The glorified traffic jam also gives Caldwell a chance to take in how the interiors of the Mustang and the 370Z have matured with their recent updates. Caldwell at first seems to prefer the Mustang for practical reasons-he finds the stereo crisper and cleaner and likes the idea of having a back seat for his kids. But he wavers when he sinks into the Z's red leather driver's seat and settles his hands on the perfectly positioned steering wheel. "You become a part of the Nissan," he says.
Finally, as dusk descends and we edge past 8 Mile Road, which marks the dividing line between Detroit and its northern suburbs, the traffic eases up. Welcome to Mustang territory. "This one's just brute power," Caldwell says as he gives the GT a bit of throttle. The heavy police presence prevents us from submitting to spectators' calls to race, but our separate closed-course testing confirms that the 412-hp 'Stang owns the 332-hp Nissan by about a second both in the 0-to-60-mph sprint and through the quarter mile. And then there's the sound. Whereas the Z's aging VQ V-6 is all noise, vibration, and harshness, the Mustang's new V-8 is loud and menacing when it should be and nearly sewing-machine smooth the rest of the time. The Nissan wins some points for its novel manual gearbox, which not only has slightly smoother throws than the Mustang's stick but also impresses Caldwell with its ability to match revs automatically on downshifts. "I do like that," he confirms. Ride quality is mostly a wash between the two cars, save for when just the right frequency of potholes hits the Mustang's live rear axle and sets its occupants bouncing.
By 10:30 p.m., the party's over, as police are demanding that the muscle-car-loving spectators go home. Plus, Caldwell needs to get back to being a family man. But he's enjoyed the escape provided by each of these sporty cars, albeit in different ways. "I wish I could combine the best elements of both cars," he notes. He's reticent to pick a winner, but he admits that his son would have less trouble picking between the two. "I think Sam would like the Mustang." We can't help but agree. If we were going all out on a racetrack, we'd likely pick the lighter, more sophisticated Z. But here on the streets, where a real thirty-something will actually drive it, the more comfortable, more refined Mustang seems like the smarter choice. Ford's V-8-powered pony car remains visceral and brutish enough to please any testosterone-addled teenager but has evolved such that it also meets the more demanding tastes of the thirty-somethings who can actually afford one.