Next to the Model T, which seems too old for history books, the Mustang is the best known Ford. It was snapped up by all age groups right after its mid-1964 introduction.
There’s something to be said for automotive continuity. For example, while Chevrolet dropped its Camaro for eight years after 2002, the Mustang has been continued since its debut.
A media preview of the new Mustang in the Los Angeles area involved everything from mountain driving to drag races with the rival Camaro. It showed the 2011 Mustang the best Mustang yet. It reaches showrooms in mid-spring.
The 2011 Mustang looks much the same as the 2010 model and has minimal weight gain because the latter was redesigned with fresh sheet metal, an interior update, chassis retuning and other improvements.
However, the latest Mustang has a new front fascia on the GT V-8, tire spats on the rear wheels, modified underbody shields, taller air dam and added rear decklid seal.
The nifty-looking interior has supportive front seats and is quiet, thanks to the car’s improved aerodynamics and improved soundproofing with new door seals and a rear wheel arch liner that reduces road noise for a quieter, more enjoyable drive. A new dual-exhaust system is mellow at idle but howls sufficiently at full throttle, as it should in a sporty car.
A new V-6 has a genuine dual exhaust system—not fake dual exhaust outlets–and a new V-8 even has specially designed tubular exhaust headers—usually an aftermarket item installed by hot rodders—to improve overall engine efficiency. A Mustang team analyst actually fabricated the headers in his home workshop.
There also are a new speedometer and tachometer housed in a one-piece instrument panel. The design is crafted in soft-touch “skin” encompassing available aluminum-finish panels. Chrome-ringed gauges and dual-vane register vents are precisely crafted, and there’s a standard driver’s message center in the instrument cluster and integrated blind-spot mirrors in side-view mirror housings.
Newly available is Ford’s MyKey system, designed to encourage safer teen driving and seat belt use. It lets Mustang owners program the car’s key, using the message center, to incorporate limited top speed and audio volume features. There are also a persistent “belt-minder” seat belt reminder and various speed alert chimes.
On the negative side, most sound system and climate controls are small. Long doors are inconvenient in tight spots, and the rear seat can be a hassle to enter or leave for those who aren’t athletic. But it contains sufficient room for two 6-footers — at least for shorter trips.
The opening for the fairly large trunk is high, although a demonstration showed it’s easier to load with suitcases of various sizes and shapes than the Camaro’s trunk.
The major news is that the $22,145 Mustang V-6 finally dumps its ancient 210-horsepower V-6 for an ultramodern 305-horsepower aluminum V-6.
A new 5-liter V-8 in the $29,645 GT model produces 412 horsepower, easily outdoing the 4.6-liter, 315-horsepower V-8 in the 2010 Mustang.
Merging and quick passing maneuvers are easy with either engine.
The new Mustang has the first V-6 to have 305 horsepower and generate an EPA rating of 31 mpg on highways. Fuel economy figures are 19 mpg in the city and 31 highway with an automatic transmission — up from 16 and 24 for the weaker 2010 V-6. Figures with a manual gearbox are 19 city and 29 highway, up from 18 and 26 for the 2010 manual-transmission Mustang V-6.
Despite its hefty horsepower increase, the new V-8 is not a gas-guzzler. It provides a best-in-class 26 mpg on highways with a manual transmission. The city figure is 17. With an automatic, the numbers are 25 highway and 18 city.
Both engines work with a new six-speed manual gearbox or a new six-speed automatic transmission.
The responsive automatic upshifts smoothly and downshifts promptly.The manual transmission shifts surely, but somewhat stiffly, and works with a long-throw clutch that can cause gear “crunch” noise if a driver doesn’t depress it fully enough.
Both dual-overhead-camshaft engines are very sophisticated, and the V-8 even looks like a nice sculpture. Thank goodness Ford didn’t cover it with a large piece of plastic. Open the hood at drive-ins and watch the engine draw a crowd of car lovers.
High-performance buffs should appreciate the fact that the aluminum V-8 has new four-valve- per-cylinder heads featuring a compact roller-finger follower valvetrain layout–leaving more room for high-flow ports for free-breathing performance.
One might think most younger drivers — especially males — would opt for the Mustang GT V-8. But Amy Marentic, a top Mustang marketing manager, said the V-6 promises to attract many younger buyers because it costs less, has more than 300 horsepower and will be cheaper to insure than the GT V-8 model.
Available for the V-6 version will be a new Performance Package. It contains a 3.31 axle ratio for faster initial acceleration, firmer GT suspension, 19-inch wheels, better-grip tires, strut tower brace for increased chassis rigidity and electronic stability control calibration with a sport mode for performance driving.
The new Mustang feels more solid and secure. It lacks an independent rear suspension—a Camaro feature–but hardly seems to need one on most roads because it delivers a secure, road-hugging ride.
Steering is quick and precise, with the right amount of power assist for parking and highway driving, and an improved suspension helps allow sharp handling. Shock tuning and spring rates were revised to provide a smooth highway ride, while new rear lower control arms and stiffened stabilizer bar bushings improve stiffness and handling for better cornering response.
The standard brakes stop the car quickly, with good pedal feel, and extra-powerful Brembo brakes can be ordered on the GT for really hard driving.
With potent new engines and improvements, the 2011 Mustang should continue to be one of Ford’s most popular cars.
Dan Jedlicka is the former car reviewer for the Chicago Sun-Times. To read more automotive articles, visit his site: www.danjedlicka.com.