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We drove a $35,000 Mustang and a $120,000 Porsche to see which we liked better -- here's the verdict

Matthew DeBord
  • Both the Porsche 911 and the Ford Mustang have been around since the mid-1960s.
  • The Porsche 911 Carrera GTS and the Ford Mustang GT have some similar specs but different engineering and a big difference in the price tags.
  • For the money, it's hard to beat the Mustang.

I like Porsches, always have. I call the legendary 911 my "Drive for My Life Car." If I had to drive for survival and didn't know what I'd be up against, I'd grab the keys to a 911 and not look back.

But I also like Mustangs - classic American muscle. Also exhilarating to drive. Once I'd Driven For My Life in a 911, I might start looking for a Mustang to celebrate with.

Until recently, and despite Ford's reinvention of the Mustang as a globally popular sports car, I thought of the 911 and the Stang as occupying different universes.

And then I drove them more or less back to back. And not just any 911 or any Mustang. I drove a GTS and a GT. Some serious metal, some serious motors, some serious power.

Here's how it went.

Photos by Hollis Johnson unless indicated otherwise.

Here's the Mustang GT, 2018 edition, in the canyons above Malibu in sunny Southern California. Price tag? My test car was not stickered, but you can get one for a starting price of about $US35,000.

The 2018 Mustang lineup has been refreshed after a new design was rolled out in 2015. It's still the same old Stang, but it's now made a bit sleeker overall. Feedback has been quite positive so far, and I'm sold, even though I had few issues with the beefier look of the 2015 original.

My GT's colour was a triple-aggressive Triple Yellow. Hot as hell, if you ask me, and hotter still with those blacked-out wheels. You can read my review here.

The GT bases at about $US35,000, but by the time you add some options to the Premium trim level, you can be up around $US50,000.

And here's a 2017 Porsche 911 Carrera GTS, in a different kind of canyon. A concrete canyon in shadowy midtown Manhattan.

The colour? A very sexy Carmine Red, which is a $US3,000 extra. Overall, the GTS we sampled was - brace yourself - $US128,980. The base price is about $US120,000 before the add-ons (and there weren't that many outside the paint job some performance and mechanical features).

Obviously, you could buy several Mustang GTs for that price. And that's kind of the point, as you'll see as we make out way through this comparison.

The iconic, bug-eyed look of the 911 has been tweaked since the car was introduced in 1963. Poetically for our purposes, the Mustang debuted in 1965 and has achieved equally iconic status.

In my experience, most people - Stang fans or not - love the way the Stang looks. The 911, not so much. It's an acquired taste. But nothing else resembles it, so the 911 announces itself just as surely. My feeling is that I never avidly want a 911 in my driveway, but when I have one parked there, I believe it looks dang good.

In the vast lineup of 911 variants, the GTS sits at the top of what you might call the lowest tier. It's the best "entry-level" Porsche money can buy. To jump up a tier, you need to buy the 911 Turbo.

As it turns out, the Mustang GT is similarly situated, above the base Stangs with four-cylinder turbo engines, but below the mighty Shelby GT350. And both our competitors here were hardtop coupés with nominal back seats, although the Stang's are a bit more accommodating of adults.

Let's get down to it. First up, Mr. Mustang GT.

What was a muscle car is now a muscular sports car, as Ford has updated the driving dynamics. Mustangs are now quite effective at going around corners, as I discovered while canyon carving in LA.

The heart of the Mustang GT is 5.0-litre V8, making 460 horsepower, a bump on the 2017 car thanks to reengineered fuel-injection technology.

This isn't the delicious flat-crank V8 found in the GT350, but it's a fine motor that on startup growls menacingly and at idle doesn't let you forget that menace. Where the rubber hits the road, the 420 pound-feet of torque is extremely compelling. The 0-60 mph dash takes place in under 4 seconds.

It's easy to take GT's 5.0 for granted, as it's always been such a staple of the machine. What's great about it isn't fuel economy - the small tank and thirsty combustion means that you'll have to enjoy visits to the pump - but rather the pure visceral delight of hearing and feeling the rumble of an all-American eight-banger up front.

The ponies and torque are piped to the rear wheels via an exceptional six-speed manual transmission.

The Stang provides multiple drive modes, with Sport and Track perhaps holding the most appeal for spirited driving (there's also a drag-strip option).

The interior is purposeful but relatively comfy, making it possible to conceive of the GT as a daily driver rather than as a weekend plaything. The overall vibe is certainly still Detroit, even though the Mustang has been tweaked to offer more of a Euro-racer impression.

The touchscreen running Ford's SYNC 3 system is responsive and not at all laggy, if modestly scaled in this car. There's all the usual stuff: navigation, a dandy audio system with SiriusXM, USB/AUX ports, Bluetooth connectivity, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto.

No doubt about, the Mustang GT is a blast to drive.

You gotta let this pony run!

And I did, as much as I could on canyon roads and LA's freeways. Because I drive so many different types of high-performance cars, I try to make sure that I properly slot them into their segments. The Mustang naturally lines up against the Chevy Camaro and the Dodge Challenger.

But because the Stang is a rear-wheel-drive V8 that, over more than 50 years, has evolved into a viable performance-racing platform (not unlike it slightly older companion, the Corvette), I can't help think about it when sampling V8-powered supercars and European speedsters that match up in terms of horsepower.

But as good as the GT is to drive under all circumstances, where it truly shines is in serving up emotional and physical experiences. Yes, it's more of a thinking person's car than it used to be. But you still don't have to think that much. I've honestly come to absolutely love it as much as I love cars like the Mazda Miata.

We turn now to perhaps the greatest sports car ever made, the 911.

Nothing about the 911 makes objective sense, but Porsche has spent so many years compensating for everything that's wrong with the 911 that the car is now a masterpiece.

For example, nobody puts the engine over the rear wheel anymore for a reason. The front end is frankly weird-looking. The 911 simply isn't anything a modern designer would emulate.

But it all works, when taken together and integrated with the 911's long history. When you beef the base car up as Porsche has with the GTS, you also start to see how blissfully versatile this sport-car platform is.

With a Mustang, the motor lives up front. With a 911, the motor is over the back wheels.

Logical, right? Rear-wheel-drive car, rear-engine design - right? Except that it objectively makes the 911 a tail-heavy thing, and the trick forever with the car has been to overcome that by undertaking a multi-decade balancing act.

The motor itself is like the "Coyote" V8 in the Stang, a legend. It's a 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged six-cylinder making 450 horsepower with 405 pound-feet of torque. Porsche's "boxer" engine can lay claim to being the best in the world, perhaps the best of all time.

I know, we're putting a turbo six against a naturally aspirated V8. With the Stang, the car sucks in air, squirts in gas, blows it all up, and puts that violence onto the pavement. The 911 spins a pair of turbos to bolster compression and achieve horsepower numbers that more or less match up.

Same power, different means of getting there. But the best part of driving the 911 GTS, much like the Stang GT, is firing up the engine, listening to that initial roar, and then having the sweet rumble of much, much power fill your imagination with alluring images of open roads.

By the way, whereas the GT's spoiler is fixed, the GTS's will automatically extend at higher speeds.

The 911 GTS's power is sent to the rear wheels through a seven-speed stick.

Seventh gear is sort of pointless, as the lack of it in the Stang reveals. In both machines, you can happily hang out in third all day long, given the ability of both the six and eight to rev free and high before asking for a break.

The extra gear in the GTS does improve fuel economy. But not by much.

The GTS's interior is a lot more cockpit-like than the Stang's. And a lot more luxurious. Look, you're dropping well over 100,000 bones for this thing, so you expect exquisite leather and acres of Alcantara. That said, the GTS isn't a compromised 911. For example, the dreadful Porsche cupholders are still stowed in the dashboard and swing out; their skeletal nature as much as says "Skip the Starbucks and focus on driving."

Like the Mustang, the Porsche has a pretty small infotainment screen. But it does all the same stuff. I prefer Sync 3, but Porsche's system gets the job done. Both my testers came with premium audio setups, an acoustically, I thought the Mustang sounded better, but chalk that up to a bit more interior space (and don't forget that the louder V8 in the GT means that you have to up the volume to hear your tunes).

Driving the 911 is what you'd expect: 450 horses and a 911 to the the core.

Bottom line: It's a 911 with American V8 power.

In a sense, the 911's driving dynamics are what the Mustang is trying to get closer to. And the 911's power is aiming to mimic the Stang's straight-line gusto. Thus a 911 0-60 mph time of less than 3.5 seconds.

The Porsche weight over 500 pounds less than the GT and its shows on the road. Not always a good thing, as all that horsepower and torque sitting inside a lightweight package can make the GTS difficult to manage under normal driving conditions. The Stang is a tamer horse in this respect. The 911 GTS likes to hang out on the edge, particularly in Sport and Sport Plus modes.

That said, the GTS like all 911s is magical in that once you get the hang of it, the car tells you how to drive it. No car puts you into a corner with more confidence, guiding you in and guiding you out as you feather the power and massage the brakes.

True, you can slip the rear end quite easily. But chalk that up to the torque and how effective the high-tech GTS is at getting it to the rear wheels. Don't worry, the suspension and the traction control and the brakes and the electric steering can keep it in check. Not to mention the rear-axle steering.

Ironically, the Mustangs of old used to present more oversteering thrills on this front, but the newest iteration of the GT has been domesticated. The Stang is much easier to drive than the GTS, although it lacks the GTS's aristocrat-of-speed spirit. What's true of both is that you can really feel the power. The GTS just sneaks it up on you, while the Stang announces it right away.

And the winner is ... the Mustang GT!

For about $US80,000 less, you get 460 horsepower, two doors, four seats, and the kind of driving pleasure that Porsche has always boasted about and that this great American car has finally achieved.

For over 50 years, we've had 911s and we've had Mustangs, a more often than not, those who would buy one or the other lived in different realms. Not so anymore, and Mustang is the bigger beneficiary of Ford's commitment to making the Stang a global sports car.

Not that the new GT will offend fans of good old American muscle. It has plenty of it, and as I joked before the election last year, any country that has spent over five decades delivering Mustangs to the world is already great.

I love, love, love the 911, and for the money, the GTS is, in my view, the most 911 you could possibly want. Spending another 30 grand to obtain the additional 100 horsepower of the 911 Turbo strikes me as rather pointless.

But I've come to adore that Mustang, ever since the 2015 car hit. The 2018 edition is basically my go-to performance machine at this juncture. And best of all, it's crazy affordable. That's why this comparison actually does make sense. On paper, the GTS wins every time. On the road, and when peering into your wallet, the Mustang is a fighter.