dip into his collection of $2 bills to make up the difference; his grandmother sends him one every birthday. Sure, the dealer may look at him like he’s a creeper that watches middle-school volleyball games or someone that’s time traveled from the 1950s but they’re still legal tender, so take that convention!

The upgraded model costs a hair more than $28,000 out the door but it comes with quite a few nice features. A pounding Shaker sound system is part of the mix as is Ford’s SYNC infotainment system; a six-way adjustable power driver’s seat and ambient interior lighting are nice additions as well.

Of course $1,195 of that price is automatic transmission, one of Jose’s requirements.  Apparently he’s intimidated by cars with 50 percent more pedals than he has feet. The Oracles have no comment – or rather they had plenty, but were so foul they’d make an angry crackhead blush.

The Mustang’s base price isn’t the only thing that’s affordable, fuel economy is likewise sensible. With a self-shifting gearbox the car stickers at 19 miles per gallon around town and up to 31 on the highway. It’s thriftier than a rabbi splitting a bar tab.

SEE ALSO: 2013 V6 Mustang Five-Point Inspection

Behind that famous galloping pony logo is a 3.7-liter V6 engine. As mentioned, it delivers 305 horsepower but torque is just as impressive at 280 lb-ft. That’s plenty of motivation to give the car some nice acceleration. It won’t explode off the line like the supercharged GT500 but it’s still pretty fast.

The Mustang is a solid ponycar but it has a few downsides, and one of the biggest is that very solidity. The car has a live rear axle, which is practically Roman-chariot technology. Essentially the vehicle’s back-end is propped up by an iron log. For the most part this antiquated piece of hardware is pretty well behaved, but in certain driving situations it will kick, buck and shimmy. A modern independent rear suspension is a much better option, and something that features prominently on the next car recommended here.

Suggestion #2: 2013 Chevrolet Camaro 1LT – $27,845

Information Card -- Chevrolet CamaroThe Ford Mustang exploded onto the automotive scene back in April of 1964. Its introduction was nothing short of breathtaking; the cars literally stampeded out of showrooms. More than a million were built during its first year and a half on the market.

Chevrolet’s response to the Mustang came a few years later; the brand’s sporty Camaro took a bow in ’67. Even though it was a little late to the party it quickly established itself as a rival to Ford’s seminal ponycar.

Jump ahead five decades and things are much the same. The two automakers are still slugging it out for automotive supremacy, though the importance of small, sporty cars has waned. Today it’s all about trucks and crossovers, blech.

Like its Blue-Oval rival the Chevy Camaro is powered by a potent V6 engine. At 3.6-liters it delivers 323 horsepower, 18 more than the Mustang. Torque is ever-so-slightly less at a still-respectable 278 lb-ft. Direct fuel injection helps bolster those numbers, a feature the Ford lacks. A manual or automatic transmission is offered and both have six speeds.

The Camaro needs that extra power because it’s kind of a pig, crushing the scale at about 3,741 pounds. That’s about 218 more than Mustang. As a result it’s not quite as much fun to drive and it’s probably not as quick in a straight line, either. However, it is blessed with a modern independent rear suspension, which really shines when driving over rough pavement – where the Ford kicks the Chevy glides.

Despite its middle-age weight gain the Camaro is able to shrug off much of its extra poundage, especially in more powerful trim levels. The car nearly ties the Mustang in fuel economy. According to the brainiacs at the EPA it should stretch a gallon of regular unleaded 19 miles in urban conditions and 30 on the freeway. That’s enough for Don McLean to do laps around the levy he sang about for more than eight and a half minutes in his magnum opus American Pie.

SEE ALSO: 2013 Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE Review

The Camaro has its own list of advantages, and it’s hard to fault anyone for buying one. The car looks great on the road with a scowling front end and hunkered-down stance, but that low body comes with a few tradeoffs. The interior is very hard to see out of; a gravel-hauler has smaller rear blind spots. This is really unfortunate because hampered visibility conspires with low-rent materials to ruin the overall experience. Aside from visibility issues the car’s cabin is also a little on the cheap side, with plastic-coated plastic-trimmed plastic. In a lot of ways the V6 Camaro feels a step behind the Mustang, just as it was in the mid ‘60s.

Suggestion #3: 2013 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus – $28,790

Information Card -- Dodge ChallengerNot to be forgotten, Chrysler offers a potent ponycar that calls the Camaro and Mustang combo and raises their bets. The Challenger is Dodge’s sporty, rear-wheel-drive offering and it has some unique advantages the others can’t mach.

For starters it’s a big car, like aircraft carrier-sized. Its bulk is especially obvious when compared to the Mustang, which looks like it’s about as big as a Toyota Corolla in comparison. The Challenger’s hood stretches out like a runway. If it had lights along the sides aircraft could land on it.

Under the Challenger’s elephantine proboscis sits a 3.6-liter engine, and if you guessed it’s a V6 you’d be right! Matching the Mustang pony for pony it puts out 305 horsepower. Unfortunately torque is slightly down compared to its competitors at just 268 lb-ft, but you can’t win ‘em all.

That Pentastar V6 is matched to an antiquated five-speed automatic transmission. Luckily for Jose it’s the only gearbox offered; unfortunately though it’s not very smooth or responsive and it’s missing a few gears. A six- or eight-speed unit would certainly help the engine shine and improve fuel economy.

Topping the hulking Camaro, Dodge’s Challenger tips the scales at 3,834 pounds, a couple enchiladas short of two tons. As a result of all that extra adipose sheet-metal the car has some obesity-related illnesses, namely shortness of breath, and body rolls. It’s slower than its cross-town rivals and doesn’t handle as well.

Extra mass also impacts fuel economy, though it’s not bad by any stretch. The Challenger should average 21 miles per gallon in mixed driving. That’s 18 city, 27 highway if you’re counting.

Of course that added size does have its share of benefits. The car’s got a comfortable interior, a reasonably roomy trunk and a usable back seat. Yes, full-sized adults can actually sit back there for more than 30 seconds! Try putting an actual human being in the rear of the Mustang; it can’t be done.

SEE ALSO: 2012 Dodge Challenger SRT8 392 Review

Upping the ante, Dodge’s offering comes with a host of luxury-like amenities. It has rear-park assist so you don’t accidentally back over your neighbor’s toddler, fog lamps slice through low hanging airborne precipitation and heated front seats keep your buns crusty and warm, just like mom used to make.

Base price for this Chrysler coupe is about 27 grand, but climbing the price ladder one notch is the SXT Plus model, the Oracles’ recommendation for Jose. Out-the-door it should be a little less than $29,000. As always all prices exclude any incentives and include destination and delivery charges. Like ground round you pay by the pound with the Dodge Challenger.


2013-Ford-Mustang-01The Ford Mustang is probably the most fun to drive of the three cars presented in this week’s unusually patriotic installment of Ask AutoGuide. At a little more than 3,500 pounds it’s the lightest one of the bunch and it offers the most torque, if only by a tiny amount. These factors give it lively driving dynamics, but there’s no masking its crude rear end. That live axle has to go. Its back seat is also a tight squeeze and it rides on the shortest wheelbase by a wide margin.

2013-Chevrolet-Camaro-01One could argue the Chevrolet Camaro is the best looking car here with a mean, scowling grille. It’s also got the most horsepower on tap and despite its extra heft it nearly matches the Mustang in fuel economy. It also has a technologically superior chassis thanks to a proper independent rear suspension. But all is not perfect in Chevyland. Poor outward visibility and a low-rent interior detract from an otherwise pleasant experience.

2013-Dodge-Challenger-01Lastly there’s the Dodge Challenger. It’s by far the biggest car here, and the heaviest. These traits are a liability when it comes to driving fun but they do pay important dividends in other areas. The Challenger is spacious and offers a usable back seat. Adult passengers won’t make death threats toward the driver if they’re forced to ride in the rear; it also comes with some nice creature comforts.


After carefully weighing all of their options the Oracles have made a ruling. The car that best meets Jose’s requirements for a sporty, reasonably priced all-American coupe is the Ford Mustang. Just like it did in 1964, today’s version offers a nice blend of fun and efficiency. It’s a car that should serve him well for years to come, just try to forgive that live axle, ok?

As always, good luck in your quest for a new car and thanks again for taking the time to Ask AutoGuide.

If you need a little assistance shopping for your next vehicle feel free to do the same. Send a short message to Let us know the basics of what you’re looking for. How many seats do you need? What size of vehicle do you want? How much are you willing to spend? With some of those fundamentals out of the way we’ll get busy to come up with two or three must-see vehicles that you’ll have to put on your test-drive list.