Editor’s note: You may want to read more of Autotrader’s model vs. model comparison car reviews as well as the 2015 Ford Mustang review, the 2015 Dodge Challenger review and Buying a Used Ford Mustang: Everything You Need to Know.
It’s been years since the world of muscle cars has been this hot, with excellent entrants from Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge, along with a series of rival models from various import brands. But which of today’s cheap high-performance cars is the best? To help you find out, we’re comparing two of today’s top models: the 2015 Dodge Challenger and the newly redesigned 2015 Ford Mustang, which both offer a great value when it comes to performance for your money. But before we compare the two, let’s see what’s new with both the Challenger and the Mustang for the 2015 model year.
2015 Ford Mustang
The Ford Mustang is fully redesigned for the 2015 model year. In addition to new styling, a new interior, an upgraded suspension and new gadgets, the famed pony car also adds a newly available turbocharged 4-cylinder engine to join V6 and V8 engines in its powertrain lineup. See all 2015 Ford Mustang models available near you
2015 Dodge Challenger
The Challenger is face-lifted for 2015. In addition to an all-new high-performance Hellcat model, it gains a new 8-speed automatic transmission, updated styling, an improved interior and a few new features. See all 2015 Dodge Challenger models available near you
Because the Mustang is so new, it hasn’t yet earned a reliability rating from experts at J.D. Power. We’re encouraged by last year’s model, however, which earned a 4-circle score in the firm’s Power Circle Ratings, indicating better than average reliability. The Challenger, meanwhile, earned a 3-circle score, indicating merely average reliability.
When it comes to warranty length, the Challenger and the Mustang have similar coverage. Both cars offer 3 years or 36,000 miles of bumper-to-bumper protection, and both tout 5 years of powertrain coverage. The Challenger does have a slight advantage with its powertrain warranty, however, offering 100,000 miles of coverage to the Mustang’s 60,000.
Since we don’t have reliability numbers for the latest Mustang, we’d say this category is too close to call.
Although we’re leaving out the high-performance versions of both the Mustang and the Challenger from this category, it’s conceivable that some shoppers interested in base-level Mustang and Challenger models might be interested in gas mileage. If that sounds like you, we suggest you pick the Mustang.
Here’s why: While both the Mustang and the Challenger offer V6 models that get around 20 miles per gallon in the city and 30 mpg on the highway, only the Mustang offers an especially frugal EcoBoost 4-cylinder engine. That version, which still packs 310 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque, boasts up to 22 mpg city and 32 mpg hwy, depending on your transmission choice. Best of all, it does so with more power and torque than V6-powered versions of either car.
Both the Dodge Challenger and the Ford Mustang have earned perfect 5-star overall crash-test ratings from the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, though the Mustang performed slightly better in individual crash tests. Neither car has been fully tested by the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Interestingly, despite the Mustang’s newer overall design, it doesn’t offer any major benefits over the Challenger in terms of safety equipment. The Dodge has done a good job keeping the Challenger current on all the latest safety gadgets, offering forward-collision warning, automatic high-beam control, lane departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert and more. If anything, we think the Challenger might have one or two more safety features than the Mustang, despite its older design.
Still, these two cars are roughly similar in terms of safety equipment, and both offer excellent crash protection. It’s a big advancement from the muscle cars of years past.
Although we’d normally expect the newer car in the comparison (in this case, the Mustang) to offer more technology than the older model, that isn’t the case here. As we mentioned in the Safety section, Dodge (and its parent brand, Chrysler) has done an excellent job keeping the Challenger current, so this "older design" sports coupe offers some seriously modern equipment, including rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, xenon headlights and Chrysler’s excellent Uconnect infotainment system.
Of course, the Mustang has all those features too, though we don’t quite like Ford’s MyFord Touch system as much as we appreciate Uconnect. Still, we think both of these cars would satisfy just about any technophile. Once again, that’s not something we thought we’d ever say about two American muscle cars.
In terms of value, it’s hard to overlook everything the Mustang offers — especially because of its impressive starting price. While the 2015 Challenger starts around $28,000 with shipping, a base-level Mustang is less than $25,000. In fact, the price of a base-model Challenger will almost buy you a Mustang Convertible. That’s a big deal to some shoppers — especially when you consider that the Challenger doesn’t even offer a drop-top model.
When comparing equipment levels, we’re not sure exactly why the Challenger is so much more expensive than the Mustang. Standard features in both cars are pretty basic, and the Challenger doesn’t really have any major advantages over the Mustang. As a result, we think the Mustang is the better value here — especially when you factor in its improved EcoBoost fuel economy and its available convertible body style.
Typically, in comparisons with one brand-new model and one aging model, the new one wins handily. In this case, the Challenger isn’t willing to go down without a fight. Chrysler has done an excellent job keeping the sporty coupe modern, giving it new engines, new features, improved interior materials and more modern exterior styling over the years.
Still, we’d go with the Mustang. In addition to offering a more modern cabin, the Mustang touts better visibility, better gas mileage and the all-important convertible option. Of course, there’s no Hellcat rival in the Mustang camp, but high-performance models are on the way. For us "normal" folks looking for a regular model, we think the Mustang just beats its Dodge competitor.