2019 Ford Mustang

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On July 4, 1826 John Adams lay on his deathbed. His last words were said to have been, “Thomas Jefferson survives.”

His friend Jefferson had actually died earlier that day.

The two men were among the last signers of the Declaration of Independence still living that summer. When Charles Carroll died that fall, they were all gone forever.

The Ford Mustang – and its two surviving brethren, the Chevy Camaro and the Dodge Challenger – brought such thoughts to mind.

They, too, are living legends – and may not survive much longer.

Not because they aren’t popular – especially the Mustang, which is selling very well. But rather because they are not politically correct. Which increasingly matters even more than whether a car actually sells.

The 460 horsepower V8 in my GT press car uses “too much” gas  . . . according to the government, which somehow acquired the power to decree how much of our money we’re allowed to spend on fueling our cars, also bought with our money.

It also has a too-big “carbon footprint” – and isn’t “zero emissions,” either.

But damn, it’s fun!

WHAT IT IS

Something iconic and familiar.

The Mustang has been in continuous production since 1964 – and though it has changed over the years, it’s still very much the same car.

Some consider it a muscle car – and in GT form, it can be that. But it doesn’t have to be that. It can also be a cruiser you take out for a leisurely top-down drive on a warm fall afternoon.

Or to work.

Or to pick up the kids.

Or all of those things at once. 

It has survived more than half a century in continuous production for just those reasons. It is also one of the few rear-drive/two-door sport coupes that’s still available brand-new for not much more than the price of a nothing-special front-wheel-drive economy car that will be forgotten ten years from now.

And it’s available with a V8 that can give a Corvette a run for the money – for a whole lot less money.

Hence the appeal.

Prices start at $25,845 for the base trim fastback coupe – which comes standard with a turbocharged 2.3 liter four cylinder engine and a six-speed manual transmission.

The V8-powered GT starts at $35,355 with the six-speed manual; a ten-speed automatic is optional (as with the four).

Both are available in convertible form as well – $31,345 to start for one with the 2.3 liter engine and manual transmission; $44,855 for a GT with the V8.

There’s also a limited-run Bullitt (coupe only) named in honor of Steve McQueen’s highland green car from the  . . . iconic ‘60s movie.

It stickers for $46,595 to start and comes only with the manual transmission.

WHAT’S NEW

In addition to the Bullitt, you can also choose the California Special package – which can be added to any GT coupe or convertible (and with manual or automatic transmission).

Unlike the Bullitt – which gets a 20 hp upgrade over the regular GT (to 480 hp) as well as upgraded brakes, a lowered suspension and a more aggressive wheel/tire package – the California Special is mostly an appearance package: special striping and other exterior/interior trim, including suede Miko seats and Shelby-style rear-mounted fender scoops on each side of the car.

The six-speed manual that’s standard in all Mustangs now features rev-matching downshifts in the GT and Mustangs with the 2.3 liter engine get an active exhaust with four tips. That means the exhaust sound gets racier on demand – the demand expressed by your right foot.

A 1,000 watt ultra-premium audio rig is available, too.

All trims come standard with an eight-inch touchscreen with the latest version of Ford’s Sync interface.

WHAT’S GOOD

It’s new – but it’s old – and that’s good.

The standard four makes more power than ”80s and even ’90s-era Mustang’s optional V8s used to make.

Much more space-efficient than Camaro – without being as huge as Challenger.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

Pull-up emergency brake tension is set so low it’s only sufficient to hold the car in place when it’s parked; you can’t use it to the lock up the rear wheels while the Mustang’s moving.

UNDER THE HOOD

One of the things that has changed about the Mustang is that its standard engine – while economical – is no longer an economy engine.

The 2.3 liter turbocharged four is capable of 21 city, 31 highway – fuel economy numbers within about 5 MPG of that delivered by many current economy cars – and makes 310 horsepower and 350 ft.-lbs. of torque.

Which no economy car engine has ever delivered.

And which most V8 performance engines of the past didn’t deliver, either.

Including one of the all-time greats, the 1995 Mustang Cobra R. That was a competition model, too. Ford only sold it to people who had active road-racing licenses. It came with the last of the factory-installed 5.8 liter (351) V8s, a heavy-duty Tremec 5-speed manual and literally nothing else except the Mustang itself. No AC. No radio. No back seats. It was as serious a cart as you could buy back in ’95.

And the V8 made all of 300 horsepower. It was enough to get the R to 60 in 5.2 seconds. It did not get 31 MPG on the highway or anywhere else.

The new Mustang – the base Mustang, which anyone can buy – gets to 60 in 5.3 seconds.

It also comes standard with a six-speed manual. And back seats.

AC, too.

This version of the Mustang is quicker than the base-engined Camaro – which comes with a much-less-powerful (and smaller) 2.0 liter turbo four and much quicker than the base-engined Dodge Challenger – which has a larger (and slightly stronger) 3.6 liter/305 hp V6 but also weighs 300-plus pounds more than the Ford (3,858 lbs. vs. 3,542 lbs.) and comes only with an automatic transmission with the V6.

The hunky – literally – Dodge takes about six seconds to get to 60. It does offer AWD (with the V6 only) which gives it something the rear-drive-only Mustang and Camaro do not offer. 

If 5.3 seconds to 60 doesn’t excite you, maybe the GT’s 5.0 liter V8 will. It makes 460 horsepower (480 horsepower in the Bullitt) and gets the Mustang to 60 in just under 4 seconds. With climate control AC and heated leather seats.

The one thing you won’t get is 31 MPG.

With the V8, the Mustang’s mileage dips to 15 city, 25 highway. But you’ll be able to get to the next gas station a whole lot faster.

A six-speed manual is standard; a performance calibrated 10-speed automatic (with launch control and line lock) is optional.

ON THE ROAD

Twenty-three years ago, I drove the Cobra R from DC to NYC in less than three hours (hoping Ford is not reading this) blasting through the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel at 2 a.m. at more than 100 MPH with the 351 howling trough the straight pipes, the reverb echoing off the white-tiled walls.

It was a fun – but brutal – trip.

Remember: No AC. And not much insulation, either. The Cobra’s header collectors and downtubes ran parallel to the driveshaft tunnel and the heat they emanated literally radiated through the floorpans into the car. But I was in my young 20s and it didn’t matter. What did matter was the R’s speed – which was as blinding as 190 proof monshine . . . for ’95.

Today, a Camry V6 could match the Cobra’s moves – with the AC quietly humming.

So, I’d take that trip today in a new GT.

The 5.0 V8 is art that speaks. It actually sounds better than the old 351 –  and that is no minor thing given 23 years of additional Uncle-ization. The new GT has to have four catalytic converters to pass EPA muster . . . and yet . . . when you push the start button and the five-oh comes alive, it’s like it’s 1964 again and you’d almost swear there was a 289 Hi-Po sucking air through a big Holley four barrel under there.

The idle is that of a cammed American V8, with that lusciously non-EV long-duration lope. But the GT’s V8 is an overhead cammer that will spin easily to more than 7,000 RPM before it bumps up against the rev limiter – while also pulling 20 inches of vacuum at idle and so is as tractable as a Camry’s V6  . . . until you ask it to be more than tractable.

Because there is so much power – the GT’s 5.0 V8 makes 160 more horsepower than the competition Cobra R’s 5.8 made and that’s without the Bullitt upgrades – the car makes you feel like Superman.

Pass at will, great leaps in a single bound. This car can get you out of almost any trouble.

Except the kind that comes from a radar gun.

The optional ten-speed is a work of electro-mechanical engineering art. The thing rips dead-on triple downshifts (with rev-matched throttle blips) as you brake ahead of a tight curve – holding the right gear through the curve, then an upshift before your brain has time to become conscious of the need for one. It is Sancho Panza to your Don Quixote – only there will be no windmill tilting here.

Even the gear selector is engages your emotions – not just gears. Pull it back into Drive and feel the positive mechanical engagement; you don’t have to look. Your right hand knows. Pull back one more notch for Sport – and those intuit-your-intentions gear changes.

In more than 25 years of test driving new cars, not once – until now – have I written the following but am compelled to do so now:

The automatic is the one I’d choose for myself.

It’s not that it’s more efficient or even that it can shift faster (and more accurately, consistently) than a pro can; that’s common. What isn’t common is this automatic’s enhancement of the experience. The only thing it doesn’t do is chirp the ties on a full-throttle 1-2 pull, but that is probably because of the 19-inch tires and (in the case of my test car) the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 ultra-performance tires that come with the Level 2 Performance Package. These have more grip than Darth Vader’s fist and that is probably why the tires don’t break rubber on the 1-2.

The automatic has some other advantages, too.

Tighter gear spacing – which gets you going both more quickly and with less effort – and more and deeper overdrive gearing. The 10 speed automatic’s top three gears are all overdrive gears – 10th being a 0.64 ratio vs. 0.834 for 6th gear (the only overdrive gear) in the six-speed manual.

Automatic-equipped cars also get a 3.55 rear axle ratio vs. 3.73 for the manual cars. On the straight and level, you can maintain 50 with the engine running around 1,100 RPM.

But the automatic launches the car just as hard as the manual – and is quicker as well as (slightly) easier on gas.

Also, the computer will not over-ride you; hold any gear as long as you like, up to any speed you want.

I have driven literally thousands of new cars of every type, power/performance level and price. None have a better automatic than the Mustang’s.

It’s so good they really ought to offer it in the Bullitt. If Steve were still around and could try one out I am certain he’d agree with me.

AT THE CURB

In one of my favorite novels, The Man in the High Castle (now a cable series), there is a subplot about the owner of an antiques shop in Japanese-occupied San Francisco – the Axis powers having won World War II and divided the country between them. A customer explains to him about Wu – the historicity of an item, which is something like patina but deeper than cosmetic.

The Mustang has Wu.

It is new but you can feel the past as well as see it in the lines, the details. Some parts look as thought they might actually fit classic ’60s Mustangs – but they don’t. Ford did a brilliant job of resurrecting themes as opposed to clumsily cribbing shapes.

That’s subjective, of course. Some may prefer the Camaro or the Challenger’s conjuring of yesterday.

What’s objective is the Mustang’s excellent packaging. At 188.5 inches long overall, it has almost exactly the same footprint as the Camaro (188.5 inches) but has usable back seats (29 inches of legroom vs. about 24 in the Camaro) and a 13.5 cubic foot trunk vs. the Camaro’s stunted 9.1 cubic foot trunk.

The Challenger has even more backseat legroom (33 inches) and full-sized car’s trunk (16.2 cubic feet) but it also has a much bigger footprint (197.9 inches long overall).

Put another way, the Mustang is less compromised – without compromising the things people buy cars like the Mustang to get.

It’s not overwhelmingly huge, yet it’s reasonably spacious inside.

It is easy to drive – and park – and one of the most fun to drive cars you will ever drive.

Plus, Wu.

THE REST

Ford lets you buy all kinds of high-performance upgrades without upgrading to the GT. This includes the same Level 2 package that’s offered with the GT that includes track-day suspension tuning (and ABS/traction control programming) with MagnaRide adaptive shocks, huge brakes, heavy duty cooling and those Michelin Sport Cup 2 “summer” tires.

Ford knows that not everyone can afford the V8 GT – or the insurance on a V8 GT. For younger buyers, this is excellent news.

You can also buy these parts later, over the counter – as funds permit.

Is there anything to not like about the Mustang?

Just one thing – and it’s probably a home-correctible thing.

The Mustang still has a manual, pull-up emergency brake – as a car like this should have. But for saaaaaaaaaaafety (really, to appease the shriveled harridans who worry about such things) the cable tension is set so loose by the factory that it is useless for locking up the rear wheels while the car is moving.

There is just enough tension to hold the car in place when it is not moving.

It’s not just Ford that’s doing this, either. There is probably another federal fatwa decreeing low-grab emergency brakes because Uncle does not approve of Bullitt-style 180s and 90s.

But Ford left us everything necessary to correct this problem. Ford did not replace the pull-up emergency lever with an eBrake (button you push to engage and disengage the parking brake) which can’t be adjusted.

The tension on a pull-up emergency brake lever can be.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Cars like the Mustang are a Nixon salute at the current climate of neurosis and no fun.

It is the antidote to the electric car blues.

. . .

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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26 COMMENTS

  1. Just heard news of a 4 door mustang coming to the US. I guess Ford realized they shouldn’t stop selling cars but can’t turn back on their business plan so now they are going to name all their cars after the one car they are still selling in the us.

    • If I can buy a V8, RWD, 4-door car, whether or not it’s called a Mustang, I’ll be happy! I love my Focus RS, but if the Mustang had a 4-door variant, I’d be all over that.

  2. Hopefully the CEO of Ford doesn’t turn the mustang into a hybrid crossover in the name of sales. They might turn it into the eclipse cross if they continue on their no cars strategy. Get one while you can.

    • Ford has a history of trying to ruin the Mustang but only Henry II listening to some woman complaining actually achieved it. Every other CEO backed down when Mustang faithful complained. And since a good hunk of the Mustang faithful these days trade in for the newest Mustang faster than Corvette people do Ford knows where the sales are.

          • Ford has toyed with four door Mustang concepts since the mid 1960s but for much of the Mustang’s life there was a closely related model that did offer four doors. Falcon, Maverick, Fairmont. Then FWD hit and now after some decades those don’t sell. What they really need is a Falcon or Maverick.

            Now there is one Mustang variant Ford has often toyed with some don’t want but I would probably be fine with to the point of even buying one. The Mustang wagon.

        • The hybrid and/or electric thing is “mustang inspired”. That means some vaguely similar trim if you squint at night under a burned out street light.

  3. Hi Eric,

    How do you select – and hold – a gear with the automatic? Not seeing any “pick a gear” settings in picture of gearshift, just PRNDS.

    • Hi Jim,

      You can use the paddle shifter controls mounted on the steering wheel (+) for up and (-) for down. And in Sport mode, the transmission does a superb job of picking – and holding – the right gear, too!

      I have a video I plan to post… provided I can obscure the speedometer readout…

  4. No offense meant, Eric, but I did cross country duty [at my full adult height] in the back seat of a 71 Gremlin and a 78 Subaru coupe. 29″ of rear seat leg room is not “liveable”. I’m 5’9″. 29″ is 71 Pinto territory [30.1]. The Challenger’s 33″ is barely adequate.

    Mustang has not offered a 2 door hardtop since 1973. A hardtop has no B pillar. [Take note MINI ].

    Otherwise, dead on as usual . No need to make the Mustang’s rear seat a positive. The Camaro’s and Mustang’s back seats are essentially useless except for children. That’s not their purpose anyway, nor has it ever been.

    • Hi Bostwick!

      The legroom numbers are fungible to some extent… meaning that you can adjust the front seats to make more backseat legroom. The Mustang has 45,1 inches of front seat legroom – more than most people need. I’m 6ft 3 and didn’t need to use it all. Which means I could slide the seat forward – and make more room in the back.

      Is it comfortable back there? No! But it’s usable for short hops.

      The Camaro’s backseat is literally not usable because you start with less front seat legroom (43.9 inches) and much less backseat legroom. The car’s roofline is also – effectively – chopped.

      The Challenger’s backseats are almost comfortable. If the people up front scooch forward just a bit, you can have as much backseat legroom as in a Camry – and the headroom’s good, too.

      I like the Challenger a lot; I think it’s the ballsiest of the three – but it’s huge and heavy and while the Hemi overcomes the weight as far as acceleration goes, in the corners,it’s oafish compared with the Mustang.

      Same goes for Camaro. That thing feels wider than Oprah’s hips… which it is, almost!

  5. Oh, and one should take Eric’s tone in this piece to heart: Better buy one of these now, while you can, because the window of availability of these cars is quickly closing.

  6. Wife and I are north of 65. We bought a new 2013 GT convertible stick for the sole purpose to retain youth, testosterone (Our first date back in the sixties was to a drag strip) and flip the middle finger to leftists. (Can you imagine a leftist owning one of these?)

    A ’13 is “only” 420 horse, but it’s plenty enough to blow the tires loose at will.

  7. Typo: Axis having one World War

    Regarding the handbrake – Massachusetts apparently has a vehicle inspection law that the brake must hold the vehicle against 1,100 RPM. Another Lexus GX owner there failed because the 4.7 liter was too strong (mine won’t hold either). I told them to take it to the dealer for the inspection, who will know the GX and will either hand-wave it, or adjust the brakes just for an inspection-pass.

    The big body-on-frame SUV has one because hard-core offroaders use it to move torque to the front axle when the center differential isn’t locked.

    • Thanks, Chip – I must have been really tired when I typed that!

      I’ve noticed the loose (barely connected, it feels like) thing in every new car I’ve driven lately that still has a manual/pull-up emergency brake.

      Feminism has penetrated that far.

      • That’s very strange since back in the oughts Ford had a recall for parking brake cams in the Mustang that applied the brake too weakly and the car could roll.

        There must be some issue at play out there that we aren’t privy to. I would get in there and adjust or modify it. Certainly the Mustang aftermarket will make any part required to modify it available if enough people hate it. If few people hate it then there will be instructions on home fabbing it in the forums. The Mustang base keeps finding ways around both Ford and Uncle.

  8. Nice to know some cars have most everything for an enthusiast.

    Exception: I wouldn’t prefer the automatic 10 speed over the manual 6 speed. Automatics, especially from Ford it seems, don’t have anywhere near the reliability of the more simple and straightforward manual transmissions.

    My only beef with the current Mustang is it doesn’t have enough headroom/visibility past the top of the windshield for tall-from-the-waist people like myself, in spite of its size. Current styling and fuel economy designed aerodynamics seem to have brought this on for many cars.

    • Hi Peter,

      The space/room (ergonomics) thing is interesting. We are so variable in terms of leg/torso length (and so on) that it is a miracle most cars manage to fit most people reasonably well. But, sometimes not – which is why it is so important to test drive the car and to bring the other people who will be passengers in the car along for the ride.

      I’m 6ft 3 and the Mustang has plenty of room . . . for me. But, your mileage may vary!

    • I look out of the top couple inches of the windshield of cars and many not being suitable because I am looking at the headliner above the windshield has been frequent for many many years for me. I don’t recall this generation Mustang having this issue but all they would need do is change the seat frames/rails to make it one. I haven’t sat in one since it first came out.

  9. To each their own but the California special package just ruins the look for me. The Mustang is such a great looking car as is. Not sure why anyone would opt for that. The Level 2 package is a different story though. That front diffuser harkens back to Eleanor in Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000 version).

  10. Hey Eric, Good to know there are still reviewers out there who still test what matters in a car like this, like if the hand brake can be used for what it was meant to be used for 😉

    It is however sad to think how the days of cars like this are probably limited… Was just in Mumbai a couple weeks ago – I really think the only hope for cars like this is out in Asia…. where people still have a passion for cars the way they used to once upon a time in America…. I mean when you said California package, I thought it would have more like vegetarian seats and a hybrid engine or something 😛

  11. Eric, you didn’t even mention the top dog. The Shelby 350, I just bought one. Nothing revs like a flat plane V8, having owned an E92 V8 M3 it’s nice to see a high rev motor return. BMW lied and said they dropped it to save gas. Who buys a M car to save gas…. THey did it so they could produce the 6 cyl. for all the 3’s off of same production line. If you get a chance drive the Shelby, Ford nailed it.

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