Usually a very optimistic man, always looking at the bright side of life and all that, I had some serious doubts whether Ford would be able to meet the high expectations of the enthusiast let alone the diehard fans of the Mustang. The first press shots of the all-new Mustang left a lot of us quite breathless; I reckon I even passed it off as a prototype that would never be built.
What seemed to me as the quickest car development and release in recent history, the new Mustang burst out of the stable with conviction! The last experience I had with a Mustang was being chased by California Highway Patrol (CHP) in a “5-0” on highway CA5 on my way to Los Angeles from San Francisco at 120 mph ten years ago! If you didn’t know where the gangster / hood term came from, now you do; the moniker was short for the 5.0 liter black and white Mustang that patrolled the streets and is still the most formidable high speed chaser on the highway.
So yes, I respected the car’s abilities but never really warmed up to it. Except for the famous Steve McQueen movie, Bullitt with its infamous car chases around and in the city of San Francisco, I really didn’t like the car, but loved what it stood for: freedom and raw thrills. I’m convicted that it was through the miracle of motion pictures, namely Gone in 60 Seconds that re-introduced the rest of the world to the mystique of the Mustang with the Shelby GT500- though the movie was completely ridiculous, especially the climactic ramp scene! Only a Nick Cage fan really sit through it all…Alright, I’m a fan!
After over a week had passed under my care, I found myself begging Ford for more time on the saddle of the greatest performance / enthusiast bargain in US automotive history! I only have great things to say about the new Mustang GT, yes, even with the live-axle rear drive/ suspension setup, it works better than you think. Ironically, the phrase ‘horses for courses’ applies here. In Europe I can understand that skepticism not just of the live-axle but of the whole car, it’s never been that popular anywhere else in the world but in US, Australia, and the Philippines.
Until now, US sports cars, except for the more expensive Dodge Viper range Chevrolet Corvette range, could not keep up with their European competition both in fitment performance. US-make cars were deficient in so many ways—they didn’t handle well, couldn’t brake well, the interiors were always crude and tasteless, the list goes on. However, their straight line acceleration was always impressive, until a bend appears.
Again, ‘horses for courses.’ US roads are travelled at a much more conservative pace when compared to Europe, and with its great expanses there are very few highways and roads to explore the abilities of sportscars without being sent to prison. The highways are so long and wide that the challenge for enthusiast remain not in clipping apexes but in drag racing. It begins to make more sense when you come to realize that the US enthusiasts prefer drag racing and high speed NASCAR racing to F1 Racing and World Rally Championship racing. It’s what their accustomed to. I’ll always remember as a kid that there was a challenge on US TV in the early ‘80s between a Pontiac Trans Am(with the Gold Eagle on the hood) and an all-new BMW 320i, using the same Bullit San Francisco route. It was a US vs. Europe challenge with all cheer for the mighty muscle car against the tiny, almost feminine sub-compact. The little BMW 320i kicked the crap of the Bandit by such a large margin that the Trans Am was sent to fly off the pier to its watery doom. The Trans Am had the advantage of power and straight line acceleration but couldn’t corner to save its life or stop well enough to save its soul. The BMW was light, very agile, and danced its way effortlessly to victory. But I was not in Europe, I didn’t have the Autostrada nor the Autobahn, and I didn’t miss them a bit! The new Mustang GT is scalpel perfect for the US market. It has all the soul and legendary looks of the old 1960s Mustangs with all the schooled knowledge to make the car affordable, swift, and desirable. The incredible value of the car will keep you smiling. It has the look, man, does it have the look; I had grown men rolling their windows down to give me the thumbs up when I came next to them on the road (well, I hope it was their thumbs anyway!). I even had some lovely ladies give me a smile at the mall parking lot, then realized that their eyes never left the car! Yup the chicks do dig the car!
After spending a good 15 minutes looking over the car like I discovered gold, I sat in it and screamed, RED?! Red on red! Even for a Ferrari that combination would be too much! But, just like a first date with a hot number when you discover that brains actually came with the package in an astonishing way that made you yell for the check, I fell for the red interior after driving 5 minutes. I know, I’m easy! I wasn’t the school slut for nothing!
I love this car! True, it’s plainly easy to see where Ford managed to economize for the consumer’s benefit—and I mean that, it is to our benefit. At less than $30,000.00 for a 300 Hp @ 5,750 rpm / 320 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm, 4.6 liter SOHC 24V V8 legendary muscle car, it’s not a bargain, it’s charity! The GT will accelerate from 0-60 mph in 5.1 seconds and hit 143 mph while still delivering 17/25 City / Highway fuel mileage using the TR3650 5-Speed manual, and stop from 60mph to 0 in 1120 feet! Now come now, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions and Subaru Imprezas are beginning to lose their allure, aren’t they? The rally inspired cars in stock tune can still crawl away from the Mustang GT when things get edgy but with a lot less soul and character, and those aspects, my friends, last longer than the tire marks left on the race track.
Even in very tight 25mph corners at over double that, the 235/55ZR17 Pirelli P-Zero Nero did not lose grip; in fact the GT remained composed. So EVO test driver Andre Lhuillier and I decided to test the threshold of adhesion and ability of the GT on the coastline hugging hillside roads of Pacific Highway 1 (PCH)! With wicked abandon for the authorities I drove the GT hard, constantly running through the gears, 1-2-3, then 2-3, 3-2-1, back to 2, for over an hour of punching past traffic and hollering surfers! Kicking the tail out with glorious oversteer through the tight hairpins, sand and rubber blowing onto the road barriers, waiting for the traction control to kick in and settle my tail, it only happened once when I came in way too fast into a dog leg that ended into an intersection! Fantastic, the system allows you to enjoy yourself more than many drivers’ abilities—this could be an issue later on, but for me, I love it! Dare I say it, the Mustang GT’s handling felt European; it was tight and athletic, not wallowy and imprecise. The steering had just the right feel and weight as well, very direct and responsive. The steering wheel looked as good as it felt, though I did wish it had audio controls. When things did get blurry the live axle did get a bit sloppy, but in fairness the rare suspension still did an admirable job of trying to recover progressively –but we were driving extremely hard, way harder than legal and hell more than the 98% of people who will own the car in the US.
Did I forget to mention how incredible the car sounds at every situation, from idle to full boil? My God, it’s glorious. It’s so good that I was reluctant to listen to music. And the shifting: after sitting down for some coffee, Andre and I came to the realization that the Mustang GT was the best manual shifting US car that we had ever driven.
It was precise, the gear ratios were effectively spaced, and the feel was there. The gearbox in particular felt like it was a purpose built system and not mass produced, much like how a BMW M3 shifts so much better than the garden variety 330i. The brakes never faded, which was my biggest surprise. I often comment through rest reviews and ownership that US brake systems fall short of the completion, usually fading early, losing ground and feel, and ultimately doomed to early failure. This was not the case with the Mustang GT.
Another big surprise was how comfortable and inspiring the interior was. The sport leather seats are very supportive while still being a nice place to even on long highway jaunts. The chrome bezelz on the a / c vents are plastic but forgivable, I’m sure an aftermarket company will address that shortcoming inexpensively. The dial cluster has a unique ability of altering its illumination to 125 different combinations, I found only three that work well with the rest of the interior lighting—white during the day, red or blue at night, all else is pure boredom relief. The Shaker 500 audio system that came in our GT Premium test unit features MP3 capability as well as an in-dash 6CD changer with 500 Watts of amplification through six speakers. The sound was better than expected but I would prefer more clarity than strength. Then again, with that engine note and exhaust, it really doesn’t matter! But for those that need it, there is a 1000 watt Shaker 1000 system that uses an additional two sub-woofers just in case your revving the engine doesn’t piss your neighbors off enough.
If I had an owner’s wish list it would realistically contain only an upgrade of the headlights. The four front lights—the GT has the additional front fog lights for a full retro effect—look great but are dim at night, and HIDs with projector lamps for the low beams would do the car wonders for safety as well as aesthetics. I kept thinking that the GT was too good to be true, and that there must be some profound weakness that has yet to reveal itself. I can take the few short cuts that as a whole do not diminish the car’s brilliance, so what is the weakness? Oh yes—we will probably never get Ford to sell the car in the Philippines. All the economics and fine tuning to make the GT cost the way it does will lose all the advantage as soon as it reaches our ports. A huge shame. Looks like we will have to rely on the actual 1960s legends that still lurk in the shadows of the city to satisfy our urge to drive a mechanical pony. Ford has undoubtedly produced an outstanding product that will prove to be an instant icon and the torch bearer for generations of US sportscars to come.