For a brief time we have the best Aussie and US muscle available at the same time, so who builds these beasts best?

The Ford feels muscular and lively, but itís never the wrecking ball in the back of the strides the GTS is

TíS CRUNCH time, kids.

It ainít no news flash, but if you want to buy a brand-new muscle car for sensible money in the next couple of years, chances are itís going to come from the US. Fact. But is that the end of the world? Will a move to US-sourced iron rob us of everything that Aussie muscle has come to represent? Are US-made performance cars as bleak Ė in some aspects Ė as they used to be?

See, for those of us who buy razors rather than zit cream, the world of factory muscle cars has always drawn some pretty trustworthy lines in the hi-po sand. Itís a bit of an us-versus-them thing, and over the years several defining features of each have emerged and been subsequently set in stone. But as the Aussie industry winds down and we look to the US of A for our next generation of boredom-beaters, do any of those old rules still apply? And, if so, which ones? Does an Australian muscle car still stand out from a Yankee one?

In an attempt to generate some As for that barrage of Qs, we grabbed a car that represents the future of what we are about to receive. The Mustang might trade on its glorious past, but if you take a quick squiz at the spec sheet, you can see itís also moved forward technically and, presumably, quality-wise.

Letís hope so. And to test it, letís hurl it up against arguably the best Oz can do Ė the HSV Gen-F2 GTS, a ripped son of a beach if ever there was one.

Holding the two brochures up together, it soon I becomes clear that maybe some of those diehard rules of engagement no longer apply. Iíll start you off with an easy one: Engine displacement. Now, back in the good old days, the Septics dead-set had the wood on us in that department. As long as a Torana with a six-potter could win Bathurst, the local car-makers figured a small-block was as big as we needed to go. Not so in the US, where the bigblock ruled the roads and, thanks to whole banks of carburettors and eight-plus litres, horsepower outputs in multiples of 100 were the order of the day.

That, however, was then.

Oh, how we laughed when we first saw the specs for the VF HSV GTS. Not only was the engine embiggened over its Holden Commodore basis (although the Commy has caught up cube-wise in VF Series II trim) but those 6.2 litres were then blown by a dirty great twin-screw pump. But the Mustang? The great white hope for Aussie lovers of factory muscle? Bzzt. Five litres is all you get and you can forget about a supercharger or a turbo. Oh

sure, in the States, Ford will sell you a thing called a Mustang GT350, but they ainít gonna sell it over here and even then, it remains an atmo V8 (albeit a fairly buff one). Bottom line is 430kW and 740Nm for the HSV and 306kW and 530Nm for the Mustang.

Tradition one shot to bits. That said, the V8 in the Mustang is a bloody good atmo 5.0-litre and it sounds and feels at least a litre bigger than that. It goes hard, too, and despite handing back 1.2 litres and nine psi, itís less than a second slower across 400m. Mind you, that 0.9 of a tick at the pointy end of a 12-second car (in the GTSís case) is still a big deficit. And while the Ford does feel muscular and lively, itís never the wrecking ball in the back of your strides that the GTS is. If the Mustangís Coyote was all you could get your hands on, youíd still be chuffed. But knowing that the HSVís LSA exists will always leave you wondering what might have been.

Youíll get it in the neck at the pump, though, and while the Mustang is no sipper, with 13.8L/100km on test, the HSV gurgled away 16.2L/100km.

Itís worth noting that both of these cars feature excellent variations on the launch-control theme.

Youíre required to slip the clutch just a fraction to avoid a rubber explosion under the back wheels, but get it right and both cars scuttle away with just enough wheelspin to make for great 400m times. The HSVís canít be fiddled (but feels to be calibrated justso anyway) while the Mustangís launch function can be varied to set sail at anything from 3000 to 4500rpm. On the day, we found 3100 to be just right and 3300 was a tad too much. Yep, itís that sensitive.

Folks like AMG and BMW should take a long, hard look at how these systems work, because their own set-ups are pants by comparison.

So what about handling and ride? Weíve always been kind of proud of our Aussie engineers for their ability to turn a big heavy car into something with a decent sidestep. Similarly, the myth of the Yank Tank, the land-yacht, the boulevardier, is well entrenched, with plenty of proof to be seen in previous US makes and models. But the GTS is proof that a big, heavy four-door can, indeed, offer a pretty lithe feel and disguise its heft pretty well. It steers well and with Magnetic Ride Control thereís a high degree of adjustability in terms of ride quality. Thing is, on anything less than a dead-smooth surface, you really need to leave the MRC in ĎTourí; any setting more aggressive just stuffs the ride and has the GTS leaping about a little disconcertingly. Those goodlooking 20-inch wheels and tyres (the Mustang rolls on 19s) might have something to do with that.

The Mustang also has selectable drive modes, but they do bugger-all for the ride quality. But thatís okay, because the íStangís ride is only a fraction sharper than the GTSís Tour mode. The Ford is also less crashy, and ultimately, better damped, with less secondary jounce. And while really big lumps

The GTS is proof that a big, heavy four-door sedan can offer a pretty lithe feel and hide its heft pretty well

will launch the HSV on a successful search for its front bump stops, thereís no such carry-on from the Mustang. And just to rub salt into things, the íStang is a more natural steerer on those quickish secondary roads; the slightly more accurate helm also makes the Ford feel smaller and narrower (even though itís really not).

All right, letís talk tech. Itís often been noted that US-made cars donít always encompass the cuttingedge techo stuff that other cars Ė Australian included Ė seem to embrace a lot earlier. In a way, that still holds true, because while the HSV gets driver-aid gizmos like lane-assist, blind-spot warning and forward-collision warning, the Ford has no such thing. Oh sure, the Mustang gets a total of eight airbags, including one each for the driverís and passengerís knees, but experience tells us that a car usually only gets knee-bags because it needs them.

Dumb it down one level to the glitzy stuff like laptimers and G-meters, however, and the Mustang is suddenly back in the race. Both cars get those questionable drive-mode choices we mentioned earlier, and they both have a raft of on-board lap-timing programs and the ability to measure braking and acceleration G-forces. In the HSV, itís all contained in Track mode, while in the Ford itís called Race mode. But since, in the íStang, the toggles only work one way, you need to cycle through Race mode to get back to the normal settings. And Race mode switches off the ESP, so for a split second you might find that ESP is disabled when all you wanted was to go back to a normal setting. And if the ducks-ofdeath happened to line up in that split secondÖ But surely, the Ford must follow Stateside tradition and offer up all those little luxuries that the average US tub-o-consumer has demanded for years? Well, maybe, maybe not. The Mustangís convenienceitem list might be a long one back in Detroit (where a stolen shopping trolley is now basic transport) but against the HSV, it canít cut it. Okay, thereís a big price difference here, but if this pair is as good as it gets (and that seems likely for the next while) then itís worth mentioning that the Mustang doesnít get a power-recline for the front seats, no head-up display and no digital speedo no matter how you configure the dashboard. The Ford also suffers from a couple of cheap shots that hark back to its original left-handdrive spec: The park-brake is on the passengerís side of the console (but at least itís not an e-brake like the HSV gets) and the tune and volume knobs on the stereo are the wrong way around.

Speaking of which, the Mustangís interior also supports another widely held theory that US cars have rubbish interiors and canít match the Aussie stuff for build quality. And weíd have to agree. The íStang has lots of hard, black plastic and the fit and finish is nowhere near the HSVís. Both have some brightwork around the dashboard thatís just

The Mustang suggests it ainít all bad news and the world of performance cars will keep on turning

Sprint kings

Trans Pacifi c rivalry


0-10km/h 0.30 0-20km/h 0.77 0-30km/h 1.22 0-40km/h 1.63 0-50km/h 2.04 0-60km/h 2.43 0-70km/h 2.84 0-80km/h 3.58 0-90km/h 4.04 0-100km/h 4.60 0-110km/h 5.18 0-120km/h 6.06 0-130km/h 6.81 0-140km/h 7.60 0-150km/h 8.44 0-160km/h 9.35 0-170km/h 10.66 0-180km/h 11.79 0-190km/h 13.02 0-400m 12.62sec @ 186.95km/h 80-120km/h 2.40sec 100-0km/h 33.6m

SPEED IN GEARS 1st 70km/h @ 6200rpm 2nd 102km/h @ 6200rpm 3rd 138km/h @ 6200rpm 4th 182km/h @ 6200rpm 5th 250km/h @ 5650rpm* 6th 250km/h @ 4450rpm*


0-10km/h 0.45 0-20km/h 0.93 0-30km/h 1.38 0-40km/h 1.82 0-50km/h 2.25 0-60km/h 2.73 0-70km/h 3.51 0-80km/h 4.04 0-90km/h 4.67 0-100km/h 5.32 0-110km/h 6.31 0-120km/h 7.14 0-130km/h 8.02 0-140km/h 8.96 0-150km/h 10.24 0-160km/h 11.43 0-170km/h 12.73 0-180km/h 14.11 0-190km/h N/A 0-400m 13.49sec @ 175.54km/h 80-120km/h 3.10sec 100-0km/h 34.5m

SPEED IN GEARS 66km/h @ 6500rpm 100km/h @ 6500rpm 144km/h @ 6500rpm 184km/h @ 6500rpm 242km/h @ 6500rpm 264km/h @ 4600rpm* As tested by MOTOR: Heathcote Dragway, 4.23pm, 15 degrees, dry. Driver: David Morley

a reflective nightmare under the Aussie sun. And stowage space? Geez, both have gone backwards.

The HSV has a pair of cup-holders, a small space beyond the shifter and a couple of pretty miserable door bins. Big enough to cart the bottle of Shiraz to the restaurant? Nope. But the Mustang, incredibly, is worse. Thereís an even smaller space in front of the shifter and the doors bins are even meaner.

And that last bastion of the American car, the cupholder, is a joke: Theyíre anything but the trad Mega Gulp-compatible ones weíre used to in US cars, and, to add insult to that, anything placed in them will obstruct your left arm when going for the next gear.

So where does this all leave us? Well, it shows that weíll absolutely miss the wallop that only a supercharged engine with a capacity north of six litres can provide. And the loss of the local flavour as it pertains to interiors and packaging will likewise play a sad little tune on our heartstrings. But equally, the new Mustang proves that somebody on the other side of the Pacific has been paying attention and that there are at least some folks in white coats who are grooving to the same tunes. So, no, some things will never be the same again, which is why you need to buy an HSV GTS, an XR8 or Commodore SS right now. But even though thatís the case, the íStang suggests that it ainít all bad news and the world of performance cars will keep on turning. It is, of course, the least the Yanks can do. I mean, they gave us the Kardashians, right? They owe us. M


BODY 2-door, 4-seat coupe DRIVE rear-wheel ENGINE 4951cc V8, DOHC, 32v BORE/STROKE 92.2 x 92.7mm COMPRESSION 11.0:1 POWER 306kW @ 6500rpm TORQUE 530Nm @ 4250rpm POWER/WEIGHT 176kW/tonne TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual WEIGHT 1739kg SUSPENSION (F) struts, anti-roll bar SUSPENSION(R) multi-links, anti-roll bar L/W/H 4784/2080/1381mm WHEELBASE 2720mm TRACKS 1582/1655mm (f/r) STEERING electrically-assisted rack-and-pinion BRAKES (F) 380mm ventilated discs, 6-piston calipers BRAKES (R) 330mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers WHEELS 19.0 x 9.0-inch (f); 19.0 x 9.5-inch (r) TYRE SIZES 255/40 R19 (f); 275/40 R19 (r) TYRE Pirelli P-Zero PRICE AS TESTED $57,490 PROS Sweet V8; excellent tourer; value CONS Second-rate interior; cramped back seats STAR RATING 11113


BODY 4-door, 5-seat sedan DRIVE rear-wheel ENGINE 6162cc V8, OHV, 16v, supercharged BORE/STROKE 103.1 x 91.95mm COMPRESSION 10.7:1 POWER 430kW @ 5900rpm TORQUE 740Nm @ 4200rpm POWER/WEIGHT 234kW/tonne TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual WEIGHT 1841kg SUSPENSION (F) struts, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar SUSPENSION(R) multi-links, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar L/W/H 4943/1899/1467mm WHEELBASE 2915mm TRACKS 1586/1628mm (f/r) STEERING electrically-assisted rack-and-pinion BRAKES (F) 390mm ventilated discs, 6-piston calipers BRAKES (R) 372mm ventilated discs, 4-piston calipers WHEELS 20.0 x 8.5-inch (f); 20 x 9.5-inch (r) TYRE SIZES 255/35 R20 (f); 275/35 R20 (r) TYRE Continental ContiSportContact PRICE AS TESTED $95,990 PROS Stonking supercharged grunt; fi nely-tuned handilng CONS Terse ride; fearsome thirst STAR RATING 11112