Fortunately, today's Mustang, introduced three years ago, is a superb example of the genre. The Mustang GT comes with a 300-hp V8 and is an absolute hoot to drive, making all the right sounds, hanging onto corners tenaciously, and delivering thrilling acceleration performance. The American pony car has never been better than the current Mustang GT.
The Mustang is available as a coupe or convertible. The Mustang V6 Deluxe is a nice cruiser and its 4.0-liter V6 engine is a solid performer, all for around $20,000. But the Mustang GT is what the Mustang is all about and the basis of the legend.
For 2008, a new Bullitt model joins the herd. Faithfully styled to celebrate the hero car in the famous chase scene starring Steve McQueen, the 2008 Mustang Bullitt is tuned to a higher level than the standard GT. Some media have positioned the Bullitt as nothing more than a hopped up Mustang, but that sells what's going on here a bit short. Rather than simply bolting on some modifications and re-tuning the setup, Ford took the higher road, thoroughly re-engineering and painstakingly massaging the Bullitt to attain its additional performance. In other words, they did it the hard way, the right way. Ford used technology learned from development of the Shelby cars, and the chief engineer for the Mustang says technology gained from the development of the Bullitt will be used in the next-generation Mustang. In any case, the Bullitt is more responsive than the Mustang GT. We found the Bullitt to be superbly balanced, making for a more enjoyable, more sophisticated car to drive on a daily basis, a car that responds beautifully to the driver's whims. Ford plans to build about 7,000 Bullitt models.
For 2008, three Shelby models are available: The 319-hp Shelby GT comes in coupe and convertible form along with the 540-hp Shelby GT500KR coupe. The Shelby GT500 offers near-Corvette performance and we found it easy to drive, and fun for gymkhanas, race tracks or back roads. Its solid rear axle is bouncy on bad pavement, however, and all this comes at a substantial price increase.
For 2008, front side airbags come standard on all Mustangs, and high-intensity discharge headlights and interior ambient lighting are newly available.
While its styling is retro inspired, the Mustang is a thoroughly modern car. Redesigned from a clean sheet of paper for 2005, the current Mustang is fast and agile, more so than any past Mustangs. 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.
The interior looks like a throwback from the '60s, and we think it's really neat. We just wish the interior materials were a wee better. A navigation system is available and it works well.
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; 44 years after it created an automotive niche, the Mustang has returned to its roots and it's better than ever.
Ford Mustang V6 Deluxe coupe ($19,250); V6 Premium coupe ($20,480); V6 Deluxe convertible ($24,075); V6 Premium convertible ($25,305); GT Deluxe coupe ($25,840); GT Premium coupe ($27,020); GT Deluxe convertible ($30,665); GT Premium convertible ($31,845); Shelby GT coupe ($37,840); Shelby GT convertible ($44,605); Shelby GT500 coupe ($41,930); Shelby GT500 convertible ($46,755)
Yet the Mustang follows modern trends by offering ever-larger wheels, including two distinct 18-inch wheel designs for the GT and a new 18-inch wheel for V6 models. So trimmed, the Mustang looks more aggressively handsome than ever, and much like the concept cars that grabbed everyone's attention at the 2004 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
And while the Mustang's retro-inspired look pleases the eye, there's a lot of modern technology you don't see, starting with an aluminum hood to trim weight. The modern Mustang is based on the same mechanical platform as the Jaguar S-Type, albeit with some cost-trimming measures such as its live-axle rear suspension.
All Mustang engines are secured to the body with hydraulic 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.
Like their muscle-era namesakes, Shelby models get unique front grilles and bumper fascia. The GT500 grille is designed to provide a functionally larger and unimpeded air intake, while reducing airflow under the body. The GT500 has a unique hood with dual air-extraction slits. Around back the GT500 has a vintage-style ducktail spoiler on the decklid and a series of four strakes under the rear fascia.
Carroll Shelby's signature striking-Cobra emblem glowers from the center vertical portion of the decklid of the GT500, a characteristically off-center position in the grille, and both front quarter panels. It comes with 18-inch rims with the Ford SVT (Special Vehicle Team) logo. Just as in 1968, the Shelby models are topped by Le Mans-style racing stripes. They look terrific, though we're not sure they should carry down onto the rear bumper where they compete with the rear license plate. GT500 convertibles feature a premium fabric for the top.
The Shelby GT500KR has a carbon fiber hood with hood pins and a unique hood scoop, as well as 40th anniversary Shelby snake emblems.
There's a heavy dose of 1967 Mustang inside, with the dash divided into distinct right and left pods, blended with modern touches. Chrome-ringed air vents align with the gauges across the dash, and the steering wheel has three spokes with a center hub marked by the horse-and-tricolor-bars logo. While the look is retro cool, many of the materials have a cost-saving look and feel, especially the plastics on the dash panel. An interior upgrade package adds red leather seats, red door inserts and red floor mats on cars with appropriate exterior colors.
Mustang offers an optional 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 in the original Mustangs). The available Interior Upgrade Package, with satin or dark-finish aluminum inserts instead of chrome, goes a long way toward eliminating the feel of cheapness.
These are the good old days in terms of roominess in the Mustang. The 107-inch wheelbase and 187.6-inch overall length of the current model are the longest of any Mustang since 1973, and are within an inch of the dimensions of the 1969-70 model. But Ford has learned something about space efficiency since then, so today's Mustang offers more front-seat hip, leg, elbow and shoulder room than any previous generation. We found the front bucket seats to be comfortable, supportive and retentive in hard corners.
The back seat, however, isn't much more accommodating than in the old fastback 2+2 variant of 1965-68. It's not a place adults will want to spend any time. However, it folds flat, just like in the old days, to expand luggage capacity.
And even without folding the back seat, the Mustang's trunk is as large as those in some more overtly practical sedans.
Seats in the Shelby GT500 are more aggressively bolstered, and the positions of the speedometer and tachometer are swapped. The GT500 is upholstered in black leather, with or without red inserts. All interior chrome is replaced by satin-finish aluminum for reduced glare. Snake logos slither on the seatbacks and steering-wheel hub.
The standard sound system that comes in the Mustang is good. The 500-watt upgrade is reasonably priced as part of 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 (1994-2004) Mustang was 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 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 solidity applies to the convertible as well. By their nature, convertibles don't offer the chassis rigidity of hardtops. 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, but overall rigidity is impressive.
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 is fairly smooth, even with the available 18-inch wheels. 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 it does a good job of controlling skipping and bouncing at the back of the car. While many high-performance fans wish Ford would give the Mustang an independent rear suspension for better handling and ride quality, the current setup does a fine job on both counts.
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 order ABS, you automatically get traction control, which has a dash-mounted off switch for special situations, including drag racing.
The 4.0-liter V6 engine is a solid performer. The five-speed automatic's gear ratios 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. It rates 16/24 city/highway mpg with the automatic transmission, and 17/26 mpg with the manual; those are the 2008 fuel economy estimates using the EPA's new, more realistic testing methods, resulting in numbers much lower than last year's even though no changes have been made to the vehicles.
Indeed, the V6 Deluxe is the most popular model (about 70 percent of Mustangs sold are V6s), and we like it. For just around $20,000, it delivers good torque, good acceleration and generally good road manners, with a sporty feel. And while it has less power than the V8 and smaller tires, the V6 seems slightly more eager to turn in for corners, a bit more agile than the nose-heavy GT. (The GT weighs about 200 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 $26,000. 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 minimu
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 and Shelby GT are serious performance cars. And the Shelby GT500 raises it to near Corvette performance levels.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from Los Angeles; with Mitch McCullough reporting from Dearborn and Los Angeles and Kirk Bell reporting from Dearborn.