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The Mustang remains one of the most widely recognized, respected, and desired nameplates in the automobile business. The Ford Mustang defined the pony-car segment in 1964; Plymouth's Barracuda may have beaten Ford to the showroom by 16 days, but it was the Mustang that set the sales records. The 'Cuda is gone now, and so are the Camaro, Firebird, Cougar, Javelin, Challenger, and every other would-be rival, leaving Ford's pony to prance alone. At least for now.
For 2007, the 210-hp Mustang V6 and 300-hp Mustang GT are joined by the new 500-hp supercharged Shelby GT500, offering its own look, tuning, and equipment.
Available in fastback coupe or convertible body styles, the Mustang V6 models make nice, stylish cruisers. The GT is an absolute hoot to drive, making all the right sounds, hanging onto corners tenaciously, and delivering thrilling acceleration performance. The Shelby GT500 adds to the fun with its near-Corvette performance. It's quite tossable, making for good sport on gymkhanas, race tracks or back roads. Its solid rear axle can get bouncy on bad pavement, and you'll want snow tires (four of them) for Northeastern or Midwestern winters.
It may be retro inspired, but the Mustang is a thoroughly modern car. Redesigned from a clean sheet of paper for 2005, today's Mustang is faster and more agile than ever. It delivers the bold styling, rear-drive performance and affordability that have been Mustang hallmarks for decades, but it's smoother and quieter and better built than older models.
Its interior looks like a throwback from the '60s, but it's functional and well finished. Granted, interior space is limited, especially given its exterior dimensions; and the back seat might better be described as a package shelf.
The Ford Mustang is an American success story. It holds true to an idea that still appeals to people of all ages, decades after the original was launched. Forty-three years after it created an automotive niche all its own, Mustang is both true to its roots and better than ever.
The Mustang improves those things that have appealed to so many different kinds of drivers for more than 40 years, and it nearly eliminates the bad traits of traditional pony cars. In general, the good has gotten better and the bad, less so.
The previous-generation (1994-2004) Mustang was still built around a body shell that dated from 1979, and it was about as stiff as wet rope. Ford claims the current Mustang's body/frame is 31 percent stiffer and it feels it. This Mustang is simply much more rigid and rattle-free than its predecessor. A rigid foundation provides the basis for a host of good things, including improved ride quality, sharper handling, and less interior vibration.
This new-found solidity applies to the convertible as well. By their nature, convertibles don't offer the chassis rigidity of hard tops. Cars that cost five times as much as the Mustang tend to get shakier when the fixed roof is removed to design a convertible version. In the Mustang convertible, you will notice some shimmy in the windshield frame that you'll never see in the coupe. Yet when it comes to overall rigidity, the current Mustang convertible is light-years better than its predecessor.
The convertible's folding top is simple and straightforward to operate. Unhook it from the windshield header and it powers back behind the rear seat with the touch of a button. The ultimate in posing requires that you manually install the optional boot cover, but the folded, exposed top and frame don't look bad without it.
The wheelbase is relatively long, six inches longer than the previous generation (pre-2005), and that makes a difference in terms of ride quality. The ride has smoothed out, and the remaining harshness is of a completely different (and smaller) order.
The rear suspension uses coil springs and a lightweight three-link design with a Panhard bar to keep all motion under constant control. It's about as good as a solid-axle suspension gets, and greatly reduces skipping and bouncing at the back of the car.
The steering is crisp, precise and confidence inspiring.
The brakes work well in high-speed highway driving situations, as we found during a test in Los Angeles. If you want ABS, you automatically get (and pay for) traction control, which has a dash-mounted off switch for special situations. (Drag racing, for instance.)
The 4.0-liter V6 engine is technologically sophisticated and a solid performer for urban, exurban and suburban duties. The ratios in the five-speed automatic transmission seem well matched to the available torque. When the automatic gets into overdrive fifth gear, the engine goes quietly into economy mode until called upon for a lane change, a pass, or an uphill charge. This is a large-displacement V6 and it sounds more muscular at full throttle than any previous Ford V6 engine. Yet it rates 19/25 city/highway mpg with the automatic transmission, and 19/28 mpg with the manual.
Indeed, the V6 Deluxe is the most popular model (about 70 percent of Mustangs sold today are V6s), and we like it. For just around $20,000, it delivers good torque, good acceleration and generally good road manners, with a sportier feel then previous six-cylinder Mustangs. And while it has less power than the V8 and smaller tires, the V6 seems slightly more eager to turn in for coners, a bit more agile than the nose-heavy GT. (The GT weighs about 150 pounds more, and almost all of that is on the front wheels.)
The GT, on the other hand, is a 300-hp, five-speed pavement-ripper for about $25,000. The three-valve-per-cylinder V8 engine features both variable camshaft timing and electronic throttle control. The Mustang GT will run 0-60 mph in about 5.5 seconds; it will out-brake a large number of sporty cars; and it handles better on canyon roads that any previous Mustang GT, with a minimum of body roll and a large portion of tire grip. Expect 17/23 mpg with the automatic, 17/25 with the manual.
The GT l
The Ford Mustang looks and feels like an all-American car, and that's a good thing. It's quick and fun to drive and offers combination of style, performance, and handling that's hard to beat for the money. The V6 Deluxe is a stylish, sporty cruiser. The GT is a serious performance car. And the Shelby GT500 raises it to Corvette performance levels.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from Los Angeles; with Mitch McCullough reporting from Dearborn and Los Angeles.