The Ford Mustang has really been on a roll the past few years, the recession and auto industry meltdown notwithstanding. All things considered, the Mustang is a survivor, and even with competition from the Chevy Camaro and Dodge Challenger, still manages to lead and innovate.
When the 2005 model came out, it marked a new era for the car, finally abandoning a platform that had been around since 1979. It also got a new retro look that pays tribute to the classic Mustangs of the late 1960s. The only problem with doing a heritage design is that it’s not always easy to update the style when it’s time for a refresh. (Generally, car designs start getting a little stale at about the five year mark.)
As the refreshed 2010 Mustang debuted, it improved on the overall goodness of the car but managed to keep the basic retro shape. The three-element taillights (a styling signature starting with the first Mustang in 1965) were altered slightly, and other design cues were tweaked just enough to make the car look newer while still keeping its essential Mustang style.
One thing that was a bit of a letdown with the 2010 was that the mechanical pieces were essentially carried over. The GT’s 4.6 liter V8 and the base model’s 4.0 liter V6 were okay, but there was one problem: The new Chevy Camaro. That car’s horsepower numbers trounced the little mustang quite handily, with its standard V6 breaking through the magic 300 mark. Ford’s pony car could only plod along with its base engine coughing out 215.
Ford knew this wasn’t a good situation, as every auto magazine on the newsstand was going to compare the cars, and there was no way the Mustang could look like anything but an also-ran when pitted against Chevy’s sporty coupe. Back to the drawing board.
Though the 2011 Mustang looks no different than the 2010 model, on the GT version you may notice a souvenir from another part of the car’s timeline. Right there on each front fender is a chrome 5.0 badge. During the 1980s, when the Mustang was making a performance comeback of sorts, the mighty “five-point-oh” was the mechanical beating heart that got the job done.
Other than the displacement designation, the new V8 has almost nothing in common with the classic one and is thoroughly modern. Horsepower is an amazing 412, nearly 100 extra ponies compared to the 2010 model. What’s more, a new 6-speed manual transmission means that fuel economy can be kept respectable at 17 city and 26 highway.
While the prior Mustang GT had a lot of grunt, the new one just explodes with a deep rumble and really pushes you back into the seat. Extra auditory points for a cold air intake system that puts the inlet right near the left front fender. To mash the throttle hard with the driver’s window open is to really hear American muscle being produced.
More amazingly, the 2011 Mustang also gets a new V6 in the base model that not only beats the Camaro’s horsepower by one (305 vs. 304), but thanks to a new 6-speed automatic transmission is rated at 19 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway, a 30% improvement over the 2010 V6 model. Buyers can also choose a new 6-speed manual, but there’s a slight penalty at the gas pump. These days, advanced automatics usually get better mileage than a manual; it used to be the other way around.
The other good news for the V6 Mustang is that it now looks a lot more like the GT model. While it doesn’t have those chrome engine badges on the fenders, it does get a true dual exhaust system with polished tips and there’s an optional performance package with 19” wheels. If you combine those two things, the base model now looks very similar to its more expensive showroom mate.
Beyond just the new engines, the updated Mustang is extremely easy to live with as an everyday car. The fully-loaded GT Premium I drove even had such things as a navigation system, heated seats and even a back-up camera that made parking moves a cinch. With all the options, my test car came in with a sticker price of just over $40,000, but the V6 Mustang starts at a pretty reasonable $22,145.
Many people lamented the demise of the original muscle car generation of the late 1960s and early ‘70s, done in by emissions laws, safety concerns and eventually gas shortages. Today, car makers are playing it much smarter and know that the writing is on the wall for fuel economy and emissions standards in the years ahead. Cars like the Mustang will survive, thanks to the work being done to make them efficient as well as fun.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7. He can also be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. You can reach Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net