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Tuesday
Nov222011

The Crystal Ball Chronicles: 2015 Mustang ST and Camaro ZL1

By Christopher A. Sawyer

Take a long, last look. The days of monster motors are going the way of the wagon train.What’s next? We now have a 202 mph Mustang and 184 mph Camaro, both powered by supercharged V8 engines. Suddenly Detroit is fighting the horsepower wars of the 1960s all over again, but with the technological abandon of the factory German tuner cars of recent vintage. For the Germans, no power level was too high, no speed too high, and no amount of money too much to reach their goal of beating their (also German) competition. Before they decided to reduce the number of cylinders and output, that is. Tighter fuel efficiency/CO2 standards (one in the same thing, actually) can have a calming effect, as it were.

For all of the naysayers, let me say this: High-performance vehicles perform a valuable function: they push the boundaries of power, handling, aerodynamics and efficiency — yes, efficiency — via solutions that eventually make their way into mainstream cars and trucks. In many ways, they perform the function once reserved for racing, which gave us the famous saying, “Racing improves the breed.” However, the numbers can’t go forever up. Ultimately, outside influences or common sense dictate that things must change. And we are at that point again.

I can think of few things scarier, other than marrying one of the Kardashian or Hilton girls, than doing more than 200 mph in a Mustang — or 184 mph in a Camaro. These are large, heavy, relatively unsophisticated vehicles that don’t so much punch a hole in the atmosphere as detonate a thermonuclear device to go through it. I am sure that when I drive these cars I will be amazed by how capable they are, but I also know that the old adage about silk purses and sow’s ears exists for a reason. No matter how good they might be, they are not Ferraris.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at where the future might lead us as power densities increase at the same time displacement decreases. Some of what you are about to read is straight from engineers at Ford and GM. Some is speculation. Some is pure conjecture based on what is possible. It is up to you to decide which is which.

2015 Mustang ST

Carroll Shelby’s contract with Ford expires in 2013, and Dearborn will not renew its contract with the oldest living multiple organ transplant survivor in the world. Especially when the timing of the agreement gives Ford ample opportunity to redirect its Mustang performance efforts for a more global audience.

A new Mustang is coming in 2015. It will be lighter, smaller and more aerodynamic than today’s model, but no less evocative and capable. Forget about 5.8-liter supercharged V8s with 650 hp under the hood. The Mustang ST (Ford will call the engineering group “SVT” and the cars it produces “STs” or, in certain cases, “Rs” in the pursuit of global nomenclature uniformity) will be powered by a direct-injected and turbocharged (“EcoBoost”) version of the Mustang GT’s 5.0-liter V8. Horsepower will be on the order of 500, though it easily could go higher. Because continuous torque delivery to the ground is paramount, a Getrag dual-clutch transmission (DCT) will be standard. One potentially less expensive option on the table uses the GT’s Ford-Getrag “H-gate” six-speed manual for the base gearbox. Buyers ordering the optional setup would get the same transmission, but fitted with Xtrac’s Instantaneous Gearchange System. This couples the main shaft and gears hubs via a ratcheting mechanism that allows uninterrupted torque delivery by (very) briefly overlapping gear actuation. Gear changes are summoned via steering wheel-mounted paddles.

Where that power goes is the big question. Does it go to a lighter, stronger, but less sophisticated live rear axle or an independent rear suspension? If the Mustang was built on a stand-alone platform, I’d bet on the live axle. However, to keep costs low, it will have to be shared with Lincoln. That means an IRS setup. Enthusiasts every, rejoice.

The Bilstein continuously adjustable dampers found on the 2013 Shelby GT500 will continue to be offered, though their reaction times will be reduced even further. Manual control over it and other driver aids will continue, but the 2015 ST also will offer a fully computer-controlled setting that adjusts steering, braking, damping, acceleration and other systems to the current on-road situation. And because the new car will be significantly lighter than the current Mustang, its responses will be quicker.

The 2013 Mustang is hampered by a cowl height dictated by the sedan (Lincoln LS) from which it was pulled. However, as the first vehicle out of the box with this new platform, a lower cowl, along the lines of Hyundai’s Genesis Coupe, is likely. This will shave a lot of the visual bulk from the 2015 Mustang, give the driver better forward sightlines, and improve aerodynamics by giving the vehicle more of a wedge shape. Ford Design has thrown the design competition open to all of its studios, meaning the Mustang will not rely so heavily on historic design cues for authenticity. It can’t. It has to be instantly recognizable as a Mustang while looking fresh and modern enough to be sold globally.

The interior will continue this theme. Materials will continue to be upgraded. Connectivity options will increase, including the ability to send performance data in real time to the “cloud” for download by race teams, spectators or Facebook “friends” and family. It’s a narcissist’s dream, and this information could be captured and integrated into driving games like Forza, etc.

The 2015 Mustang ST will be: lighter, more compact physically, sleeker, more aerodynamic, have better fuel economy, a more modern and driver-oriented interior, and be driven by the  drivetrain building blocks it shares with the Mustang GT. It will not crack 200 mph, but it will offer a level of performance and sophistication the 2013 Shelby GT 500 can’t match.

2015 Camaro ZL1

Much of what’s been said for the 2015 Mustang ST also will be true of the next-generation Camaro. It will be built on the same platform as Cadillac’s 3 Series fighter, the ATS, and powered by a smaller, lighter V8. But there any similarity ends.

For the first time in Camaro history, its development and that of the C7 Corvette will be like concentric circles: the development teams will share information directly. Don’t worry; the next Corvette isn’t a cut-down Camaro. That idea died with John DeLorean’s career. However, as the two cars move closer in terms of power, weight, aero load, etc., it’s easier to pass along the lessons learned on the Corvette to the Camaro team as GM finally learns to work as a single entity, not multiple fiefdoms.

Smaller, lighter and blessed with a lower cowl and beltline than the current Camaro, the next version also will be much more aerodynamic and less dependent on retro styling themes. GM Design defaulted to a modernized 1969 Camaro look as visual shorthand in order to quickly reestablish the car’s credentials after years off the market. However, the 2015 model will carry the basics: an exaggerated hip line, full fender shapes, a tight horizontal grille opening bracketed by round headlamps, the roof-to- fender relationship, etc. Both the windshield and rear window will be “faster” and the roofline rounder without losing its aggression. A slight reduction in width coupled with the lower cowl and rounder roof will make the next Camaro look less massive, and make it easier to do simple things like retrieve an entry ticket in a parking lot; something that is extremely difficult to do in the present car.

Having learned its lesson regarding slavish fealty to the past, the 2015 car’s interior will ditch the dual-pod instrument panel design, and bring all major controls up and closer to the driver and front seat passenger. There has been talk of using reconfigurable gauges displayed on a horizontal LCD screen, but the cost of this technology — and its adoption by Cadillac and Buick — suggest it may not be used in this application. It’s more liable to make its Chevrolet debut on the C7 Corvette. That doesn’t mean the ZL1 won’t be a model of connectivity, however. Chevrolet knows that the buyer of this car has the financial wherewithal and desire to stay connected. You can expect it to offer the option of a “race and share” application like those found on the Mustang ST.

Under the hood expect to see the latest generation Chevy V8. Smaller, lighter and more powerful than the current engine, it will use a high-efficiency supercharger sitting atop an integrated water-to-air intercooler in the valley between the cylinder banks. Unlike the Mustang motor, it will not be direct injected or an overhead cam design, though GM has on the drawing boards a dual overhead cam version of this engine. Though currently reserved for the Corvette C7, it is acknowledgement that future emission and fuel economy standards will demand higher tech solutions with better breathing. Power output will match that of the Mustang.

A dual-clutch gearbox, using internals from the C7’s rear transaxle gearbox, will be standard, with the option of a shift-for-yourself transmission at extra cost. This is exactly the opposite of what Ford plans to do with the Mustang. However, the DCT will give GM a much-needed CAFE boost, making it well worth the investment.

A carbon fiber driveshaft will transfer power to the independently sprung rear end, a continuation of current Camaro practice. However, the suspension design will be lighter and, like the powertrain, shared with the Cadillac ATS-V. This will keep costs in check and margins high by allowing GM to spread this technology across multiple car lines.

To increase the ZL1’s aerodynamic efficiency, active aerodynamics and other tricks will be used. The top Camaro will use a multi-piece belly pan to reduce road noise and smooth underbody airflow. A rear diffuser and front splitter kill lift and add downforce, though the ZL1 may use an adjustable rear spoiler to trim the drag and aero load at the track. Active shutters in the lower front grille will speed cold weather warm-up, and adjust cooling airflow to match need in order to keep the ZL1 as slippery as possible. These items also will add tenths of miles per gallon to the Camaro’s EPA mileage ratings.

Expect the four-wheel Brembo disc brakes to be suitably massive, though it is unlikely that the ZL1’s tire size will increase. Being both lighter and more efficient, it won’t need as large a contact patch to generate high cornering loads. Plus, increasing the unsprung and centrifugal weight at the wheel would put an even greater strain on the third generation of GM Magnetic Ride Control.

Unlike the Mustang’s Bilstein dampers, the MRC uses magneto-rheological fluid — basically oil with precise metal shavings suspended in it — to control damping forces. Turning a magnet on or off instantly alters the viscosity of the damper fluid from solid to fluid. Microsecond control over this change means it’s possible to create the ideal damping curve for any situation while staying true to the vehicle’s character. Pioneered by the Lord Corporation, Delphi and GM, it’s also used on the Ferrari 458 Italia.

In many ways the 2015 ZL1 will be very similar to the Mustang ST. Lighter, sleeker and with a more efficient powertrain, the Camaro will be brutally quick in a straight line (possibly running 0-60 in less time than the current ZL1), but raise the bar in terms of ride and handling. Its ability to draw from Corvette and Cadillac’s ATS means more performance for the price, though that price inevitably will rise. Still, all this technology makes for an enticing vehicle.

If there is one thing to draw from all of this it is that both the 2015 Mustang and Camaro will back down from the brute force school of vehicle design. Smaller, lighter and less powerful, they promise to handle better, ride better, be more fuel efficient, at least as quick and devastatingly fast. They also will have sophistication and style the current Camaro and Mustang can’t match. Naturally aspirated V6 and V8, and turbocharged four- and six-cylinder models will support them. What is more intriguing is what effect their levels of “affordable” sophistication and technology could have on sports cars costing much, much more… But that’s speculation for another day.

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