It is hard to argue with 435 hp — whether behind the wheel or in the next lane over.
The new Mustang GT may have the smallest V8 of the three pony cars (the other two being the Chevy Camaro SS and the Dodge Challenger R/T) but its 5 liter V8 actually makes more hp than either of them.
Relative to the Challenger, especially. The poor thing’s 5.7 liter Hemi V8 doesn’t even crest 400 hp (375 with the manual; downrated to 372 if you go with the optional automatic).
And there’s no convertible Challenger, either.
The Camaro’s closer. SS models get a huge 6.2 liter V8, but it tops out at 426 hp — and the Camaro is 200 pounds heavier than the Mustang (3,908 pounds vs. 3,705 for the Ford).
Apparently, there is a replacement for displacement.
WHAT IT IS
The Mustang is Ford’s perennial pony car — in continuous production since 1964. Unlike its two current rivals — the Chevy Camaro and the Dodge Challenger — both of which have been retired and resurrected like obsolete battleships.
The Mustang is also the only one of the three that’s truly a pony car. It is smaller — and lighter — than the hulking Camaro (and the even more hulking Challenger, which is nearly a foot longer overall and weighs 400 pounds more).
Those two — especially the Challenger — are muscle cars.
When Ford updated the Mustang for the 2015 model year, it did so with the world market in mind — not just the American market. This is why it is smaller, lighter and more export friendly (including an available turbocharged four cylinder engine) than its Born to Run (and born to drink gas) American market-only competition.
And yet, it still has every quality that makes a Mustang an American car.
Base price is $23,895 for the V6 coupe; $29,395 for a coupe with the stronger (and more fuel-efficient) “EcoBoost” turbo four. A GT coupe with the 5 liter V8 and six-speed manual transmission stickers for $32,395 to start.
The convertible GT with the optional six-speed automatic I test drove starts at $41,895.
WHAT’S NEW FOR 2016
A bunch of packages, including California Special for the GT (black powder-coated 19-inch wheels, bigger trunk spoiler and different trim) and a Pony package (also with special 19-inch wheels) for Mustangs with the mid-level turbo four-cylinder engine.
There’s also a new retro-inspired integration of the secondary turn signal indicator lights into the rear-facing hood vents — a feature last seen in classic Mustangs of the late ’60s and early ’70s. You can also order all but base V6 coupes with a contrast color black painted roof.
But the biggest update is the ditching (thank the Motor Gods) of the smash-it-with-a-ball-peen-hammer MyFord Touch LCD interface in favor of a redesigned and much easier-to-use Sync3 system.
More engine options than the competition.
More engine than the competition.
Less bulk (and weight) than the competition.
Electric line-lock (GT) and in-car 0-60 and quarter-mile timer (all trims, even base V6).
An Aikido master… among bar-room brawlers.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Pull-up emergency brake is on the wrong side of the center console and set up to be useless (not enough tension on the cable) for making 90 degree course corrections.
Performance Package (with more aggressive final gearing, firmer suspension settings, upgraded brakes and cooling system, plus extra gauges, not available with the base V6.
GT’s optional six-speed automatic does rev-matched downshifts, but doesn’t bark the tires on full-throttle upshifts. All muscle cars with automatics should do this.
You can get a convertible … but not T-Tops (because Uncle).
UNDER THE HOOD
The Mustang is an unusual bird (er, horse?) in that it alone offers three available engine choices. Camaro and Challenger come with either of two engines — neither of them unexpected or unusual for cars of their kind.
Base Mustang coupes (and convertibles) come with what you’d expect: a biggish V6 (3.7 liters) that makes a pretty solid 300 hp. You should re-read that.
The base Mustang’s V6 engine makes as much or more horsepower as most classic-era Mustang V8s made, back in the day. For instance, a 1965 GT’s 289 (5 liter, roughly) “High Power” V8 made a rated 271 hp. See here if you dinna believe me.
That was with a rough-idling solid lifter camshaft and a thirsty four barrel carburetor.
No AC, either.
And — by modern standards — a ’65 GT 289 Hi Po was slow. Seven seconds to 60; mid-fifteens through the quarter mile. The base-engined V6 Mustang can do that … without a rough-idling camshaft or a four barrel carburetor.
And deliver almost 30 MPG (28, to be precise) on the highway.
Next up is a smaller — but even stronger — turbocharged 2.3 liter four cylinder engine. It produces 310 hp and 320 ft.-lbs. of torque.
This is more hp (and torque) than 4.6 liter V8 GTs made in the ’90s.
In fact, it is more hp (by 10 hp) than the competition-only ’95 SVT Cobra R had (300 hp from a 5.8 liter V8) and it’s nearly as quick: 5.8 seconds to 60 vs. 5.4 for the Cobra R, which was a stripped-down lightweight (no AC, no stereo, no power windows, no insulation) competition-only model sold to people with SCCA road racing licenses who meant to run the things on the race track.
The turbo’d ’16 Mustang is a high-line street car, with AC, power windows, cruise and plenty of insulation.
It’s also capable of 32 on the highway — and its city number (22 with the six-speed manual, 21 with the optional six-speed automatic) is better than the old SVT Cobra R’s highway number.
The ’95 also stickered for $30,000 (if you could lay your hands on one; they only made 250) which is about $47k in today’s Bernanke Bucks. In other words, about $17k more — for a tweaked out, barely street-drivable race car that was only slightly quicker than the current fully dressed street car.
And then we have the GT.
Really, everyone ought to stand up and clap.
435 hp out of 5 liters and doesn’t even seem like it’s trying too hard deserves that. The much larger (6.2 liter) Chevy V8 makes less power (426 hp) and the also-larger (5.7 liter) Chrysler Hemi makes much less (375).
Ford got hammered back in the ’90s and through the early 2000s for dropping the 5.0 (and 5.8) V8s, which were traditional (for muscle cars) overhead valve/pushrod designs like the current Chevy and Chrysler V8s, in favor of the “modular” (and overhead cam) 4.6 and 5.4 V8s, which were both horsepower and torque deficient relative to the bigger displacement (and still pushrod-actuated/two-valve) V8s on the GM and Chrysler side of the aisle.
Well, this fixes that.
The 5.0 Ford’s power output is best in class — and its torque output nearly so.
Worth a mention is that despite its smaller displacement, the Ford’s torque peak of 400 ft.-lbs. actually occurs lower in the powerband (at 4,250 RPM) vs. the Chevy 6.2’s 420 ft.-lbs. (at 4,600 RPM).
So it (the Ford) feels stronger sooner — especially since the Mustang is 200 pounds lighter than the fatty Camaro.
The manual-equipped GT can do the 0-60 run in 4.5 seconds. It happens so quickly — and so quietly — you’ll find yourself double checking the Track App timer. The reason being the Mustang’s 435 hp are very muffled hp. If there’s a bitch to register here, it’s that Ford over-muffled this magnificence. A set of Flowmasters would be the first addition I’d make if this were my car.
The GT’s time, incidentally, is more than 1 full second quicker than the fearsome-looking (and tough-sounding) but tepid performing Challenger R/T. Which is a staggering 400 pounds heavier than the GT Mustang and shy 60 hp, too.
Ten or 20 years ago, its 375 hp would have been impressive.
Today, it’s not.
Yes, yes… you can one-up the Mustang by going with the SRT8 version of the Challenger (and, of course, the 707 hp Hellcat). Ditto the Camaro Z28 (7 liters, 505 hp) and the even stronger ZL1 (supercharged 6.2 V8 and 580 hp).
But now you’re looking at much more money; in the case of the Hellcat and the Z28, twice the price of the GT — so the comparo’s not fair. Besides which, Ford answers back with the Shelby GT350. Ferrari-style flat plane crankshaft, 526 hp at 8,200 RPM … for just under $50k.
Makes the ol’ ’95 Cobra R seem pretty loose-toothed.
Have you driven a Ford lately?
ON THE ROAD
The first thing you notice, from behind the wheel, is that you don’t feel as though you’re commanding a U boat and viewing the world from a periscope.
In the Camaro, you do.
You sit hunkered low, your eyebrows just barely parallel with the door tops, the claustrophobic feel enhanced by the Chevy’s “chopped” roofline.
In the Mustang, you can rest your left elbow on top of the door sill with the window down.
I can do this in my Trans-Am, too. But it is 40 years old, from a different era. Before side-impact standards caused door tops to rise to the roofline, almost. The Ford complies with all the federal rigmarole, though — and does it without making you feel as though you are a five-year-old sitting in a bathtub.
Or driving a tank.
Both the Camaro and the Challenger are big cars. For coupes, they are enormous. By today’s standards — relative to cars, generally — and in comparison with the muscle cars of antiquity.
My ’76 Trans-Am, once again. Considered overweight and too big in its day, is a small — almost puny — car compared with the new stuff.
Well, compared with the new Challenger and Camaro.
The TA’s wheelbase of 108 inches is almost Fiat 500-like vs. the Challenger’s 116 inch wheelbase (virtually the same as a current Lexus LS460, a full-size luxury sedan) and 4,000 pounds (empty) curb weight. And the Camaro’s a 275 pound offensive lineman compared with my old Pontiac’s 190 pound field goal kicker.
The Mustang is — by far — the nimblest and most pony car-feeling of the three. Objective measures in support of this thesis include its much tighter turning circle (36.5 feet) vs. the Challenger’s Lusitania-like (38.1 feet) and the Camaro’s 37.7 feet.
The fact that it is also several inches shorter overall (nearly a foot shorter overall vs. Challenger) is another metric of pony car-ness as opposed to the muscle car-ness of the Chevy and the Dodge.
And yet, the muscle car is still there.
Under your right foot, that is.
Use the little keypad on the steering wheel to dial up the Track Apps. Select 0-60, then flip the toggle switch in front of the shifter lever to Race (yellow helmet will illuminate). Then light ’em up and hold on. A bit more than four seconds later you will be past 60 and on your way to 80 about two seconds after that. Keep the pedal to the metal and you’ll clear the quarter mile in the high twelves at around 112 MPH.
This is serious speed.
Which it should be, given 435 hp.
Recall: This thing has 135 more hp than the race-car ’95 Cobra R.
Times are good.
Plus, the ’95 didn’t have an onboard line lock (to “warm” the rear tires… translation: Smoke ’em until you dig ruts in the asphalt, if you want to) and — trust me — this one feels a lot more stable at triple the speed limit than the now-ancient and long-in-the-rearview Cobra R did. I drove one at 137 MPH through the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel at 2:20 in the morning on my way up to New York City once upon a time, a long while ago… the 351’s exhaust pulses reverbing off the white tile walls.
That was fun, but this one’s fiercer. 137 is just warming up. Fourth gear.
The manual’s the way to go in a car like this, but the six-speed automatic is a great box, too. It grows a three-day stubble and gets downright belligerent when in Sport (and more so Race) mode, rev-matching and simulated double-clutching like your very own electronic Jeff Gordon. The one thing it doesn’t do — and could and should — is break the tires loose on a full-throttle first-second upshift. My old Trans Am can do that — and there’s a lot less than 435 hp under its hood. Every muscle car with an automatic ought to be able to chirp the tires. It’s like ketchup and fries. The two things just go together.
Thanks to deep overdrive gearing, the Mustang is as relaxed at highway speeds as your spinster aunt’s Camry — and if you don’t indulge yourself too much, the car is capable of better than the EPA rated 15 city/25 highway (manual; automatics score 16/25). Which is astounding, when you stop to think about it.
I mean the fact that you are behind the wheel of a 435 hp/12-second-quarter-mile car that’s as easy to drive as your spinster aunt’s Camry.
But a whole lot more fun.
AT THE CURB
While the Camaro and the Challenger each try to resurrect a particular year of their namesake’s classic antecedents (1969 for the Camaro; 1970 for the Challenger) the Mustang borrows elements and affectations from early and later classic Mustangs and successfully blends these elements into a coherent whole.
It doesn’t look like a reconstituted ’65; it’s too fluid, too sleek. But then, it doesn’t quite look like a ’73, either — even though there are echoes of that model (and the ’65) and others in between.
They — the designers — did a top drawer job making a modern-looking car that’s also instantly recognizable as a Mustang.
Check the dual breadbox dashpad; the retro font on the gauges. The chrome ball vents and metal-finish toggles.
But what you really notice is that nothing looks cheap or cheesy. This is a nice car, pony car or muscle car.
It’s also a well-packaged car.
Remember the stuff above about the smaller overall size of the Mustang relative to its rivals? And yet, it has a decent-sized trunk (13.2 cubic feet vs. Camaro’s 11.3) and significantly more legroom up front, for the driver (44.5 inches) than the Camaro’s got (42.4 inches).
Even the back seat is more accommodating in the Ford — especially width-wise. It gives your passengers 52.2 inches of shoulder room back there vs. 50.4 in Camaro.
The Challenger — being a full-sized coupe and the most massive of the three — beats both the Mustang and the Camaro when it comes to rear seat legroom (33.1 inches vs. 30.6 for the Ford and 29.9 for the Chevy) as well as trunk space. The Dodge has a true Goodfellas-style stuff-the-corpse back there 16.2 cubic footer. But it’s also much slower than either unless you up-rate it to SRT or Hellcat status — and pay through the nose accordingly.
It’s lucky that the base V6 is more powerful than most classic-era Mustang V8s were… because today’s Mustang V8 is damned near unaffordable if you’re in the target demographic (young male, under 35). This is just as true of the V8 versions of Camaro and Challenger.
Back in the day (late ’60s/early ’70s) you could buy the V8 version for about what it costs today (in inflation-adjusted dollars) to buy the base V6 versions of the current cars. The upside is that not only do the current versions come with a lot of engine, they come with a lot of other stuff that was most definitely extra back in the day — including AC, a leather-wrapped (and tilt-telescoping) steering wheel, all the power accessories and an audio system (six speakers, USB ports, Bluetooth) and an LCD touchscreen.
You even get a limited slip axle, no extra charge.
Both the base V6 and the next-up Ecoboosted version (see here for a full review) not only give you a lot of performance as-is and for the money, they each have a lot of potential. The turbo’d four version, especially. It’s much lighter — and with some aftermarket wicking up of the boost, probably the thing could run with a V8 GT while also running under the insurance mafia’s radar.
THE BOTTOM LINE
There’s an old country song — about a different car — that could just as easily be sung about the Mustang: Long and lean, every young man’s dream… she turned every head in town!
*** Photo courtesy of Caricos