Auto Update - The Test Drive

Two weeks ago or so I wrote about how I was considering buying a new car, and my three choices were between the Camaro, the Mustang and the Challenger. I listed horsepower and gas mileage and various other numbers. Then I asked what you thought. You overwhelming thought that A) the Challenger was the best, followed by the Mustang and B) I badly needed to go test drive all three before making any decisions. So today I did exactly that.

I also brought someone with me who has very strong opinions about everything and is never shy when it comes to sharing those opinions. They rode in the back seat of all three cars.

Here are the results of the test drives:

Camaro SS

The Camaro was the clear loser in the poll on my last post about the car decision. No one favored it. Here is what I found:

PROS: The SS model is much better-looking than a basic Camaro. I liked it much better in person than I thought I would. The engine was dead silent, which is surprising for a car making over 400 horsepower. We even popped the hood to see if it was really running because it was so quiet. It was, but if not for the turning of the pulleys you wouldn't have known it. From inside the car you can't hear a thing. Speaking of inside the car, the driver's seat is comfortable. Having a side mirror on both the driver's door and the passenger door was very helpful. The car rides solid and handled the really horrible Memphis roads with a smoother ride than I would have expected. It beat on us a little bit, but not as bad as an economy car. The car handles like a sports car, easily flying around a looping off-ramp without any lean or skidding tires at all. This car will fly. It has more power while getting better gas mileage than either of the other 2.

CONS: Sitting in this car is like putting on a condom. It's really tight in there. My left leg was against the door and I really couldn't do anything about that short of amputating my leg. The roof was so low, partially due to the fact that the car was equipped with a sunroof, that my head was touching the ceiling. Lowering the seat all the way down didn't give me any significant headroom. I definitely don't want one with a sunroof. I didn't anyway, but this just confirmed that it isn't even an option for me. I'd break my neck if I ever hit a bad bump in the road. That's just insane. Speaking of insane, I can't see in this car. Not only is there very limited visibility out the rear window, but the blind spot when trying to look to your right for a lane change is big enough to hide a Humvee. And it's no better when you look to your left either. The low roof put the rear view mirror directly in my line of sight so that I really couldn't see well out the windshield when looking towards the right. Basically, I could see what was ahead of me and in my mirrors and nothing else. I felt like I couldn't keep up with where the cars were around me because I could not see well. I would expect to have a nightmare of a time trying to maneuver this car in rush hour traffic with all the blind spots. And I would expect to die were I to ever crash at any significant speed. There's no room between you and the car at all. You're pretty much wearing it.

FROM THE BACK SEAT: I couldn't even sit up all the way and even slouching I still had to lay my head to one side. There is nowhere to put my feet. You can't slip them under the seat in front of you for some reason, so where the hell are they supposed to go? And I couldn't see anything at all except the inside of the car itself. You can't see out any of the windows. It's like being in a box. I do NOT like this car.


The Mustang received a fair number of votes in my poll and is the car I had been considering buying for the longest amount of time. Here is what I learned from driving it:

PROS: This car felt right before I had even gotten out onto the highway. It just has something about it that feels perfect. I don't know if it's the wheelbase or steering ratio or what, but it feels like you could do circles on a 2-lane road and not even go off the pavement. It feels tight and right. It also has a mild musclecar sound that isn't too loud or too quiet. The exhaust is about perfect. Even though the interior has a lot of plastic, which I've read car enthusiasts complaining about, it didn't really bother me. If a plastic pretend bumper doesn't bother you, why would you care if the interior is plastic? Anyway, the seat was comfortable and I was able to adjust it to sit low enough that my head wasn't against the ceiling. The car had no sunroof, which helped give me enough headroom, too. And I can see extremely well in all directions.

CONS: The trunk was smaller than I expected. The driver's seat was literally touching the seat behind it, meaning there is no possible way anyone could sit there unless they had no legs at all. The plastic interior will not age well in the Memphis summer sun, but then nothing plastic ever does.

FROM THE BACK SEAT: There is nowhere to put my feet. There is something blocking them from going under the seat in front of me. But I have enough headroom to sit up straight and my seat isn't uncomfortable otherwise. Why is there no arm rest back here? I have nowhere to put my arm. Its just pressed against the side of the car with nothing to rest it on. I hate that.


The last car I drove was the Challenger SRT8, a 2009 model because the 2010 model had sold earlier that morning and already left the lot. This is the car most people recommended that I choose.

PROS: The car looks awesome. It has the most trunk space of any of the three cars. The car can actually seat 5 people rather than 4, like the other 2. No sunroof and my head was nowhere near touching the ceiling. My left leg wasn't pressed against the driver's door while I drove. I had plenty of room, the most of any of the 3 cars. My passenger beside me, who is taller than me, had plenty of room. My passenger in the back had plenty of room. The engine rumbles like a musclecar should. The car rides like a dream, especially compared to the Camaro, which had the harshest ride. I can see better than I had expected. I really like this car.

CONS: RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!! Wow, between 1500 and 2000 rpms the exhaust was so loud and deep it actually hurt our ears. This is a used car so the original owner may have installed an aftermarket exhaust which is to blame for this, but I don't know if that is so at this point. I would swap out the mufflers with something quieter right away. There is a slight blind spot where the rear pillars are between the side quarter windows and the rear window. It isn't nearly as bad as in the Camaro, though, and if you move your head enough you can see around it. I believe I can compensate for this well enough for it not to be a big issue.

FROM THE BACK SEAT: I almost fell asleep. It is really comfortable back there. I had plenty of space, including leg room and my feet could slip under the seat in front of me which meant you could move it further back and I'd still have enough room. I like this car the most of all.

So there you have it. It's down to the Mustang and the Challenger and I don't know which one I'm going to choose. I liked driving the Mustang the most of all. It feels just right. But the ride and extra room inside the Challenger is unbeatable and if you're going to be doing a lot of driving like I am that matters quite a lot. But then again, the Mustang gets the best gas mileage, which also matters quite a lot when you're doing a lot of driving and over a long distance.

At this point, it may come down to what my insurance agent says it will cost me to insure either of these cars. After that, it will depend upon how much of exactly what I want I'm able to find in one of these cars. I'm not planning to buy it brand new off the lot where I get to name all my demands and have it built the way I want, so that limits me to what is available on the market. I was told the SRT8 model Challengers can be hard to get and disappear almost instantly. The fact that just last night I checked the lot and confirmed that they had 2 of them, only to arrive the following afternoon to find that the newest one had already sold and gone, would seem to confirm that actually getting a decent used SRT8 may be a significant challenge. If that proves to be the case, then I'll either have to settle for a standard V8 Challenger, or give it up and go with the much-easier-to-find Mustang GT or other specialty model, like a Shelby, Boss or Saleen.

So, what do you think now?

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