Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords
C6 vs. Roush Stage 3 - Battle of The $50,000 Sports Cars
Can the Roush Stage 3 beat the Z51 Corvette in a head-to-head comparison? We take them both to the track to find out.
For Mustang crazies, the Chevrolet Corvette has always been near the top of the list of cars they want to beat in a race. Since the demise of the Camaro in 2002 and now the Aussie-built GTO, the Vette and the Mustang represent the last bastions of traditional V-8-powered/rear-drive American performance (unless you count the four-door Dodge Charger and Magnum station wagon, which we do not).
The new Corvette, dubbed "C6" by Chevyites, is a heck of a value, even with a price of $43,000 or so for a no-options version. There are few compromises with Chevrolet's flagship model--no V-6 option, no massive understeer for the dolts, and no back seat. It's got 400 entry-level horsepower--505 hp if you can "buck up" for the mighty ZO6. Both versions have Bow Tie lovers beating their chests.
One of the things that makes being a Mustang fanatic so great is playing the role of underdog. Few undertakings are more satisfying than modifying your blue-collar, Blue-Oval bruiser and stomping on a high-dollar competitor--namely Vettes, Ferraris, and Porsches--especially when you've got much less invested.
Over the years, Ford has typically (though not always) left it up to specialty ops like Shelby, Roush, and Saleen to do the hard work in the battle against the high-end machinery. These companies have made scads of money turning up the wick on Ford's ponycar.
But the bottom line is: How does a heavily modified Mustang compare with a car like the Corvette? That's the question we aimed to answer when the latest Roush Stage 3 was unloaded in our parking lot. At $51,635, it tops the base Corvette sticker by almost $8,000. Could a solid-axle Mustang compete in such rarified air?
We attempted to procure a Corvette from the local GM public affairs office, but the only examples available were a ZO6 (too expensive and 90 more horsepower than the Roush Mustang), and a six-speed automatic convertible with the new paddle shifters (an intriguing concept, but we wanted to pit coupe versus coupe/manual tranny versus manual tranny). In the end, we turned to New Jersey's own David Overbaugh, who purchased his Millennium Yellow '05 Z51 coupe new last year.
Performance-wise, the '05 and '06 Vettes are identical; only a couple of changes (color and the steering wheel) differentiate the two. David was generous enough to let the MM&FF staff put the Vette through its paces, which either makes him insane or a heckuva generous guy. Perhaps both.
Roush Stage 3
Months ago, we were impressed by the '05 Stage 2 Roush Mustang, which offers an upgraded suspension, wheels, tires, a body kit and interior bits, but leaves you with a stone-stock 300hp powerplant. With the Stage 2 package, Roush transformed the way the Mustang handles, turning it into a real thorough-bred, a go-getter for the street or track. Gone is much of the push Ford dials in--it's replaced with more neutral, balanced behavior. But power didn't match the looks. We couldn't wait to sample it with the extra 115 hp and bigger brakes found in the Stage 3.
For $20,225 over the base price of a Mustang GT, you get a Roushcharger intercooled blower, an EPA certified custom tune-up, giant 14-inch brakes with four-piston calipers, and forged (rather than cast) 18-inch wheels shod with BFGoodrich 275/40ZR18 tires, among other niceties. Throw in $1,300 for a gas-guzzler tax, $445 for the Roush short-throw shifter, $530 for custom exterior stripes, $350 for the interior dress-up kit, and a few other goodies and the total cost of the Roush balloons to $51,635.
Atop the mod mill is a Roushcharger that takes the Mustang GT's base 4.6-liter SOHC Three-Valve V-8 and brings it to a different place. The Roots-style blower makes the engine a rather torquey beast. It's rated at 415 hp and 385 lb-ft of torque, but our tester put down 391 hp and 367 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheels on the Dynojet at JDM Engineering in Freehold, New Jersey. It does this with a claimed 4-5 psi of boost.
The Stage 3 is downright racy, and it drew mad attention wherever we went. It combines Ford's classic retro styling with modern body-work, and those Le Mans stripes just scream speed. Inside you'll find reskinned seats, a slathering of carbon-fiber overlay, Roush gauges, and a big, tall Roush shifter that looks like a Hurst gear jammer from the '60s.
Performance is awesome both on the street and on the track, as the Stage 3 has loads of torque and all the handling a Mustang owner could wish for. We've been amazed for years at Roush's ability to lower a Mustang, yet maintain excellent ride quality. And those brakes, oh, those brakes. We drove the blue beast for all it was worth on our closed test track and could not get the brakes to do anything but stop the car on cue.
The Mustang turns in nicely and accurately, but doesn't have quite the feel of the Corvette. Still, handling is near the top of the performance-car scale. With all the power and braking ability, the Roush feels lighter than it really is.
If we could make changes, we'd like to see a reduction in weight and taller gearing. The 3.55s just don't cut it as we crossed the quarter-mile traps at the top of Third gear, rather than being maxed out in Fourth. There is no doubt that 4.10s or 4.30s would be worth a few tenths in the quarter, and with a gas-guzzler tax already employed, what would be the big deal to make 4.10s an option? This would get the Stage 3 in the low 12s where it may run away from the Vette. We'd also like to see a drag race version with stock brakes, fewer body mods, cloth seats, 4.30 gears, and the 415hp powerplant. If Roush could get the weight down, it could be an 11-second player.
When it comes to iconic automobiles, you also have to include the Corvette. Chevrolet's plastic fantastic dates back to the '50s, and, like Ford, Chevrolet is building the best version ever today. In 2005, the base price on the Corvette was $43,710, however, Dave opted for the Preferred Equipment Group, which among other things includes side-impact airbags, luggage shade and parcel net, a six-way adjustable passenger seat, adjustable sport bucket seats with perforated leather inserts, a heads-up display so you can watch your speed and other things on the windshield, a high-end stereo, and a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel.
The Z51 Performance Package comes in looking like quite the bargain: Larger cross-drilled brake rotors, performance-tuned shocks, and more performance-oriented transmission gear ratios. Dave went all-out and got the $750 polished aluminum wheels and extra-cost yellow paint, pushing the sticker to $53,410, not including destination and delivery charges. That's a whole lot of fiberglass.
Included in the base price of any '05 Vette is the all-aluminum, 6.0L LS2 engine making 400 hp at 6,000 rpm and 400 lb-ft of torque at 4,400. (It should be noted that we didn't have the opportunity to strap the Vette on a chassis dyno.) The 6.0 is a marvel of pushrod technology, and we can't help but wonder where Ford could have taken the Windsor engine had it not replaced it with the modular family in the '90s.
The LS2's 364 ci produce more torque without a supercharger than the 4.6 does with one, and at 18 mpg city/28 mpg highway, you are not saddled with a $1,300 gas-guzzler tax. That's impressive. It should be noted that our Corvette tester was completely stock under the hood, right down to the factory air filter. A set of 3.42 cogs come from GM in the rear and the Z51 six-speed gearbox gets a 2.97:1 First gear.
Considering how low and lean the Vette is, entering and exiting the sports machine is easy. Those who are short and tall fit nicely, and the pedals, steering wheel, and shifter are a nice fit. The Chevy is started with the push of a button, and there is a lot of electronic gadgetry that, if you are not used to the car, can be confusing. Otherwise, the Vette gets the thumbs-up.
Test driver Evan Smith found the shifter to be a bit vague, and, as with the Roush, he would have preferred more side bolstering in the seats. "Both cars had loads of grip," he said, "but you tend to slide out of the seats. You find yourself holding on rather than using your hands and arms to steer the car, and that's not the thing to do at high speed." But the Vette handled well, "It was like guiding a dart," Evan said. The steering is awesome and feedback is great, though I didn't like the active handling at all."
Both cars made similar power. The question was, could the Roush's extra horsepower overcome the Corvette's 396-pound weight advantage? For a while, the answer was yes. The cars traded victories at Raceway Park on the quarter: Vette 13.04 at 110.67 vs. 13.05/106.36, then 12.85/107.58 for the Roush vs. 13.19/ 110.85 for the Bow Tie.
Once Evan got comfortable in the Chevy, though, it was all over. A 12.71 at 112.31 bested the Roush's 12.90 at 107.39, then, finally, a 12.59 at 112.77 cemented the Bow Tie's victory to the Roush's final effort of 12.93 at 107.56. (Note: We did return with the Roush under slightly better conditions, and busted off a 12.63 at 109 mph. The Vette was unavailable for this second outing.)
Next we were off to the road course, and the Roush was right at home on our 1.3-mile track. It was remarkably consistent--1:23.47, 1:23.61, 1:23.82 were the lap times. Only the Roush shifter gave us trouble. While it worked fine at the dragstrip, it was problematic when it came to shifting on the open track. Evan twice missed gears--one of those saw him grab First instead of Third, which resulted in the car spinning and going off the track in a rather unpleasant, backwards manner. Fortunately, there was no damage to car or driver, save for the ego. "I found the shifter to be vague and a bit notchy," Evan says. "It looks so cool, but doesn't flow nicely."
Having not driven a stick-shift C6 Corvette before this day, Evan worked up to the big moment on the road track carefully, first experiencing the car with its traction controls/ track assists fully functional. Once he was comfortable, he switched them off and began clicking off times similar to those of the Roush. "The traction control will keep you out of trouble, but it doesn't allow the car to slide enough. When the car starts to oversteer, you turn in to countersteer, but the computer takes over and cuts the power. Then you find yourself turning the wheel the opposite way, but by then you're off line and you've lost your momentum." A 1:23.45 put Evan to within a whisker of the Stage 3's best; then a 1:22.55 made him almost a full second quicker. These were followed by a 1:23.84 and 1:23.47 before he got a little too aggressive and lap times fell off. Except for the lone 1:22, the times of the two cars were amazingly similar--darn near identical.
"Once the car was in my hands, it was a different story," he says. A badly worn rear tire limited traction, but the Vette was super tight and very predictable. Steering input and feel through-out the car was awesome, but that's what one would expect from a Corvette.
So the Vette won the strip test handily and the road course competition by a whisker. Had we more time with the Roush, we could have swapped on a different pulley for more boost and added a different set of rear gears. This would have put us ahead of the Z51 on the strip, and probably turned the tide on the road course, as well. Naturally, the Chevy faithful would cry foul and say if we used a Lingenfelter or Callaway Corvette, the contest would have been more a sure victory. But these are the facts, and we're telling the story as it went down.
Truth be told, few people are actually cross-shopping these automobiles. You are either a Ford guy or a Corvette guy, and you probably wouldn't be caught dead buying one from the other camp. We know Ford guys who wouldn't drive a Vette if it was free, and that goes for some Bow Tie boys as well. The Mustang has many features, like a back seat, and it's much cheaper to modify than a Vette--especially if you start with a stock GT. With the Stage 3, you get to own a piece of Jack Roush's heritage, and to some folks that's a big deal. We're just happy that the Ford vs. Chevy battle rages on, and to be living in a time when supercar performance is available to mere mortals, regardless of their brand loyalty.
'06 Roush Mustang Stage 3 Body Unitized welded steel unibody construction Powertrain Engine 4.6L V-8, iron block, cast-aluminum cylinder heads Intake Manifold Roushcharger supercharger, with integral intercooler, and air induction system Exhaust Rear-exit high-performance exhaust with chromed tips Valvetrain SOHC w/three valves per cylinder Compression Ratio 9.8:1 Bore x Stroke 3.6 x 3.6 Displacement 281 ci Horsepower 415 Torque 385 lb-ft Recommended Fuel Premium only Oil Capacity 6.0 qts, 5W-50 full synthetic Transmission TR3650 five-speed manual Shifter Roush short-throw shifter w/black shift knob Suspension Roush suspension system (front struts, rear shocks, front and rear springs, front and rear sway bars) Steering Type Rack-and-pinion with power assist Ratio 15.7:1 Brakes Front Roush brake kit with 14-inch front two-piece rotors and four-piston calipers Rear 11.8-inch vented discs with two-piston calipers Tires & Wheels Front Roush 18-inch chrome wheels w/BFGoodrich 275/40ZR18 Dimensions Wheelbase 107.1 in Overall Length 187.6 in Overall Width 73.9 in Overall Height 54.5 in Weight: 3,800 lbs w/driver Exterior Options Roush seven-piece aerobody kit (front fascia, front chin spoiler, hoodscoop, rocker panels, rear valance and rear wing), lower valance foglamps, Roush fender badges, decklid emblem, and front window banner, white stripes with white ROUSHCHARGED and windshield decal, Roush Mustang rear quarter-window louvers and locking lug nuts with key bag Interior Options Roush embroidered floor mats, aluminum pedals, Roush Stage 3 white-face gauges, sport leather seating, serial badge, Roush Mustang interior trim kit, Mustang trunk mounted tool kit Price as tested $51,635 '05 Chevrolet Corvette Z51 Body Composite body panels, hydroformed steel frame with aluminum and magnesium structural and chassis components Powertrain & Chassis Engine 6.0L LS2 V-8, cast-aluminum block, cast-aluminum cylinder heads Intake Manifold Composite Exhaust Rear exit Valvetrain OHV, two valves per cylinder with cam in block Compression Ratio 10.9:1 Bore x Stroke 4.00 x 3.62 Displacement 364 ci Horsepower 400 Torque 400 lb-ft Recommended Fuel Premium only Oil Capacity 5.5 qts Transmission Six-speed manual w/optional Z51 performance gears and 3.42 rear gears Suspension Short-/long-arm double wishbone; cast-aluminum upper and lower control arms; transverse-mounted composite leaf spring; and monotube shock absorber, Z51-specific performance tuned stabilizer bars, springs, and shocks; electronic traction control with active handling Brakes Front Power-assisted disc with ABS, Z51-specific 13.4 in cross-drilled rotors Rear Power-assisted disc with ABS, Z51-specific 13.0 in cross-drilled rotors Tires & Wheels Front 18 x 8.5 polished aluminum wheels with Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar P245/40ZR18 tires Rear 19 x 10 polished aluminum wheels with Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar P285/35ZR19 tires Dimensions Wheelbase 105.7 in Overall Length 174.6 in Overall Width 72.6 in Overall Height 49.0 in Weight 3,404 lbs w/driver Exterior Options Millennium Yellow premium paint Interior Options Ebony leather trim seating Preferred equipment group Price as tested $54,210