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Muscle on the Cheap

Three classic cars that go fast—and look good—for less

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This summer, automakers are unleashing a unique stimulus package of their own—one measured in horsepower, not bailout bucks. For the first time in more than 25 years, three classic American pony cars—the Chevy Camaro, Dodge Challenger, and Ford Mustang—will share the road once again. And starting at around $20,000, one can be yours. We had a chance to take all three on a test drive. Here's how they fared.

2010 Chevrolet Camaro
Base Price: $22K Pros: design, handling, value
Cons: poor visibility, ugly center stack

The old Camaro went out of production in 2002, and after a ride in the brand new 2010 version we can say its comeback is worthy of the original. The direct injection v6 features 304 horsepower, borrowed from its up scale corporate cousin, he Cadillac CTS. There is no question that the Camaro SS is the fastest, most engaging performer of the trio. With its independent suspension, it also outshines the others in the handling department. The V8 SS model uses the same engine as the '10 Corvette—so you know it's got balls and it will literally shock you (in a good way) with its forceful acceleration and addictive power as other V8s, but with fuel efficiency comparable to a midsize. We're sold.

2009 DODGE CHALLENGER
Base Price: $23K Pros: design, spacious cabin, numerous V8 offerings
Cons: overpriced SRT8 model, dull interior

The challenger clearly draws its design inspiration from the vintage models. We dig the exterior lines, but the boring black, plastic interior seems a little ordinary for '09. Unlike the Mustang and Camaro, the challenger offers two V8 options. The potent SRT-8, however seems way overpriced (42,645). The $30,945 R/T is a much better value and is n schlub when it comes to power. Deign and price aside, these HEMI-powered V8 engines will certainly blow the doors off almost everything else on the road. And if you are looking to turn heads, the Challenger—the most badass boulevard cruiser of the bunch—is definitely your ride.

2010 FORD MUSTANG
Base Price: $21K Pros: sounds powerful, cool interior, slick-shifting action
Cons: underpowered V6 and V8

The 2010 'Stang is revised inside and out. The new styling looks great but honors the car's roots. It's just what and updated classic should be, evolutionary rather than a revolutionary. The revamped interior also shines with the vintage touches and awesome day and night lighting schemes on the tachometer. None of the V8s in this bunch will disappoint, but the sound of the GT sounds the best while tearing through the gears. The shifting action is quick and precise, but than the five speed. It's also a great everyday ride, thanks to the superior visibility and comfort. It's powerful enough for kicks, but won't scare your lady.

THE SPECS

Each of these classics comes in a variety of engine options. For those who want to spend less and conserve gas, V6 engines are the obvious choice. For more power at a higher price, opt for a V8 model.

MODEL ENGINE POWER (HP) 0-60 (MPH) SECONDS TOP SPEED BASE MSRP
Camaro LS, LT 3.6L V6 304 6.1 155 $23,040
Camaro SS 6.2L V8 426 4.7 155 $31,040
Challenger SE 3.5L V6 250 7.8 114 $22,945
Challenger R/T 5.7L V8 372 5.5 138 $30,945
Challenger SRT-8 6.1L V8 425 4.9 176 $40,645
Mustang V6 4.0 V6 210 7.0 (est.) 112 $20,995
Mustang GT 4.6L V8 315 4.6 145 $27,995

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