In the ’80s (and through the early ’90s) Ford’s 5.0 “high output” V-8 led the latter-day muscle car resurgence. Then around 1994, Ford dropped its hugely popular (and long-serving) five-liter OHV V-8, mainly for emissions and fuel-efficiency reasons, replacing it with a new 4.6 liter OHC V-8. This engine was smoother down low and revved higher on top, but it didn’t have the muscle car growl – or the tire-frying torque – of the old five-oh.
For the next 15 years, Ford worked on that engine – even to the point of adding DOHC heads and a supercharger (in Cobras) but it just never quite made the cut. By the time GM brought Camaro back from the dead and Dodge resuscitated the Challenger, the Mustang’s little V-8 was as outclassed, power-wise, as a .380 ACP vs. a .44 Magnum.
It was the car’s one major deficit.
But not anymore.
WHAT IT IS
Like its two main competitors (Chevy’s Camaro and the Dodge Challenger) the Mustang is a muscle car – which means it’s big, heavy, mean-looking and very powerful (especially in V-8 GT form).
Base price for the V-6 coupe is $22,145. A GT coupe starts at $29,645. Convertible versions start at $27,145 with the V-6 and $34,645 for the V-8 GT.
WHAT’S NEW FOR 2011
Both Mustang engines (the V-8 in the GT and the V-6 in the standard model) are brand-new and much more powerful than their predecessors. Also new are six-speed manual and automatic transmissions, suspension adjustments, better brakes and electrically-assisted power steering to reduce parasitic drag on the engine and improve fuel economy.
New 412 hp 5.0 V-8 in the GT finally muscles up to the competition.
New 3.7 liter V-6 nearly as strong as previous 4.6 V-8 and delivers 31 MPGs on the highway.
Not as hulky and bulky as Camaro on the outside; much nicer on the inside than the bland (and Charger-sourced) interior of the Challenger.
Convertible version available.
Lower base price for the GT (still under $30k) than either Camaro SS or Challenger R/T (both over $30k).
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Awkwardly mounted parking brake handle (more below).
Fat ignition key fob can get in the way while you’re driving (more below).
Two-piece “blind spot” sideview mirrors (a new Ford thing across the lineup) may confuse some drivers.
All that power… so many radar traps.
UNDER THE HOOD
The new base engine is a smaller 3.7 liter V-6, but it produces 305 hp, nearly 100 hp more than the 2010 Mustang’s old 4.0 V-6 and almost as much as the 2010 GT’s 4.6 liter, 315 hp V-8.
The ’11 GT is similarly up-rated, with a larger 5 liter DOHC V-8 that’s rated at 412 hp, bringing it within striking distance of the much larger 6.2 liter, 426 hp V-8 in the Camaro SS and actually beating the Dodge Challenger’s much-vaunted 5.7 liter Hemi V-8, which only musters 372 hp.
Both Mustang engines can be paired with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. (V-8 GT versions get heavy duty versions of these transmissions.)
With its new V-8, the ’11 GT becomes the quickest factory stock regular production Mustang Ford has ever built (the Shelby Cobra and GT500s are quicker, but not by all that much – and they are limited-production near-exotics more in the Corvette class, price-wise and otherwise).
The ’11 GT is capable of reaching 60 mph in 4.6-4.8 seconds and can reach a top speed of 150-plus. That’s quicker than the Dodge Challenger R/T (which has less power and is heavier, too) though not quite as quick as the bigger-engined, more powerful Camaro SS – but it’s very close. A Mustang driver with faster reactions and better footwork has the potential to ruin some unlucky Camaro driver’s day.
The V-6 Mustang is a runner, too. It can get to 60 in under six seconds, which is about as quick as any factory-stock V-8 GT from about 1994-through 2010.
Its gas mileage is also excellent – 19 city and 31 highway (with the six-speed automatic).
The V-8 does ok at the pump, too – 17 city, 26 highway (with the six-speed manual). Better than ok, actually – if you compare the GT’s stats against the SS Camaro’s 16 city, 24 highway. (The Hemi-equipped Challenger R/T is similarly thirsty.)
ON THE ROAD
I agree with others who have tested the Mustang against Camaro and Challenger; it is the best-balanced of the three – with more sports car (and less ham-fisted muscle car) handling precision. The electric-assist steering is dead-on and nicely weighted; sight lines are much better than in Camaro (with its chopped roof and down-low seating posture) and it feels much lighter on its feet than the Challenger – because it is lighter on its feet. The curb weight of the GT coupe is 3,603 lbs. The curb weight of the Challenger is 4,041 lbs. That is a huge difference – and one you will notice when driving the two cars back to back. (Camaro’s in need of Lean Cuisine, too. An SS coupe weighs nearly 3,900 lbs. The only reason you don’t notice its bulk as much as you do in the Challenger is because of the Chevy’s monster engine and its massive torque output – 420 ft.-lbs.)
The new Five-Oh V-8 more than addresses the one deficit the 2010 (and previous) ‘Stang had relative to the Chevy and Dodge muscle coupes – its much weaker acceleration. No such issues now. The GT pulls as strongly as the fastest big-block muscle cars of the mid-late 1960s. I know. I’ve owned and driven several of those animals and even something like a ’69 Chevelle SS 396 can’t touch the ’11 GT. In fact, the ’69 SS Chevelle feels slow compared to the GT. It needs about six seconds to make 60 mph – more time than the ’11 V-6 needs to do the deed and almost two seconds slower than the V-8 GT.
My car had the optional performance-minded 3.73 gears out back, but with the six-speed’s very tall 6th gear, engine speed at 75-80 mph is still under 2,000 RPM. This makes the high-powered V-8 livable not only in terms of gas mileage but also noise levels during extended highway driving. It’s like having a really big friend quietly hanging out with you. He’s there if you need him, but if not, he kind of fades into the background. Drop the transmission down a gear or two, though, and the GT is ready to rock and roll. The six-speed manual – with its billet aluminum cue ball grab handle – directly communicates your wishes, along with your right foot.
The only fly in the pie is the location of the emergency/parking brake handle. It’s mounted too far forward and to the left (driver’s side), where (if you have longer legs, as I do) you may find your right leg accidentally bumping it up, especially during dragstrip-style hard launches and in between gear changes. It won’t actually engage the parking brake, but it will raise the lever just enough to trigger a buzzer that can be as annoying and distracting as someone suddenly shouting, “Hey! Look at that!” just as you’re trying to swat at a golf ball. If I bought a new Mustang, I’d either disconnect the buzzer or (better) figure out some way to positively secure the parking brake lever so it can’t be bumped inadvertently during fast gear changes. Of course automatic-equipped Mustangs won’t have this problem.
The fatty key fob also sometimes gets too close to your right knee as you’re working the gas pedal up and down.
Another driving-related minor issue with the new Mustang is common to all new Fords. It’s the two-piece “blind spot” outside rearview mirrors. There’s a main mirror and, in the upper left, another (smaller) one that shows you what’s in your blind spot. The problem is (for me, anyhow – maybe it won’t bother you) that your eyes are forced to focus on two different perspectives at once – the far view and the close-in, “blind spot” view. If I bought a new Mustang, I’d tear off the two-piece mirrors and install a single mirror in its place.
But again, maybe its just me.
AT THE CURB
Arguably, Ford has done the best job of incorporating the retro styling elements of classic 19690s-era Mustangs into a modern car – both inside and outside. The new Challenger looks almost exactly like a 1971 Challenger… on the outside. On the inside, it looks almost exactly like a 2008 Charger. With which it shares a near-identical dashboard and gauge cluster. Dodge – the most financially crippled of the Big Three – just didn’t have the money to design and build a unique (retro-themed) interior for the Challenger.
Chevy, meanwhile, very faithfully reproduced design elements of the iconic 1969 Camaro, but the exterior look (though you can see the ’69 design cues) is a more fluid interpretation of the old car’s shape. The chopped-looking roofline, especially. It’s cool-looking, so I’m not slamming it. But the ’11 Mustang could be Steve McQueen’s “Bullitt” – especially if you order it in Highland Green. Inside, too. Even the fonts for the speedo and tach readouts are exactly reproduced. The only thing missing, really, are those cool side-slat louvers on the old car’s quarter windows.
But you could probably add them, if you wanted to.
The Mustang’s back seats, as in Camaro (but not in Challenger – which is a larger car than both) are cramped but can be used in an emergency, if you roll the front seats forward enough to create some footwell space for the unfortunates back there. This pretty much goes with the muscle coupe territory. Like gas mileage, the ability to carry four or five adults is usually a secondary (or tertiary) consideration. (If back seat room – real, adult-feasible backseat room – is what you need, shop Challenger; it also has a huge trunk – 16.2 cubic feet vs. the ‘Stang’s 13.4 cube trunk and the Camaro’s even tinier 11.3 cubic foot trunk.)
Nice features inside the Mustang’s cabin include standard Sirius satellite radio and an extra MP3 hook-up in the rear part of the console, so it’s accessible to back-seat occupants. This part of the console also folds up and back, which is a neat approach to creating space that’s also accessible (the lid opens away from you, making it easier to get at what’s inside).
Frameless door glass is another nice (and retro) touch. Very few modern cars have frameless door glass anymore – mainly because of sealing (wind and water) issues. But the Ford’s cabin is snare-drum tight when the windows are up; the body integrity is excellent. For a muscle car, it is incredibly quiet and secure-feeling inside. (My ’70s-era muscle car – a Pontiac Trans Am – also has frameless door glass but it leaks, creaks and groans like an old Chock Full o’ Nuts coffee can with a handful of old bolts inside.)
Ford also equipps the ‘Stang (and all new Fords) with a very cool capless fuel filter system. You just open the fuel door and insert the nozzle. No dealing with fussy (and often messy) caps; caps that also tend to get lost as the years go by.
Even the “base” car (a mean-sounding and increasingly inaccurate term) comes standard with 17 inch alloy wheels and sport-performance tires, limited-slip rear axle, AC, power windows and locks, cruise control and stereo CD with MP3 hook-up and satellite radio. Many luxury-level features are available, from Ford’s Sync communication system (it integrates external devices such as PDAs and cell phones, etc. with the car’s in-cabin entertainment/GPS systems), remote start, fixed-glass panorama-style roof and a booming Shaker 500 (or 1000) ultra-premium audio system with bass woofers as powerful as the Mustang’s new engines.
The GT gets the 5 liter V-8, 18-inch wheels and suspension/brake upgrades – plus a low-profile ducktail spoiler for the trunk lid. High-capacity Brembo brakes, 19-inch wheels with “summer” ultra-performance Pirelli tires. More aggressive (3.55 or 3.73) rear gearing can be ordered on top of that.
Ford is also offering another retro-themed touch for 2011: The California Special package, which, like the original back in the ’60s, involves limited-run paint schemes along with unique interior/exterior trim differences.
For now at least, Mustang is the only one of the three muscle cars that’s also available as a convertible. GM has a convertible Camaro on deck , but it’s at least 4-6 months away (spring 2011) and who knows whether Dodge will ever find the money to make a convertible version of the Challenger. It’ll be no sooner than 2012 (calendar year, not model year) at the very earliest.
All trims come standard with four wheel disc brakes, ABS, traction and stability control, side-impact air bags and Ford’s programmable MyKey system, which you can use to restrict the car’s top speed (as well as the volume of the stereo) for when your 17-year-old takes it out for a drive.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Other than the parking brake thing (and to a lesser extent, the two-piece outside rearview mirror deal) the 2011 Mustang is a bat out of hell home-run.
If you don’t love this car, then you’re probably not a “car guy.”
Which is fine.
But if you are a car guy, better stay away from Ford stores – unless you’re ready to come home with a new Mustang!
Mustang for sale