The Ford Mustang just keeps getting better. After a redesign for 2010, the 2011 Mustang gets two new engines, as well as new transmissions and improvements to ride, handling, and noise. So the 2011 Mustang represents a significant improvement over the superb 2010 edition of America's pony car, which was a large improvement over the 2004-2009 models, which was a major improvement over what came before that.
The Mustang has been in continuous production for 46 straight years, and more than 9 million Mustangs have been built and sold to date. That gives the Mustang the longest production run of any single model in Ford history.
The 2011 Ford Mustang comes in three body styles: coupe, convertible, and a glass-roof coupe. Each is available in both the traditional V6 model and the V8-powered Mustang GT. Both engines are much more powerful this year.
The 3.7-liter V6 replaces the old 4.0-liter V6, the new one producing 305 horsepower versus just 210 horses from the older, bigger engine. The new V8 marks the return of the 5.0. An new all-aluminum engine, the 5.0-liter V8 in the Mustang GT produces 412 horsepower, which is far more than the 315 horsepower of the outgoing 4.6-liter V8. Both new engines for 2011 get new six-speed manual and automatic transmissions versus the five-speeds of 2010.
The Ford Shelby GT500 gains power for 2011, with a new aluminum version of the 5.4-liter V8 producing 550 horsepower instead of the 500 ponies from the 2010 iron-block engine. We have not driven the new Shelby GT500. Yet.
The 2011 engines transform the Mustang, providing the type of willing power pony car fans will love while improving fuel economy at the same time. The engines are lighter and the car has more rigidity, so the already impressive handling is that much better.
The 2011 Mustang is also quieter and more refined than ever, and, more importantly, it's an absolute blast to drive. It is quick off the mark with a brawny sound, crisp handling, a tight suspension, and much improved brakes. Put simply, this is the best Mustang ever, and it is the model that other pony car makers should follow.
In addition to the new engines and transmissions, the 2011 Mustang gets an additional front Z brace and a revised suspension to improve ride quality while also improving handling; new safety features including Ford's MyKey system, power side mirrors with integral blind spot mirrors, and fold-down rear headrests; electric power steering meant to improve fuel economy while also aiding steering feel; and new features, such as a Performance Package for V6 models and available Brembo brakes for the GT.
The 2005-09 Mustang featured a modern retro design with a front end that recalled the 1964-68 Mustang. With its 2010 redesign, Ford gave a nod to the 1969-70 Mustang with a new face that features a wider grille opening.
Other elements of the redesign could be seen as tributes to the past. The coupe's fastback roofline, unchanged from the last generation, recalls the original 1964.5 Mustang. The chamfered three-element taillamps, which house sequential turn signals that blink from the inside lamp to the outside lamp, were first found on the 1964 Thunderbird, then the 1967-68 Shelby Mustangs and late '60s Mercury Cougars. And the hockey stick lower character line could be viewed as an homage to the lower portion of the side coves found on Mustangs from 1964 to '68.
Compared to the last generation body style, Ford said the 2010 Mustang had 23 percent less aerodynamic lift at the front with a new slotted panel installed under the radiator to direct air, 50 percent better in front/rear lift balance, and seven percent less aerodynamic drag. For 2011, the company has lowered the front air dam and added a front splitter and an underbody aero shield to improve aerodynamics by another 4 percent.
Ford took several steps to improve noise, vibration and harshness for the 2010 model year, and the company has done even more for 2011. Additional sound-deadening material on the instrument panel and a rear wheel arch liner help drivers hear the sounds they want (namely the engine) and avoid the sounds that can be a distraction (such as dash creaks and tire noise).
The 3453-pound Mustang (3605 pounds for the GT) uses welded steel unibody construction with front and rear subframes to mount the steering and suspension systems, with almost half the body weight in high-strength low-alloy steel. It is by far the lightest of the new breed of pony cars, beating the Camaro by 300 pounds and the Dodge Challenger by as much as 500 pounds. The weight savings are a definite advantage.
The convertible comes standard with a power top with a glass rear window. The top uses two latches that the driver must operate, but they're within arm's reach and they latch and unlatch easily.
Anyone who hasn't been in a Mustang for a couple of years will want to take a look at the 2011 model. The interior was much improved for 2010 and there are even more improvements for 2011. The front bucket seats are significantly more comfortable and better looking than the slabs used in the 2009 models, though they could still use more lateral support. The aforementioned noise, vibration and harshness improvements have made what was once a rather loud car pleasingly quiet, though the Mustang's all-American pony car rumble is still audible to drivers and onlookers alike.
The interior design benefits considerably from the 2010 improvements. The 2005-2009 Mustang was notorious for its poor interior. What it lacked in soft-touch surfaces it more than made up for in cheap, hollow plastics. This time around, the throwback look is very much the same but the execution is far better. The dash top itself is now a one-piece soft-touch panel versus the hard multi-piece version of prior years. Real aluminum is used on the fascias, pedal covers, scuff plates and shifter knob instead of plastic. Interior ambient lighting in the door pockets, cupholders and footwells is a welcome interior feature, and the lighting colors can be changed through a range of 125 colors with the flip of a switch with Ford's MyColor system.
The look of the cabin is especially impressive when the Premium Trim with Color Accents package is ordered. This includes leather-upholstered sport bucket seats with cashmere accents running down the middle, as well as a dark aluminum instrument panel and unique door inserts. The available leather-clad steering wheel is a massive affair with six brushed metal spokes in three groups of two, with cruise control switches and controls for the sound system.
The Mustang also has a few options and amenities you might not expect, including a rearview camera, Ford's Sync voice-activated entertainment and communications system (which includes an iPod/mp3 player interface), Sirius satellite radio, and a navigation system with Sirius Travel Link.
The news isn't all good, though. There are still elements of the interior that could benefit from sturdier materials. The gauge surrounds, in particular, still look like cheap albeit chromed plastic. Ford says it used Audi interiors as aspirational benchmarks for the Mustang. If that's the case, they didn't clear the bar. Audi interiors are among the best on the market, and the Mustang, while fun and much better than in the past, really isn't close.
Most drivers should find a comfortable seating position, though we would like a telescoping feature for the steering wheel. There is plenty of head and leg room up front for most drivers, and the Mustang's sight lines are impressive. The side mirrors add blind spot mirrors in their upper, outer corners this year. We found this simple and cheap solution works quite well, and the mirrors are wide enough to provide a good rear view otherwise. The coupe's rear pillars don't intrude much in over-the-shoulder visibility, but it's hard to see out the back in the convertible with the top up. Coupe or convertible, the Mustang does not have the high beltline of its main competitor, the Chevrolet Camaro, and this is an advantage for the Mustang. The lower beltline makes for better visibility to the sides. This advantage became especially noticeable in an autocross. We could easily see the cones from inside the Mustang, but not from inside the Camaro.
The Mustang's two-passenger rear seat is not a place for adults. Head room is limited by the rake of the coupe roof, and leg room is minimal. You could get an average size adult back there, but he/she won't want to stay there long. It's a better place for the kids.
The trunk has 13.4 cubic feet of cargo space, which is pretty decent for a car this size. The opening isn't particularly big and the liftover is rather high, but the coupe's fold-down rear seats allow owners to carry an impressive amount of cargo.
The big news for 2011 is the Mustang's new power. Gone are the antiquated 210-horsepower, single overhead cam 4.0-liter V6 and the heavy but effective 315-horsepower sohc 4.6-liter V8. They have been replaced by two lighter, more modern, more powerful and more fuel efficient engines.
The new 3.7-liter V6 is a dual-overhead cam engine that makes 305 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 280 pound-feet of torque at 4250 rpm. Those numbers are close to those of the outgoing V8. Fuel economy is also better, thanks in part to new six-speed manual and six-speed automatic transmissions for 2011 to replace the previous five-speeds.
Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 19 mpg city and 31 highway with the automatic and 19/29 mpg with the manual (versus 16/24 mpg and 18/26 mpg for the 2010 V6).
Ford wouldn't provide 0-60 acceleration times for either engine, but we suspect the V6 can get there in less than 6.0 seconds, which is about a second quicker than the old engine. The new engine sounds great, too, emitting a muscular American growl. Both new transmissions work well with the engine. An autocross course revealed that the automatic's gears are spaced a little tighter than those in the Chevy Camaro. The result was more willing response in lower gears at low speeds. Basically, it means that power is there when you want it. The manual works well, too, but the shifter doesn't have quite the satisfyingly positive action that enthusiast drivers might like. We also found the clutch is a bit hard to modulate in first and second gears, making for some jerky starts.
The Mustang GT is even better. The 5.0 designation is important in Mustang history. The 1969-'70 Boss 302 displaced 5 liters, and in the 1980s, Ford resurrected pony car muscle with a 5.0-liter V8. That engine later gave way to the 4.6 V8 that was used until last year. For 2011, Ford introduces an all-new dual-overhead cam 5.0-liter V8 that puts all of its predecessors to shame. Not only does this engine have 97 more horsepower and 65 more pound-feet of torque than the outgoing 4.6, but it also weighs about 100 pounds less to improve handling, and gets better fuel mileage.
The 5.0 transforms the Mustang into a muscular pony car with power to spare. It will easily smoke the tires with the manual or automatic transmission and it provides a big kick in the pants when floored from a stop. Passing is just a matter of a twitch of your throttle foot, and the whole experience is backed by a glorious rumbling soundtrack that is distinctly American.
With the new V8, Ford has caught and possibly surpassed the usable power of the Chevrolet Camaro SS. While previous Mustangs just couldn't keep up with GM's 427-horsepower 6.2-liter V8, the 5.0 makes the new Mustang just as fast or quicker from 0 to 60 mph and in a quarter mile. At the press introduction, Ford provided Mustang GTs and Camaro SSs with automatic transmissions to drive in a 1/8-mile drag race. The Mustang was consistently about a half-second faster than the Camaro.
Over the past two years, the Mustang chassis has been upgraded and stiffened, which means it rides tauter, turns in quicker and has less pitch, dive and body roll than any previous Mustang. A front Z brace was added for 2011, helping to increase torsional rigidity by 15 percent.
Antilock brakes, traction control and AdvanceTrac yaw control are standard on all models. For track work, both the traction control and the yaw control can be turned off (but not the ABS), and there is a Sport mode which allows higher handling limits before traction and yaw controls are called in to save the day.
The Mustang GT is an absolute blast to drive. The car has a fairly light, tossable feel and it responds quickly to driver inputs. It is very willing to attack turns, with the new electronic power steering providing a light but natural feel. The car is extremely quick to transition from left to right and back again with a minimum of body roll, dive or pitch in the suspension. The brakes are larger for 2011, and the Brembo brake package adds larger brakes that should be the choice for anyone who wants to take their car to the track or drive regularly on twisty mountain roads. And the sound and power of the V8 is fantastic.
Formerly a glorified rental car, the V6 model is now nearly as much fun to drive as the GT. A new Performance Package for the 2011 Mustang V6 includes the GT suspension and an additional strut brace.
The convertible benefits from more structural rigidity for 2011. The changes include a tower-to-tower front strut brace, a stiffened V-brace, the addition of the aforementioned front Z-brace, added A-pillar stiffening foam, and a stronger secondary crossmember. These changes make the ragtop much more solid than in the past and even stiffer than competitors from Infiniti and Lexus. That translates to competent handling, though the stiffer coupe remains the choice for the ultimate in handling and chassis rigidity.
In short, the Mustang is the best it's ever been and is the model for pony car sportiness and power. The only drawback remains the solid rear axle, which can cause a busy ride on bumpy roads because jolts to the rear axle are transmitted from side to side. An independent rear suspension would deal with bumps much better as it would isolate road imperfections. That's a small price to pay considering how much better the rest of the car is.
The 2011 Ford Mustang is at the front of the pack when it comes to performance per dollar. The 2011 Mustang V6 handles quite well and delivers power close to last year's V8. The GT is quicker, faster, quieter and more refined than any V8 Mustang ever. With its updated engines, the Mustang no longer has to take a back seat to the accomplished engines in the Chevrolet Camaro or Dodge Challenger SRT8, plus it weighs less than those rivals and provides much better handling. The 2011 Mustang has more features, more comfort, and more sheer performance than any previous production Mustang, and it's priced to sell.
Jim McCraw filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report from Los Angeles. Kirk Bell contributed from Los Angeles.