The long-anticipated 2023 muscle car wars are upon us and it’s a battle between Detroit’s Big Three to see who will come out on top. With fuel prices creeping up, unleaded gasoline and emissions devices being phased in, the future of gasoline-powered vehicles was looking pretty grim, until 2023 came and brought a resurgence of muscle cars. The Mustang by Ford, the Camaro by Chevrolet, and the Challenger and Charger by Dodge are all competing to remain the last man standing in a crowd of powerful performance vehicles. Let’s take a look at what each automaker has to offer and which one stands to be the victor in this hotly contested competition.
Ford Shelby Mustang S650 Dark Horse
Ford is coming into 2023 with their Mustang S650 Dark Horse, sporting a naturally aspirated 5-litre V8 engine that produces 500 horsepower and 418 pound-feet of torque, mated to a 6-speed manual or 10-speed automatic transmission. A mechanical brake keeps things real, with modern accompaniments like a 13.2-inch touchscreen display also included. If you want to go completely back in time for the interior, there is a retro dial pack available which provides the analogue dials from the 1980s no less.
For those wanting something more sedate, the base model Mustang starts at a very reasonable $27,470 and comes with a 2.3-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder that puts out 310 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque.
The Mustang nameplate has been borrowed by Ford’s SUV side of things, and with electric vehicles coming at us like an unstoppable tsunami it’s likely the 23-24 years will see the last of these beasts. In other words, don’t be surprised if present models become highly sought-after, future classics.
Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Next up is Chevrolet’s iconic Camaro, which has been a staple in the muscle car world since 1967. The latest iteration of the Camaro ZL1 is the fastest ever, reaching a staggering 202 MPH at the Nürburgring test track in Germany. This is made possible by its supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 engine that cranks out 650 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, with a ten-speed automatic available as an upgrade. The cost of admission for the Camaro ZL1 is relatively low, starting at $69,695, with the base Camaro 1LS trim beginning at just $27,495 and featuring a 275 horsepower 4-cylinder engine with 295 pound-feet of torque.
The Camaro also strikes an even balance between the 2 offerings from Ford and Dodge. Basically, taking the pure muscle car power ideas from Dodge, and the more sporty, track focused ideas from Ford. The design and styling of the Camaro is still a head turner, and a great alternative to the rest of the performance market.
Dodge Charger Hellcat And Challenger Hellcat
Finally, there’s Dodge, the only company of the Big Three currently offering two separate muscle cars. The Challenger and Charger both feature Dodge’s legendary 6.2-liter “Hellcat” supercharged V-8 engine, with the Hellcat edition typically producing 717 horsepower and approximately 650 foot-pounds of torque, though the Demon has pushed that number up to 807 horsepower.
Dodge has publicly stated that 2023-24 will see the last of the V8 muscle cars, with 6 special edition versions being released. The final special edition of this run will be announced at the end of March 2023, and is expected to be one of the most powerful offerings from Dodge as yet. If you can manage to get your hands on one of these limited edition versions that’s great. If not, you can still treat yourself to one of the wide-body versions, all having more power than you will ever need.
Okay, So Who Wins?
To judge which of the Detroit Big Three makes the most impressive showing in 2023, it’s important to consider the whole package. While Dodge has had great success with the Hellcat, their Chargers and Challengers tend to lag behind the Camaro and Mustang in terms of suspension, handling, and innovation. However, Ford has managed to stand out from the crowd with their continued commitment to their Mustang platform, keeping the internal combustion engine alive and well in the face of the transition towards electric vehicles. They also have the most competitively priced model of all the muscle cars discussed here, plus the most standard power of the Big Three’s base models. All of these factors combined make it easy to see why, in the year 2023, Ford quietly emerges as the victor of the great muscle car war.
It is also important to consider the level of customization that each company offers with their muscle car models. Ford offers myriad options for customizing their Mustang, from exterior finishes and rims to interior trim packages and performance parts. The engine options are also impressive, allowing customers to choose from a variety of engine setups and power levels. Chevrolet has recently upped the ante when it comes to personalization, offering a wide selection of decals, badges, and other performance parts for their Camaro models. Meanwhile, Dodge has held strong with their Challenger and Charger having the most powerful configurations out of the Big Three, while also offering customers a choice between manual or automatic transmissions.
In addition to the base models of each car, there are several special editions worthy of note. Ford offers the Roush Performance line of Mustang cars, which add additional horsepower and aesthetic upgrades to the Mustang. The same can be said for Chevy’s Camaro, which features the V6 1LE package as well as the SS Special Edition, which adds further tuning and performance enhancements. Finally, Dodge’s Hellcat models offer 807 horsepower, the most powerful engine out of any of the Big Three.
Each of the Big Three has different exterior designs which echo their general ethos. The Mustang and Camaro reflect a more sports-orientated setups, while the Charger and Challenger stick more to the original muscle car template. The muscular design of the Charger and Challenger has worked so well, there has been little need to change over the last 10 years.
When comparing the muscle cars of 2023, safety is worth considering as well. All three companies have taken steps to improve their crash-worthiness in recent years, with Ford, Chevrolet, and Dodge all featuring a suite of active driver assistance and safety technologies on their models. They all meet or exceed the minimum requirements for crash-worthiness in the US as set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Finally, it is important to factor in the resale value of each vehicle. American muscle cars are known for holding their resale value well over time, with many models increasing in price due to their collector status. However, when it comes to muscle cars, Ford has undeniably been the king when it comes to resale value. The Mustang and its variants consistently hold their value better than the Camaro and Challenger, although the latter two have been gaining ground in recent years.
The limited edition offerings by Dodge in 2023 are bound to be future classics. So, as with the Dodge Demon, there will be huge interest and wild prices for the next year, then a slow and steady increase in value as the years go by. In other words, if the model is produced in limited numbers and features special options, it’s worth keeping hold of the thing for a good few years.
Since the start of the muscle car era in the late 1960s, the Detroit Big Three have had an on-off rivalry. Their offerings are slightly different these days, which means they appeal to different wants and needs. However, with the onset of EV vehicles, these V8 beasts now have more in common than ever before. An American-made rumble and soundtrack from the tried-and-tested V8 engine, plus an underlying design template that has steadily been refined over the years. Think of the offerings from Chevrolet, Dodge and Ford as a certain way of thinking. A steady tweaking and refining of the initial template to make it the best it can be, rather than morphing into completely brand-new models, completely different from what came before.
With an impressive lineup of cars with plenty of performance and customization options, a staggering resale value, and some of the best safety ratings in the industry, it is easy to see why the Mustang and its variants have been a staple of the American muscle car scene for nearly a century.
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