The 2006 Mustang is available as both a coupe and a convertible, powered by either a V6 or a V8 engine. The V6 Deluxe comes well equipped for less than $20,000. The Mustang GT boasts a multi-valve, overhead-cam V8 that produces 300 horsepower. Both are available with a manual or automatic transmission. More importantly, both deliver the bold styling, rear-drive performance and affordability that have been Mustang hallmarks for decades.
Retro inspired, to be sure, the Mustang is nonetheless a thoroughly modern car. Launched for 2005 with a clean-sheet design, the Mustang is faster and more agile than ever. It's also quieter and better built (even the convertible), and it rides more smoothly. Its interior is a throwback to the original Mustang, but it's also functional and well finished. For 2006, a new Pony Package gives V6 Mustangs all the show, if not the go, of the V8. The V8s are available with trendy new 18-inch wheels for 2006.
A family car, the Mustang isn't. Interior space is limited for a car of its exterior dimensions, and the back seat might better be described as a package shelf. Its solid rear axle can get bouncy on bad pavement, and we advise snow tires (four of them) for Mustang owners in the Northeast or Midwest. Yet the 2006 Mustang holds true to an idea that still appeals to people of all ages decades after it was launched.
The Ford Mustang has been an icon of American performance since its introduction in 1964. It created the pony car genre, and after 40-plus years of competition with the Barracuda, Camaro, Firebird and others, it's the only one left. We, and a few hundred thousands others, are glad it's still here.
Ford Mustang V6 coupe ($19,115); V6 coupe Deluxe ($19,215); V6 coupe Premium; V6 convertible ($23,940); V6 convertible Deluxe ($24,040); V6 convertible Premium $(24,915); GT coupe Deluxe ($25,415); GT coupe Premium ($26,320); GT convertible Deluxe ($29,965); GT convertible Premium ($31,145)
Nothing says modern American sporty car better than this Mustang. Its long hood and short rear deck capitalize on 40 years of Mustang history. The current Mustang features classic design cues that have defined Mustangs since the 1960s: C-scoops in the sides, three-element tail lamps and a galloping horse badge in the center of the grille. Its menacing shark-like nose is reminiscent of the 1967 model. And while this retro-inspired look pleases the eyes, there's a lot of updated technology you don't see, starting with an aluminum hood to trim weight.
This Mustang is based on a modified version of the platform that underpins the Lincoln LS and Jaguar S-Type luxury cars, albeit with some cost-trimming features such as live-axle rear suspension. Everything under the car has been upgraded substantially from previous Mustang levels: bigger brakes by nearly 20 percent, completely new front and rear suspension designs that yield much quieter, smoother ride as well as much more precise steering during hard cornering, improved engines and new transmissions. Optional antilock brakes bundled with traction control give any driver much more of a fighting chance in bad situations by allowing the driver to brake and steer at the same time.
The engines are mounted to the body with hydraulic engine mounts, which absorb and counteract vibration and pulsing. By adapting ideas and components from luxury cars, Ford has given the current Mustang a level of sophistication its predecessors never had. Yet the Mustang heritage of low-cost performance and flashy styling has not been compromised one iota. We know, because we've driven every generation since the original debuted in the spring of 1964.
Perhaps most retro of all Mustang features is a new-for-2006 Pony Package for V6 models. This includes a grille with GT-style round fog lamps and a chrome bezel, or corral, around the traditional Mustang prancing horse. The package includes 17-inch wheels, front-fender pony badges, a lower door stripe, and a rear spoiler.
There's a very heavy dose of 1967 Mustang inside, with two distinct right and left pods, blended with modern touches. Chrome-ringed air vents align across the dash, precisely in line with the gauges, and the steering wheel has three spokes with a center hub marked by the horse and tricolor bars logo. While some of the materials have a cost-saving look and feel, the package is not bad given the high style and price of entry. An interior upgrade package, with satin or dark-finish aluminum inserts, goes a long way toward eliminating traces of cheapness. Another interior upgrade package adds red leather seats, red door inserts and red floor mats on cars with appropriate exterior colors.
With its new duds inside, Mustang offers a color-changeable instrument panel display, with 125 color schemes to choose from. It's a gimmick, to be sure, but it's easy to use, and it can brighten your day, and especially your night, as you drive. We're all for that. Speaking of brightening, however, there's enough shiny metal on this car's dash and steering wheel to create some glare problems for drivers on sunny days. Just like the old days.
These are the good old days in terms of roominess in the Mustang. Thanks to a longer wheelbase and larger overall size, there is a lot more hip, leg, elbow and shoulder room inside this Mustang that in any previous generation. We found the front bucket seats to be comfortable, supportive and retentive in hard corners. The 2+2 back seat, however, isn't much more accommodating than before, and it's not a place adults will want to spend any time.
The trunk, however, is as large as those in some more overtly practical sedans, and the folding rear seat expands cargo space even further.
The basic sound system that comes with the car is pretty darn good. The 500-watt upgrade is reasonably priced in the premium package, and adds a six-CD changer. The 1000-watt upgrade will impress most audiophiles, but the extra subwoofers in the trunk steal a good chunk of cargo space. We'd be inclined to pass on those.
The previous-generation Mustang, a modified, welded version of a chassis that dated to 1979, was about as stiff as wet rope. Ford claims the current Mustang's body/frame is 31 percent stiffer, and we won't argue. 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.
The new-found solidity even applies to the convertible. It's a fact: 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. Our test car was solid enough to think that it would remain largely rattle-free even after a couple of winters pounding over Midwest roads.
The convertible's folding top is simple and straightforward to operate. Unhook it from the windshield header and it powers back behind the back seat with the touch of the button. The ultimate in posing requires that you manually install the optional boot, but the folded, exposed top and frame don't look too bad without the cover.
It doesn't look it, but the 2006 Mustang has a wheelbase six inches longer than the previous generation, and that makes all the difference. The ride has smoothed out, and the remaining harshness is of a completely different order. The new rear suspension uses coil springs and a lightweight three-link design with a Panhard bar and other locators to keep things constant. It's about as good as a solid axle gets, and greatly reduces skipping and bouncing at the back of the car.
The 4.0-liter V6 engine has more technical sophistication than any previous Ford V6. It's a solid performer for urban, exurban and suburban duties, and 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.
Indeed, the Mustang V6 Deluxe is the most popular model (about 70 percent of Mustangs sold today are V6s), and we like it. For under $20,000, it delivers good torque, good acceleration and generally good road manners, with a sportier feel then previous six-cylinder Mustangs. Interestingly, while it has 90 fewer horsepower and 80 foot-pounds less grunt than the V8, with smaller tires, the V6 seems slightly more eager to turn and more agile than the nose-heavy Mustang GT (the GT weighs about 150 pounds more, and almost all of that is on the front tires).
One of the biggest improvements in this Mustang is the steering. Its predecessor had a mushy steering feel with a large dead spot on center, and hard cornering required a leap of faith. This one's steering is more crisp, more precise and more confidence inspiring.
The brakes, too, are improved, 15 percent larger than the previous generation. They work well in high-speed highway driving situations, as we found during a test in Los Angeles. If you want ABS, you will automatically get, and pay for, traction control, which has a dash-mounted off switch for special situations. Like drag racing, for instance.
The GT is a 300-horsepower, five-speed pavement-ripper for about $25,000. The new three-valve V8 engine features both variable camshaft timing and electronic throttle control, wit
Few machines say modern American sporty car better than the Mustang. Its combination of style, performance, and handling are hard to beat for the money. Many of the traditional pony car shortcomings, including a stiff ride, rattling construction and considerable interior vibration, have been minimized or eliminated. Nor will buyers suffer if they choose a less-expensive V6 model. These Mustangs start well-equipped under $20,000, with good power and acceleration, even with the automatic transmission. Mustang started the pony car genre, and now, after 40 years on the street and race tracks, its appeal endures for drivers of all ages.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from Los Angeles.