The Mustang is lucky to have survived Ford's model purge that ousted the Thunderbird, Probe, Aspire and Aerostar last spring. Lucky, because it has a huge following, an even bigger aftermarket, and a legend that none of those other now-dead (model) brands can match. The Mustang is an icon that, having escaped the axe in 1988, has lasted another 10 years by following a simple formula: cheap, quick, fast, and cute. The changes made to the car for 1998 are minimal, including the attractive pricing.
The Mustang has only two true competitors, the Chevrolet Camaro and the Pontiac Firebird - the other two members of the ponycar segment. Like the two GM ponycars, the Ford Mustang comes in many guises. There are V6 and V8 versions in both coupe and convertible body styles along with the Cobra, a super-performance model that competes against the Camaro SS and the Firebird Ram Air. There are Japanese and Korean coupes that compete with the Mustang on price, but certainly not on performance.
The Mustang offers a 3.8-liter V6 with 150 horsepower and 215 foot-pounds of torque, for $17,020, and a V6 convertible for $21,520. The GT, powered by a 4.6-liter, single overhead-cam V8 rated at 225 hp and 290 lbs.-ft. for 1998, starts at $21,020 for the coupe and $25,020 for the convertible. A 32-valve, double overhead-cam 305-hp V8 is exclusive to the $26,680 Cobra and $29,480 Cobra convertible.
The engines are backed by either a standard 5-speed manual or an optional 4-speed automatic overdrive transmission, except for the Cobra, which only comes with a manual gearbox. Air conditioning is now standard on GT models. Tires on the GT now carry an H-speed rating, a step down from the Z-rated tires last year. Another change is the leather interior package that includes front bucket seats only, a change made in the name of affordability.
The $21,000 GT 4.6 V8 with a 5-speed was our test subject. This car and all the V8 Mustangs before it, dating back to 1965, has the acceleration, the throbbing exhaust pulse, the trim size and weight, and the quick handling that customers demand in a ponycar.
But competitive moves may have turned the Mustang into a relative punycar. The Chevy Camaro and Pontiac Firebird for 1998 boast a new aluminum engine that produces 305 hp, with a fresh-air induction option that raises the ante to 320 hp, with torque as high as 335 lbs.-ft., and 6-speed manual transmissions. The GM cars also have traction control, which is not available on the Mustang.
The Mustang is barely 15 feet long, with a wheelbase just over 100 inches long, with no long overhangs front or rear. While this design makes it easy to maneuver and easy to park, it also means the Mustang is a sporty platform - relatively light, quick to change direction - but stable.
With a short and narrow package to work with, Ford's designers have done a good job of masking the car's size with generous sweeps of front sheetmetal and good design on the sides and rear end. The Mustang is short, but it doesn't look stumpy or cut off.
Our test car had the standard passive anti-theft system, now called Securilock, in which the key and the car communicate electronically every time the car is started. It also had the optional perimeter anti-theft system, which protects it from unauthorized entry through doors, windows, hood or trunk. Yet another option was the remote keyless entry system, which controls the door locks, interior lamps, decklid and a panic alarm from the key fob.
The interior design of the current Mustang is based on the vertically split instrument panel in the original 1964 car, with individual, rounded coves facing each of the front occupants. A full array of round analog instruments faces the driver, while the passenger side contains an air bag and a glovebox. Nothing essential is out of reach and none of the controls requires a long stretch.
For 1998, Ford has revised the console to have two full-time cupholders instead of one, with an ashtray insert for smokers and a real cigarette lighter (the power point has been moved inside the console storage box). The digital clock that used to reside atop the dashboard in its own nacelle has been removed and the clock has been reincorporated into the radio display.
The interior is nice and cozy in the coupe, with just enough seat track length to accommodate tall drivers, and just enough elbow room to keep one from feeling cramped. The driving position is much higher than in either the Camaro or the Firebird, and it's much easier to get in and out of the Mustang.
The front bucket seats are thin, and short in every dimension. They aren't comfortable for long distances, but more than adequate for around-town driving. For those who like to drive on back roads, there isn't much side support built into the bucket seats, so you have to brace yourself in the car to stay in place. Ford has provided a dead pedal for bracing with the left foot, which helps.
The Mustang's back seat is vestigial at best, with only enough room for small objects or very small people. The split fold-down rear seat is handy for hauling large cargo, a good feature because the Mustang trunk is among the smallest in the industry.
In this class, horsepower and acceleration at a reasonable price are what matter, and the Mustang 4.6-liter V8 has plenty of each. While the new modular single overhead-cam V8 engine doesn't have the loud and lumpy idle quality and ferocious intake roar of the old 5.0-liter overhead-valve V8, it has almost exactly the same power and torque characteristics and accelerates at almost exactly the same rate, with 0-60 mph times in the low 6-second range. That's quick.
The new V8 will pull happily to 6000 rpm, making the driving experience that much more fun. The 4-speed automatic may be the better choice for those who have to commute in heavy traffic and there's little loss in performance. But the new Borg-Warner T-56 5-speed manual is more fun with a 225-hp V8 engine. The gearbox shifts smoothly and mates well to an engine that features a flexible powerband and sufficient strength to take high-rpm shifts for the life of the car.
The 1998 Mustang chassis is essentially the same as the 1979 Mustang. It has been reinforced to make the car handle more crisply, steer more accurately, and deal with road shocks more effectively. But it is still a modified 1979 Mustang unibody chassis with relatively unsophisticated MacPherson strut suspension and a solid rear axle. Given what they had to work with, the Mustang's engineers have done a good job making the car smoother and quieter.
Most of the raw edges and choppiness of the Mustang's old suspension behavior have been smoothed out. The steering is more direct and more positive than previous Mustangs, helped by performance tire technology.
The Camaro and Firebird may offer an advantage of 80-95 horsepower over the Mustang GT. But the Mustang GT gets better gas mileage, it's quieter, it rides better, and it offers better interior ergonomics and quality than the GM pony cars. Another major factor in its favor is that it is far less expensive than either one of the performance GM cars by several thousand dollars, a factor that makes the Mustang GT the best all-around car in the class.
Build and price your dream Ford Mustang in just a few easy steps.
|Build & Price|
2014 Ford Mustang$68,775 | 11 mi
2013 Ford Mustang$21,777 | 34,781 mi
2013 Ford Mustang$21,977 | 34,683 mi
2013 FORD MUSTANG$22,368 | 34,449 mi
2013 Ford Mustang$29,447 | 9,675 mi
2013 Ford Mustang$46,700 | 3,268 mi
2012 FORD MUSTANG$21,487 | 31,553 mi
2011 Ford Mustang$17,997 | 30,417 mi
2010 Ford Mustang$15,995 | 108,839 mi
2010 Ford Mustang$15,999 | 35,522 mi
2010 FORD MUSTANG$18,777 | 45,014 mi
2008 FORD MUSTANG$11,975 | 92,228 mi
2007 Ford Mustang$18,999 | 59,106 mi
2007 Ford Mustang$23,995 | 63,431 mi
2007 Ford Mustang$33,951 | 29,661 mi
2007 Ford Mustang$34,977 | 3,107 mi
2007 Ford Mustang$37,977 | 2,815 mi
2006 Ford Mustang$9,995 | no mileage
2006 Ford Mustang$14,995 | 73,681 mi
2006 FORD MUSTANG$18,487 | 76,478 mi
2003 Ford Mustang$7,990 | 108,206 mi
2002 Ford Mustang$4,981 | 164,191 mi
2001 Ford Mustang$6,988 | 93,615 mi
2001 FORD MUSTANG$9,961 | 53,335 mi
1998 Ford Mustang$12,789 | 64,750 mi
1994 Ford Mustang$6,999 | 171,578 mi
1994 Ford Mustang$19,999 | 24,016 mi
1993 Ford Mustang$15,990 | 57,319 mi