Ford Mustang: always an American icon, it was entirely redesigned and re-engineered for 2005, becoming by all accounts one of the best new cars of the model year and an outstanding sporty-car sales success – the likes of which Ford Motor Company hasn’t seen since the original, 41 years ago. We love the Ford Mustang. We’ve loved the Mustang since it took the country by storm in 1964. It is America’s iconic sports car – affordable, sexy, patriotic, fun. But we lamented it’s slow slide into obscurity, beginning with the “disco ‘Stang” of the ’70s, through anemic King Cobra models with more square footage of decals than horsepower, and then, after a brief resurgence of the early “5.0″ models, when it became a sloppy excuse for a sports car regularly trounced by it’s Camaro and Firebird cross-town rivals.
Thus were we grateful and overjoyed to see the latest Pony (the ‘pony car’ designation is a ’60s-era idiom that refers to the sportiness and trim size of cars like the Mustang, Camaro and others in the segment, and is generally accepted to have originated with the Mustangís equine name). The coupe, with its stunning retro styling and available 300-horse motor, captured the hearts and minds of the faithful all over again. The droptop then made the scene just months after the hardtop became every kid’s (and salaryman’s) dream. We spent a couple weeks with it just as the weather became tolerable, the sun graced us with its presence, and convertible drivers became the envy of all motorists. Needless to say, we were pumped.
Slathered in screaming yellow paint (that’s its real name; one of 10 colors including a very cool ‘Redfire’ burgundy hue), there it sat, beckoning from our driveway. Deadlines be damned, it wasn’t ten minutes before we ditched the office for an afternoon of top-down cruising. And in all honesty – and at the risk of damaging our integrity as unbiased, jaded automotive journalists – it was everything we hoped it would be, and more.
Let’s start on the outside. Ford’s redesign for 2005 was a holistic one – this Mustang has been entirely rethought. With the new ‘Stang, style is king. A clever blend of retro and modern – 1960s’ lines and modern touches – the car grabs hold of your nostalgic emotions and just wonít let go. The look clearly hearkens back to the ‘Stang’s glory days – classic pony style oozes from every surface. Blending features from the ’64, ’67 and ’69, Ford’s designers and engineers stayed true to the essence of the galloping horse; down even to the font on the gauge faces and the authentic V8 burble. Retro design is well-known as the altar at which chief Ford stylist J Mays prays at – witness the Thunderbird – but we think it works better on this car than any other effort. The end result is, we think, beautiful.
Perhaps more important than the newfound good looks, the new pony was re-engineered from the ground up after over 20 years on the same chassis – making this the stiffest, strongest, and best Mustang yet. Even our convertible tester evinced no discernable cowl shake and scant few annoying rattles over bumps. While the old platform was advanced for the early 1980s, after twenty-plus years it had become outdated, and was considered too flexible to be modern (and when a car is built on a platform that lacks rigidity, it squeaks and handling suffers as the entire structure of the car twists and bends).
From that starting point, Ford added two all-new engines. The base models are powered by a 210-horsepower V6. We’ve driven these, and they’re actually very enjoyable to drive – the new six makes more power then the V8 of not twenty years ago. Still, the crown jewel (and boasting the highest resale value, for those looking to rationalize the extra expense) is the aluminum V8 that powers the GT model. As any driving enthusiast would, we went straight to the eight. With 300 horsepower under the sculpted hood, and 320 ft./lbs. of torque, acceleration is simply phenomenal. Sixty mph comes up in just over five seconds (5.4 in the coupe, just under 6 in our ragtop), and yet EPA-tested fuel economy is a respectable 17/25 city/highway – although as usual our leadfoot driving achieved lower results.
The five-speed manual transmission gives up a gear to most new sports cars, but the ratios are spaced out well enough to balance blistering acceleration with relaxed cruising at speed. The shifter is chunky, but thankfully lacks the overbearing heft found in, say, the ’04 Cobra’s unit. Still, it reminded this reporter of the Hurst unit in my old ’69 Cougar – rock-solid in construction but fluid and precise when grabbing a gear. Also an impressive compromise between classic muscle car behavior and modern convenience, the booming exhaust has one of the sexiest notes on the market in decades, but is tuned to fade to a tolerable level on the highway.
Braking is similarly strong; the vented discs with ABS provide a stopping distance of 170 feet from 70 m.p.h. – on par with it’s Detroit Charger and GTO rivals. We never encountered any fade, no matter how much we pushed it, and came away impressed with the linear action of the hardware.
Ford’s interior designers have taken flak for cutting corners with some materials. And it’s true, there’s some hard plastic, the gauges aren’t as easy to read as they could be, and a piece here and there feels subpar. Still, we argue that these are relatively minor complaints – and a small price to pay for so much style at such a budget-friendly price. Moreover, aesthetically, the exterior’s effervescent style is carried over to the car’s interior, where again classic themes meld with state-of-the-art technology. The two main gauges – tachometer and speedometer – are housed in chrome-ringed pods reminiscent of the original model, and even the font the numbers are printed in is familiar. The instruments are precision-accurate, and feature such modern touches as an optional dashboard lighting system, customizable to any of hundreds of colors. The seats are supportive, and actually a lot more comfortable than the Mercedes SLK we tested in the same month. In the coupe, rear seats are livable even for moderate-sized adults, so although the convertible’s top mechanism steals some shoulder space, fitting the kids in for a quick jaunt would be no problem (if you have kids and can still justify a purchase like this, we envy you). Trunk space too, while at a premium, is ample for a getaway for two (again, the coupe features even more versatility with folding seatbacks).
A minor annoyance is the incessant ‘put-on-your-seatbelt,-you-jackass’ beep. We’ve come across this ‘innovation’ in models across all segments lately, but it’s nonetheless incongruous in a car as potentially irresponsible as this one (plus, the only time a serious driver should hear it is when momentarily unlatching the belt to turn around, backing into a parking space – precisely when you don’t need some loud warning beep in your ear). However, after sampling the Mustang’s optional, ground-pounding Shaker audio system, boasting 1,000 watts of power pumping through 10 speakers (with no less than four bass-heavy subwoofers), we guess perhaps the loud reminder is necessary. Truth be told, even the base-level stereo is an acceptable performer, and even the audiophiles among you should certainly be satisfied with the midlevel Shaker 500 system.
The convertible top will function when moving, but only up to about four m.p.h. Perhaps handy is a parking lot, but drivers will soon find themselves looking foolish when they realize doing 4 isn’t enough to keep the traffic behind you from honking irritably once that light turns green. In another nod to the Mustang’s old-tech heritage, two latches are required to secure the forward lip to the windshield header, and they require considerable hand strength to operate. On the plus side, the tonneau cover snaps into place with relative ease – but it’s not really needed, as the top Z-folds in such a way as to leave only a clean, flat panel visible when retracted.
Especially this early in the car’s life-cycle, the Mustang convertible turned just about every head we passed. The expected crowds assaulted us at every filling station – if you want anonymity, look elsewhere. Comments were overhwelmingly positive; even those jaded by “the retro thing” since the PT Cruiser’s debut praised this car’s execution. “Authentic” was one word that kept coming up. (It’s interesting to note that as “authentically American” the car is, the chief engineer on Team Mustang was actually a Vietnamese-born engineer, Hau Thai-Tang).
All aesthetic matters aside, however, the Mustang magic is in the drive. As we’ve said, power is prodigious, even in the lesser models – but how’s it handle? Mustangs have traditionally been a point-and-shoot proposition; turns were best attempted at lower speeds. The new pony, however, is a much more well-rounded animal. The stiff new chassis deserves some of the credit, but effective engineering is the real hero here. Although the enthusiast press has made much of the decision to go with an “old-tech” solid rear axle, Thai-Tang made a good compromise between advanced engineering and cost savings – and the Mustang’s corner-carving poise is the result. One female passenger was prompted to comment on the smoothness of the ride; she expected much more punishment.
Long recognized among the automotive cognoscenti as a strong ‘bang-for-the-buck’ value prospect, the Ford Mustang brings plenty of power and style to the table, at an affordable price point. However, previous versions have been built on outdated architecture; an engineering nightmare that led to rattles, subpar handling, and a generally cheap feeling. All new for 2005 however, the retro-styled ‘Stang evokes the pony car America fell in love with in the ’60s, with utterly modern mechanicals underneath.
Notwithstanding all the inherent goodness in the new model, it’s the value quotient that cements the ’05 Mustang’s place in our hearts (and on our wishlists). At $30,240 to start, a V8-powered GT soft-top is a mighty reasonable proposition – providing just about as much presence as you can buy for that kind of cash. It’s a veritable blue-chip investment compared with some of the more exotic vehicles we’ve tested. Mustang has always been ‘everyman’s sports car’; in keeping with that philosophy, the Mustang is still a great value. Base models start under $20,000, while another $5,000 buys either the V8-powered GT model or a convertible. The ultra-desirable GT convertible – just try and find one at a dealer without paying above sticker or waiting over six months – starts at just $29,995. Even with a host of options, including the recommended traction control and anti-lock brakes package, our tester rang the register at under $35,000. That’s cheap for a convertible, the absolute cheapest 300-horsepower car available, and well-equipped to boot.
After the tepid marketplace reception of the Five Hundred and Freestyle, and a languishing full-size truck line down over 20%, Ford needed a success – and the ‘Stang delivered. Sales are reminiscent of the original April, 1964 bonanza. In fact, since the car’s introduction, demand prompted Ford to up production by 70%, to over 190,000 units for 2005. Sales are up 47% year-to-date, and market share is up 25%, with almost one out of every two sports cars sold in America being a Mustang. As evidenced by the strong sales numbers, the 2005 ‘Stang is already winning hearts and minds among the pony-car faithful – and sports-car lovers in general. Ultimately a low-volume vehicle, it hasn’t kept the company from releasing sobering sales stats – but it has improved morale, provided positive press, and put a few more black figures on the books to offset the red.
And it’s certainly put some serious smiles on our faces.