First Drive

2011 Ford Mustang refreshed and ready

New V-6 and V-8 engines boost both performance and fuel-economy in Ford’s perennial pony-car

Ford Mustang GT 2011

WESTLAKE VILLAGE, CA – But that competition didn’t faze the team developing the 2011 Mustang; they relished the opportunity to compete. And they brought a significantly updated Mustang to the battle, one equipped with not only the performance to resume segment leadership, but a new level of refinement and efficiency.

The 2011 Mustang, appearing at Ford stores later this spring, boasts two new aluminum engines, revised front and rear appearance and a heavily upgraded interior.

The new engines include a 305-hp V-6 and a 412-hp V-8 And there is a pair of new six-speed transmissions, too.

With the new engines, Ford’s pony now achieves unheard-of fuel economy numbers – 6.4 L/100km on the highway for the six and 7.8 for the eight. Granted those are government ratings, which are rarely achievable, but during the introduction of the new Mustang here, several scribes met and a few even surpassed those numbers.

Not me, however; I was busy on the autocross course and drag strip!

That’s the bottom line with the new Mustang; you get performance and fuel economy – with either engine choice.

The biggest transformation comes at the entry point. Whereas the old V-6 Mustang was pretty much a boring "rental" car, saddled with a rough and ready Duratec V-6 that boasted neither performance nor fuel economy, the new V-6 Mustang is a sweetheart.

The transformation, and it is just that, is mainly attributable to the brand-new engine, but new transmissions, suspension upgrades and interior changes play a role as well. The entire base vehicle has been significantly improved from the grille to the twin pipes beneath the rear bumper.

The V-6 engine, like its new V-8 sibling, is made from aluminum and boasts variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust. Without getting into details, that new timing systems allows the engineers to program the engine control computer for fuel sipping under part throttle and low rev conditions, and performance when the right pedal is held down.

It is hard to remember a time when a base engine was improved to this degree. This V-6 is silky smooth, all but unnoticed under most conditions, but wails to a 7,000-rpm redline with gusto and emits a glorious exhaust note when asked. With 305 horsepower under the hood it also gets you into illegal speed territory very quickly.

The six-speed manual shifts with smoothness and precision through clearly defined gates. The top three ratios have been selected with fuel economy in mind, but by the time you get to them, you are already well over the speed limit – whatever it is.

Clutch take-up is progressive and the pedal fairly light. The new six-speed automatic is similarly impressive if less involving. There is no paddle shifter option as Ford believes enthusiasts will go for the self-shifter.

The new 5.0-litre V-8 quite simple turns things up several notches – not only in volume but performance. This thing rocks.

With 412 horsepower and a wide torque band, there is serious performance at any speed. Those who worried that Ford would replace the Mustang GT’s V-8 with a turbocharged V-6 can rest easy. The first 5.0-litre Mustang in 16 years has the same mellifluous sound we have come to know and love – and more of it.

Like the new six, the 5.0 has a 7,000-rpm redline and willingness to play in that region. Sweet!

I mentioned the autocross course and drag strip. Ford engineers are so pleased with their new baby they had a batch of Camaro on hand for comparison purposes – V-6 for the autocross and SS for the drag strip.

The Mustang was much more manageable at speed around the pylons with better suspension control and steering feel. Lap times put actual numbers to this impression.

My timing slips from the drag strip gave the Mustang almost a full second advantage. Here it was a combination of initial response and power delivery across a wider rev range that lent the advantage.

Torsional rigidity is up 15% and revised suspension pieces and settings and larger brakes across the board complete the makeover. In recognition of the new performance potential a limited slip differential is standard on the V-6 and a Brembo brake package is available on the GT, for those who will regularly explore the performance envelope – or want to see a set of red calipers behind 19-inch wheels.

The Honda Accord was the target for ride quality and drivetrain refinement. The result is a Mustang that is much more composed over rough surfaces. There was never an issue with handling on smooth surfaces, but now the Mustang can handle nasty surfaces as well.

Enough about performance, you say, what about the rest of the car?

The front and rear ends are new. The V-8 gets a quartet of headlights and the six only two while at the other end both now boast dual exhausts and sequential turn signals.

The interior is upgraded with soft-touch surfaces. The development team used the Audi A5 as the bogey and, while they didn’t get to that level, they didn’t have that price cushiong to play with, either. Nevertheless, appearance, fit, finish and quality of materials are all vastly improved.

The 2011 Mustang is available in five models – V-6 base, coupe and convertible and V-8 coupe and convertible. Prices start at $23,000 and the GT convertible is $43,000. Base model standard equipment includes ABS and electronic stability and traction control, four wheel disc brakes, MyKey, limited slip diff, mirrors with integrated "blind spotter", remote keyless entry, air conditioning, tilt, cruise, 17-inch wheels, power windows and locks.

After 45 years and more than nine million Mustangs, things just got even better. The pace, scope and significance of Ford’s new products is both impressive and timely, with the company’s recovery well under way.

Faced with renewed competition from not only traditional arch-rivals like the Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger, the Mustang now goes up against a new opponent in the form of the Hyundai Genesis coupe.

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