The Sub $30,000 V8 Performance Kings? C5 Corvette Z06 vs Used S550 Mustang GT
One of the primary reasons enthusiasts are drawn to V8-powered American performance cars is their great fun-to-dollar ratio.
And though today’s used car market might not provide the incredible bargains you’d find a few years ago, there’s still lots of value out there if you know where to look.
Let’s say you are looking to spend between $20,000 and $30,000 for a used, rear-drive V8 performance machine for either road or track use. Two ideal platforms that come to mind are the C5 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 and the S550 Ford Mustang GT, which can easily be had in the mid $20,000s in today’s market.
Beyond being highly popular V8, rear-drive domestic platforms, there isn’t much that a C5 Z06 and an S550 share—yet they both represent an ideal balance of performance, fun and affordability. Which one is better? It all depends.
C5 Z06: Still the Value King
For the last decade or more, the C5 generation '01-'04 Corvette Z06 has been the undisputed king of performance to the dollar. And even with prices increasing these days, the C5 Z06 still retains the throne.
The pros for the Z06 are simple. It’s light. It has over 400hp (2002+ models). It handles exceptionally well with proper tires and a few simple upgrades can be turned into an absolute track monster.
The cons of the Z06, especially when compared to the S550 Mustang GT, are that it's an older car. Around 15 years older in this case. And though Corvette owners tend to treat their cars pretty nicely, a Z06 will still likely require more upkeep than a 2015+ Mustang. And even on a low mileage example you’ll want to keep an eye out for all the little things that can go wrong on an older car.
The Corvette is also a smaller, two-seat sports car, while the Mustang has a backseat that can be used in a pinch. Neither one of these is ideal for hauling family, but the Mustang is easily the more practical choice.
S550 GT: 5.0 Fun
Having been on sale for nearly a decade now, the 2015+ Mustang GT is right in the sweet spot for affordable, modern V8 performance. And whether you are looking to hit the road course, drag strip or just the streets your aftermarket upgrade possibilities are endless. It's a late-model Mustang after all.
In contrast to the older Corvette, the Mustang shines with its nicer cabin, modern technology and an overall more refined driving experience while still delivering fantastic performance and lots of fun.
But with that added size and comfort comes mass. And no matter what you do to it, it’ll be hard getting around the fact that an S550 GT is around 500 pounds heavier than a C5 Z06. And this alone gives the 'Vette the edge as a potential track platform.
Track or Street?
Because the cars are so different in personality, there’s no right or wrong answer here. If you are looking for a daily driver or just a fat and fun performance car with all the creature comforts of a brand-new car, the S550 will get the nod.
On the other hand, for a weekend toy or something that’s purely for backroad drives and track days, the Corvette is hard to beat. That's not to say the Mustang can't handle track use, but the Z06 was built for the track. It trades refinement and practicality for lightweight, high-powered, highly-balanced thrills.
Thinking about resale value? Both of these cars should hold their value pretty well, but if you are looking at things from an investment perspective, the 20-year-old Corvette is the one that’s starting to appreciate. while the Mustang is still considered a "used car."
Though they might appeal to different types of enthusiasts, the C5 Corvette Z06 and S550 Mustang GT are both great ways to spend $20,000 to $30,000.
And most importantly, in a time when new V8 performance cars are getting more expensive than ever, they both offer incredible fun and limitless potential for not a lot of dough.
Thank the car gods for both of them.
More From Driving Line
- It's not just the C5 Z06 we love. Here's why all versions of the C5, C6 and C7 Corvettes are better than ever.