More than nine-million Mustangs have been sold in the 53 years since the original pony car came to market. The latest generation – the sixth – of what is the world’s best-selling sports coupe (according to Ford) arrived as a 2015 model, resulting in a significant surge in sales.
That means there are now plenty of fifth-generation – 2010-2014 model-year – Mustangs on the market. The question is, “Should you buy one?”
Let us try to help you figure out the answer.
First, a little history
Legend has it that the first preproduction Mustangs to roll off Ford’s Dearborn assembly line in February 1964 were shipped to Canada with the reasoning that the most distant dealers should get the display-only cars first.
That’s how George Parsons Ford in St. John’s, Newfoundland, came to possess a “Wimbledon White” V-8 convertible with serial number 5F08F100001 – the very first Mustang. When Eastern Provincial Airlines pilot Stanley Tucker spied the sporty convertible on the dealership floor, he convinced Parsons to sell it to him.
After the honchos at Ford headquarters learned that Mustang No.1 had been inadvertently sold, it took two years of pleading before Tucker finally exchanged the inaugural 1964½ Mustang for a freshly minted 1966 convertible. That original now resides in The Henry Ford museum.
Hard to imagine both parties didn’t put down the phone after the deal was done and whisper, “Sucker!”
The fifth-generation models
The all-new-for-2005 Mustang was only the car’s fifth generation in 40 years. Remarkably, the previous models had employed Ford’s Fox chassis for a quarter century. The ’05 adopted the contemporary rear-drive platform found under the Lincoln LS – minus that car’s sophisticated independent double-wishbone rear suspension.
Borrowing visual cues from the 1960s-era models, designer Sid Ramnarace, working under the direction of J Mays, Ford's senior vice president of design, recalled the fastback Mustangs of the time in an exercise Mays dubbed retro-futurism, seen previously in the reconstituted Thunderbird Mays had styled using the same LS chassis.
The 2010-2014 refresh
By 2010 Ford was compelled to rethink its pony car in light of the retro-themed competition from Dodge (Challenger) and Chevy (Camaro). The Mustang’s fresh sheetmetal bore a resemblance to the coveted ’69 car, with its beveled lines and prominent hood bulge. The three-segment sequenced tail lamps brought tears to the eyes of aging Boomers.
Beneath its fastback styling the Mustang was largely carried over, but with some ride-and-handling improvements, including stiffer rear springs and recalibrated shock absorbers for better damping. The Mustang’s much-maligned solid rear “log axle” remained.
The renovated interior gained a new instrument panel molded in a richer, softer plastic. The twin-cowl design stayed put, but was upgraded with more metallic trim, an optional eight-inch navigation screen and Microsoft’s Sync interface. Visibility was decent and backseat space was passable for a sport coupe. Unfortunately, the lack of a telescoping steering wheel resulted in a compromised driving position for some pilots.
Powertrains and features
The coupe and convertible body styles were retained, powered by a base V-6 or optional V-8 engine. The six was the Ranger pickup’s ancient iron-block SOHC 4.0-L, good for 210 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque, tied to a standard Tremec five-speed manual gearbox or optional five-speed automatic.
GTs reprised the all-aluminum SOHC 4.6-L V8 with three valves per cylinder and variable valve timing. It made 315 hp and 325 lb-ft of grunt, mated to the same transmission choices.
Significant powertrain changes arrived for 2011. Ford engineers uncrated their aluminum “Coyote” 5.0-L DOHC V-8 with 412 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque on tap (using premium fuel), an engine that made the GT an able match for the Challenger SRT8 and Camaro SS since the Mustang was substantially lighter.
Base 2011s made use of the aluminum 3.7-L DOHC V-6 lifted from the Lincoln MKS, re-oriented for rear-drive duty and making 305 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. Both engines mated with a new six-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual gearbox co-developed with Getrag.
Other updates for 2011 included electric power steering in place of the hydraulic system, larger brakes, revised suspension tuning, more sound insulation and additional body bracing for the GT convertible.
Also available was the hairy-chested Shelby GT500, which packed a supercharged 5.4-L V-8 making a tire-grinding 550 hp and, for 2012, the resurrected Boss 302 with a 444-hp version of the 5.0.
The 2013 Mustangs gained restyled front and rear fascia, standard xenon headlamps with LED accents and functional hood vents. Inside was a new performance information display, and available Recaro seats across the model range.
The updated automatic transmission featured a manual shift control in the form of a shifter-mounted toggle switch rather than paddle shifters. The GT got an 8-horsepower boost (to 420), and all manual-transmission cars received hill-start assist.
Driving the Mustang
Within the resurrected pony car segment the Mustang felt the lightest on its feet and, thanks to its Lincoln-derived bones, it rode like a thoroughly modern car.
No longer just a straight quarter-mile expert, it responded eagerly to steering inputs and was highly manageable. The chassis was sublimely balanced and displayed power oversteer only in the tightest turns. However, saddled with its solid rear axle, the back end could get a little jumpy on bumpy curves taken at higher speeds.
Zero to 97 km/h came up in 4.9 seconds with the old 4.6-L V-8; the 5.0 could do it in 4.6 hasty seconds. The Ranger’s 4.0 V-6 could complete it in 6.6 seconds, while the newer 3.7-L trimmed 1.2 seconds off that time when equipped with the manual gearbox. The supercharged Shelby GT500 could do the deed in 4.1 seconds and chew up a quarter-mile in 12.4 seconds.
Serial Mustang owners warmed to the enhanced fifth-gen models: “Traded in '08 GT for new '10. Quite a bit different. Exterior is sleeker and interior is worlds better. Definitely handles better,” one owner remarked online.
What owners had to say
Sporty-car enthusiasts tend to be more forgiving about their ride’s foibles than some buyers. But regardless, the Mustang got its share of knocks in owners’ reports.
The most common gripe had to do with the car’s appearance. To save weight, engineers specified an aluminum hood – a metal that requires a different primer treatment than steel, a detail that seems to have been missed at the factory. Plenty of owners are fuming about premature corrosion on their car’s hood.
“Two spots on the hood where it is corroding badly. The Ford representative told me that because the paint is only blistering, and there is no evidence of a hole, that the warranty would not cover it,” reads a lament online.
Beyond cosmetics the 3.7-L V-6 engine introduced for 2011 is notorious for drivability issues, namely, defaulting to “limp mode” and losing power at speed, which has unnerved drivers.
“While driving on the highway at 70 mph, I experienced sudden deceleration and had to pull over to the side. The gas pedal was not responsive and the wrench light came on. This happened more than six times over a two-week period,’ wrote an exasperated owner. “They said that the throttle body needed to be replaced.”
The 3.7-L V6 has a well-documented fault in its electronic throttle body, as seen in other Ford models that use the engine, including the popular Explorer. Dealers have been replacing the unit by the thousands, yet some drivers report problems with their replacements (one owner has had three throttle bodies to date).
A third major issue involves the Getrag manual transmission, also introduced in 2011. Owners complain about rough upshifts, grinding and popping out of gear – all unwelcome annoyances to stickshift users.
“Clutch pressure plate bolts replaced under warranty due to backing out and causing clutch engagement problem,” noted the driver of a 2011 model. The MT82 six-speed gearbox was assigned a lower viscosity fluid to address poor shift quality. Also noted is a failed relief valve (vent) on the rear axle, resulting in differential fluid leakage.
Other reported mechanical weaknesses in the Michigan-built Mustang include failed water pumps and air conditioners, water infiltrating the firewall, and some suspension and cabin rattles.
Ford is recalling certain 2011-2012 Mustangs with an automatic transmission that may unexpectedly downshift to first gear, regardless of speed. The abrupt downshift may cause the rear tires to slide or lock, increasing the risk of a crash. Dealers will reprogram the powertrain control module with updated software.
Those issues notwithstanding, overall, the 2010-14 Mustang is a worthy representative of the nameplate, but enthusiasts may want to strive for the sonorous V-8-powered models and leave the more troublesome V6 cars on the lot.
2010-14 Ford Mustang
Typical price range: $15,000-$29,000
> Balanced chassis
> Great V-8 exhaust note
> No longer a one-trick pony
> RWD can be treacherous in snow
> Faulty throttle bodies common on V-6
> Clunky manual gearbox
Things to Watch Out For:
> Drivability issues/stalling
> Poor shifting manual transmission
> Blistering paint on hood
> Malfunctioning air conditioner
> Drivetrain vibration
> Warning lamps common
> Missing spare tire in some models.