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The Ford Mustang has remained true to the traits that made an instant classic of the 1964-1/2 original, even as it is entering the third year of its fifth generation. It's still relatively big for a sporty car, with plenty of available options, and small-block V8 power.
With the latter, there's plenty of torque. The engine sounds great at full song, urging you to keep your foot in it, yet it burbles along when cruising, attracting lots of attention from those around you. Excellent handling response keeps you involved.
But no matter the model, the Mustang boasts distinctive styling. It won't be mistaken for anything else. It makes a statement. The Mustang has only two true competitors, the Chevrolet Camaro and the Pontiac Firebird. There are imported coupes that compete with the Mustang on price, but they don't offer the same V8 pony car experience.
Performance is what the Mustang GT is all about. Its 4.6-liter, sohc modular V8 produces 260 horsepower at 5250 rpm, with 302 pounds-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. And it sounds great, whether cruising or at full throttle. Last year, the GT engine benefited from revised camshafts and intake manifold runners, and larger valves for improved airflow above 3000 rpm. A new coil-on-plug ignition system replaced the previous ignition for higher-energy sparks.
Mustang's 3.8-liter split-port V6 engine develops 190 horsepower at 5250 rpm, with 220 foot-pounds of torque at 2750 rpm. All models, regardless of engine or transmission, have a 3.27:1 rear axle ratio.
The flexibility of both the V8 and V6 engines make them good mates for the transmissions, which have sufficient strength to take high-rpm shifts for the life of the car. Last year, the four-speed automatic was re-calibrated for smoother upshifts. Both transmissions shift smoothly. With the manual transmissions, it feels like you're shifting a big gearbox in a big car. Clutch travel is a bit long, so you have to be fleet of foot to pull off consistently clean power shifts.
Traction control, previously optional, is now standard on the Premium V6 and on all V8s. The Bosch system works at all speeds: Whenever wheelspin is detected, the system retards ignition timing, cuts fuel flow, and activates the brakes at one or both drive wheels, in that order. The driver can turn the system off with a console switch.
The Mustang offers good grip when cornering hard, and you can really feel what the car is doing. The car involves the driver. Most of the raw edges and choppiness of the previous generation have been smoothed out. The current-generation Mustang was engineered for improved rear-suspension compliance, with longer wheel travel, which reduces ride harshness. A revised boost curve gives the steering a more linear response and better on-center feel than in pre-1999 Mustangs. And the turning circle of this latest Mustang has been reduced by three feet through changes to the steering rack, the lower control arms and front stabilizer bars.
The braking system was re-engineered for 1999, also, with new aluminum twin-piston front calipers to reduce unsprung weight by a significant 10 pounds. The new calipers also contribute to greatly improved brake pedal feel, while the new master cylinder that arrived at the same time improved not only modulation but also the ratio of brake pedal travel to braking action. ABS, like traction control, is standard on Premium V6s and all V8s. It can be ordered as a $730 package with traction control on all other Mustangs except base-level, manual-transmission coupes. ABS helps the driver to maintain steering control under hard braking, a useful, though not necessarily advisable, feat in the Mustang.
The Camaro and Firebird are slightly more powerful than the Mustang GT. But the Mustang GT is quieter, rides better, and offers better interior ergonomics and quality than the Camaro and Firebird. The Mustang GT is also less expensive than either of the GM pony cars, by several thousand dollars. Both the Camaro and Firebird are slated for extinction in the near future, which will leave the Mustang as the only true pony you can buy. For now, however, the Mustang is merely the best.