This is a comment, not a compliment: the Ford Mustang, right now, is almost in a class of its own. As a general rule it’s unlikely to win over drivers of “mature” coupes such as BMW 650s, Infiniti G37s or Mercedes CLKs, nor will it entice the Subaru Impreza/Nissan 370Z/VW Golf R32 set.
The only true rivals to the ’Stang are the Dodge Challenger and – soon – the Chevrolet Camaro, two other cars that hark back to the halcyon days of the muscle car era: they go quick in a straight line, they’re more of a handful in corners than European coupes, they remind people of the cars they aspired to 40 years ago, and they’re usually exceptional value. So who does the Mustang appeal to? It’s simple: People who want/need cars with any/all of the above attributes.
And the new Mustang GT has them all. Straightline performance? No problem, although on paper, the spec of RACER
’s model didn’t look promising. Although manual, it had the 3.31:1 rear axle (there is a 3.55 also available in stick-shift) which allows you to cruise at 80mph at only 2200rpm while getting 27mpg, but suggests sprinting isn’t going to be its forte. The 3.73:1 option (as used in the 2008 Bullitt) would be far preferable at the dragstrip, and will be another option available later this year.
However, the GT does now have the Bullitt’s engine upgrade as standard, which means the 281cu.in/4.6-liter V8 develops 315hp at 6000rpm and 325lbft of torque at 4250, and from this one change alone you can feel the throttle is more urgent than the previous GT. Also in its favor was the transmission. I’m not sure if we just got lucky with this particular car, or whether there have been deliberate improvements made to the Mustang gearbox, but our 3500-mile car’s gearshift was a delight to use. Having driven models that required the driver to move his whole arm to make shifts, this ’box was a revelation and the lever moved with ease around the gate, though the clutch pedal travel remains too long.
From standstill, the Mustang lunges forward, the limited slip diff and traction control keeping the car fairly well in line without too much playing with the gas pedal. And as independent sources will prove, it will hit 60mph in 5.5sec, and 100 in 13sec. Far more importantly, the throttle response when accelerating in fourth or fifth on the freeway is noticeably improved over the previous model.
But the engine is far from the only upgraded part of the 2010 Mustang. On the outside, there are new colors available (including Grabber Blue – sweet!), sequential tail-lamps (yep, they still amuse those following you), wider aperture exhausts, and 18-in. wheels are now standard, with 19in. (as on our car) available as an option.
And of course there’s the styling. Personally, I’m not sure about the rear, square-on, though the subtlety of its lip-spoiler is a mercy. But the narrowing of the Mustang’s grille (in line with headlight pods that echo the pre-facelift Shelby GT500) and an increased power bulge on the hood have given the front wing a steeper curve when viewed from the side. Then, what used to be a straight line from ahead of the A-pillar all the way back is now interrupted by a flowing kick-up that starts before the trailing-edge of the door and plateaus under the rear-side window. The Giugiaro Mustang design concept shown at the 2006 LA Auto Show was a clear influence here.
The overall effect is a great enhancement of a distinctive and handsome original, and those extra curves particularly enhance the look of the convertible when its top is lowered. Inside, though, the changes are bigger. The dashboard is all one piece now, so there should be fewer squeaks once your car reaches high mileage, and it’s better on the eye and to the touch. Meanwhile the center stack is simplicity itself, and the console feels solidly built. The dials are gorgeously lit in ice-blue (there is a MyColor option that allows you to alter the color) and the illuminated sill-plates are a great little gimmick.
Aside from rear-seat passengers having no – and I mean zero
– legroom once two six-footers are up front, one of my only gripes about the interior remains in the 2010 model. It was designed in the knowledge that most would be specced as automatics, with the cupholders in the center binnacle. So once you’ve put your venti-size Starbucks in place, how the hell are you supposed to change gear without your stick-shift becoming extremely sticky-shift? The only answer is to shape your arm as if you’re doing a strange T-rex impression. Please, Ford, give us pop-out style drinks holders a.s.a.p. and so reward the men and women who want to drive your car enthusiastically.
Driving a Mustang enthusiastically is something you should do, and to hell with the fools who don’t take this car seriously. To drive it quickly, you need to drive it well, and learning how to do that until it becomes instinctive is massively rewarding. No, a ’Stang is never going to out-handle an Impreza, but that means you can have fun in corners at a lower speed, and steer with the rear. If the Mustang’s 53/47 front-to-rear weight distribution suggests it has a natural tendency to understeer, switching off the traction control (there’s a button down by the gearstick) means neutralizing the understeer with the tail is only a toe-poke away. Press that same button twice, and you’re in “Sport Mode”, with AdvanceTrac and ESC engaged but allowing for greater slip angles. Holding the button down for five seconds completely disables the traction control and stability control.
That’s not to suggest the car’s a handful. The 19in. Pirellis offer prodigious grip, and the 25 percent stiffer rear springs and uprated dampers have combined to not only cut down the car’s roll, but reduced the bounce from mid-corner bumps that could unnerve a novice Mustang driver who isn’t used to live rear axles. He or she would also be surprised by how light the steering is: there is very little road feel and this strange anomaly in a muscle car, I’d have thought, would be very easy and cheap to correct. Still, don’t go mistaking lightness for vagueness: there is no dead zone in the steering. Every minor adjustment the driver makes is reflected in the car’s trajectory. It’s just that learning to have faith in it takes time.
The $1495 TrackPack that should be available this summer will offer the 3.73:1 rear axle, the Shelby GT500’s anti-rollbars, strut mounts, dampers and springs, better brakes (the regular GT’s are OK, but repeated hard use causes them to fade quite quickly), and a carbon fiber clutch plate in the rear diff. The changes this brings, we are assured by a Ford rep, are as significant as the changes from the regular GT from ’09 to this 2010 model. Worth investigating, for sure.
In the mean time, opting for the GT Premium throws in iPod jacks, satellite radio, Ford SYNC and the kitchen sink. (Click here
to get the full list without the annoying promo video). If you just want a brand-new but iconic car with a 315hp V8 under the hood, and could do without the trimmings, it’ll cost you $27,995. Is there a better value slice of automotive charisma on sale today?Words by David MalsherPhotos by Lesley Ann Miller/LAT