On July 4, 1826 John Adams lay on his deathbed. His last words were said to have been, “Thomas Jefferson survives.”
His friend Jefferson had actually died earlier that day.
The two men were among the last signers of the Declaration of Independence still living that summer. When Charles Carroll died that fall, they were all gone forever.
The Ford Mustang — and its two surviving brethren, the Chevy Camaro and the Dodge Challenger — brought such thoughts to mind.
They, too, are living legends — and may not survive much longer.
Not because they aren’t popular — especially the Mustang, which is selling very well. But rather because they are not politically correct. Which increasingly matters even more than whether a car actually sells.
The 460 horsepower V8 in my GT press car uses “too much” gas . . . according to the government, which somehow acquired the power to decree how much of our money we’re allowed to spend on fueling our cars, also bought with our money.
It also has a too-big “carbon footprint” — and isn’t “zero emissions,” either.
But damn, it’s fun!
WHAT IT IS
Something iconic and familiar.
The Mustang has been in continuous production since 1964 — and though it’s changed over the years, it’s still very much the same car.
Some consider it a muscle car — and in GT form, it can be that. But it doesn’t have to be that. It can also be a cruiser you take out for a leisurely top-down drive on a warm fall afternoon.
Or to work.
Or to pick up the kids.
Or all of those things at once.
It has survived more than half a century in continuous production for just those reasons. It is also one of the few rear-drive/two-door sport coupes that’s still available brand-new for not much more than the price of a nothing-special front-wheel-drive economy car that will be forgotten ten years from now.
And it is available with a V8 that can give a Corvette a run for the money — for a whole lot less money.
Hence the appeal.
Prices start at $25,845 for the base trim hardtop coupe — which comes standard with a turbocharged 2.3 liter four cylinder engine and a six-speed manual transmission.
The V8-powered GT starts at $35,355 with the six-speed manual; a ten-speed automatic is optional (as with the four).
Both are available in convertible form as well — $31,345 to start for one with the 2.3 liter engine and manual transmission; $44,855 for a GT with the V8.
There’s also a limited-run Bullitt (coupe only) named in honor of Steve McQueen’s highland green car from the . . . iconic ‘60s movie.
It stickers for $46,595 to start and comes only with the manual transmission.
In addition to the Bullitt, you can also choose the California Special package — which can be added to any GT coupe or convertible (and with manual or automatic transmission).
Unlike the Bullitt — which gets a 20 hp upgrade over the regular GT (to 480 hp) as well as upgraded brakes, a lowered suspension and a more aggressive wheel/tire package — the California Special is mostly an appearance package: special striping and other exterior/interior trim, including suede Miko seats and Shelby-style rear-mounted fender scoops on each side of the car.
The six-speed manual that’s standard in all Mustangs now features rev-matching downshifts in the GT, and Mustangs with the 2.3 liter engine get an active exhaust with four tips. That means the exhaust sound gets racier on demand — the demand expressed by your right foot.
A 1,000 watt ultra-premium audio rig is available, too.
All trims come standard with an eight-inch touchscreen with the latest version of Ford’s Sync interface.
It’s new — but it’s old — and that’s good.
The standard four makes more power than ”80s and even ’90s-era Mustang’s optional V8s used to make.
Much more space-efficient than Camaro — without being as huge as Challenger.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Pull-up emergency brake tension is set so low it’s only sufficient to hold the car in place when it’s parked; you can’t use it to the lock up the rear wheels while the Mustang’s moving.
UNDER THE HOOD
One of the things that has changed about the Mustang is that its standard engine — while economical — is no longer an economy engine.
The 2.3 liter turbocharged four is capable of 21 city, 31 highway — fuel economy numbers within about 5 MPG of that delivered by many current economy cars — and makes 310 horsepower and 350 ft.-lbs. of torque.
Which no economy car engine has ever delivered.
And which most V8 performance engines of the past didn’t deliver, either.
Including one of the all-time greats, the 1995 Mustang Cobra R. That was a competition model, too. Ford only sold it to people who had active road-racing licenses. It came with the last of the factory-installed 5.8 liter (351) V8s, a heavy-duty Tremec 5-speed manual and literally nothing else except the Mustang itself. No AC. No radio. No back seats. It was as serious a cart as you could buy back in ’95.
And the V8 made all of 300 horsepower. It was enough to get the R to 60 in 5.2 seconds. It did not get 31 MPG on the highway or anywhere else.
The new Mustang — the base Mustang, which anyone can buy — gets to 60 in 5.3 seconds.
It also comes standard with a six-speed manual. And back seats.
This version of the Mustang is quicker than the base-engined Camaro — which comes with a much-less-powerful (and smaller) 2.0 liter turbo four and much quicker than the base-engined Dodge Challenger — which has a larger (and slightly stronger) 3.6 liter/305 hp V6 but also weighs 300-plus pounds more than the Ford (3,858 lbs. vs. 3,542 lbs.) and comes only with an automatic transmission with the V6.
The hunky — literally — Dodge takes about six seconds to get to 60. It does offer AWD (with the V6 only) which gives it something the rear-drive-only Mustang and Camaro do not offer.
If 5.3 seconds to 60 doesn’t excite you, maybe the GT’s 5.0 liter V8 will. It makes 460 horsepower (480 horsepower in the Bullitt) and gets the Mustang to 60 in just under 4 seconds. With climate control AC and heated leather seats.
The one thing you won’t get is 31 MPG.
With the V8, the Mustang’s mileage dips to 15 city, 25 highway. But you’ll be able to get to the next gas station a whole lot faster.
A six-speed manual is standard; a performance calibrated 10-speed automatic (with launch control and line lock) is optional.
ON THE ROAD
Twenty-three years ago, I drove the Cobra R from DC to NYC in less than three hours (hoping Ford is not reading this) blasting through the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel at 2 a.m. at more than 100 MPH with the 351 howling through the straight pipes, the reverb echoing off the white-tiled walls.
It was a fun — but brutal — trip.
Remember: No AC. And not much insulation, either. The Cobra’s header collectors and down tubes ran parallel to the driveshaft tunnel and the heat they emanated literally radiated through the floorpans into the car. But I was in my young 20s and it didn’t matter. What did matter was the R’s speed — which was as blinding as 190 proof moonshine . . . for ’95.
Today, a Camry V6 could match the Cobra’s moves — with the AC quietly humming.
So, I’d take that trip today in a new GT.
The 5.0 V8 is art that speaks. It actually sounds better than the old 351 — and that is no minor thing given 23 years of additional Uncle-ization. The new GT has to have four catalytic converters to pass EPA muster . . . and yet . . . when you push the start button and the five-oh comes alive, it’s like it’s 1964 again and you’d almost swear there was a 289 Hi-Po sucking air through a big Holley four barrel under there.
The idle is that of a cammed American V8, with that lusciously non-EV long-duration lope. But the GT’s V8 is an overhead cammer that will spin easily to more than 7,000 RPM before it bumps up against the rev limiter — while also pulling 20 inches of vacuum at idle and so is as tractable as a Camry’s V6 . . . until you ask it to be more than tractable.
Because there is so much power — the GT’s 5.0 V8 makes 160 more horsepower than the competition Cobra R’s 5.8 made and that’s without the Bullitt upgrades — the car makes you feel like Superman.
Pass at will, great leaps in a single bound. This car can get you out of almost any trouble.
Except the kind that comes from a radar gun.
The optional ten-speed is a work of electro-mechanical engineering art. The thing rips dead-on triple downshifts (with rev-matched throttle blips) as you brake ahead of a tight curve — holding the right gear through the curve, then an upshift before your brain has time to become conscious of the need for one.
Even the gear selector engages your emotions — not just gears. Pull it back into Drive and feel the positive mechanical engagement; you don’t have to look. Your right hand knows. Pull back one more notch for Sport — and those intuit-your-intentions gear changes.
In more than 25 years of test driving new cars, not once — until now — have I written the following but am compelled to do so now:
The automatic is the one I’d choose for myself.
It’s not that it’s more efficient or even that it can shift faster (and more accurately, consistently) than a pro can; that’s common. What isn’t common is this automatic’s enhancement of the experience. The only thing it doesn’t do is chirp the ties on a full-throttle 1-2 pull, but that is probably because of the 19-inch tires and (in the case of my test car) the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 ultra-performance tires that come with the Level 2 Performance Package. These have more grip than Darth Vader’s fist and that is probably why the tires don’t break rubber on the 1-2.
The automatic has some other advantages, too.
Tighter gear spacing — which gets you going both more quickly and with less effort — and more and deeper overdrive gearing. The 10 speed automatic’s top three gears are all overdrive gears — 10th being a 0.64 ratio vs. 0.834 for 6th gear (the only overdrive gear) in the six-speed manual.
Automatic-equipped cars also get a 3.55 rear axle ratio vs. 3.73 for the manual cars. On the straight and level, you can maintain 50 with the engine running around 1,100 RPM.
But the automatic launches the car just as hard as the manual — and is quicker as well as (slightly) easier on gas.
Also, the computer will not over-ride you; hold any gear as long as you like, up to any speed you want.
I have driven literally thousands of new cars of every type, power/performance level and price. None have a better automatic than the Mustang’s.
It’s so good they really ought to offer it in the Bullitt. If Steve were still around and could try one out I am certain he’d agree with me.
AT THE CURB
In one of my favorite novels, The Man in the High Castle (now a cable series), there is a subplot about the owner of an antiques shop in Japanese-occupied San Francisco — the Axis powers having won World War II and divided the country between them. A customer explains to him about Wu — the historicity of an item, which is something like patina but deeper than cosmetic.
The Mustang has Wu.
It is new but you can feel the past as well as see it in the lines, the details. Some parts look as though they might actually fit classic ’60s Mustangs — but they don’t. Ford did a brilliant job of resurrecting themes as opposed to clumsily cribbing shapes.
That’s subjective, of course. Some may prefer the Camaro or the Challenger’s conjuring of yesterday.
What’s objective is the Mustang’s excellent packaging. At 188.5 inches long overall, it has almost exactly the same footprint as the Camaro (188.5 inches) but has usable back seats (29 inches of legroom vs. about 24 in the Camaro) and a 13.5 cubic foot trunk vs. the Camaro’s stunted 9.1 cubic foot trunk.
The Challenger has even more backseat legroom (33 inches) and full-sized car’s trunk (16.2 cubic feet) but it also has a much bigger footprint (197.9 inches long overall).
Put another way, the Mustang is less compromised — without compromising the things people buy cars like the Mustang to get.
It’s not overwhelmingly huge, yet it’s reasonably spacious inside.
It is easy to drive — and park — and one of the most fun to drive cars you will ever drive.
Ford lets you buy all kinds of high-performance upgrades without upgrading to the GT. This includes the same Level 2 package that’s offered with the GT that includes track-day suspension tuning (and ABS/traction control programming) with MagnaRide adaptive shocks, huge brakes, heavy duty cooling and those Michelin Sport Cup 2 “summer” tires.
Ford knows that not everyone can afford the V8 GT — or the insurance on a V8 GT. For younger buyers, this is excellent news.
You can also buy these parts later, over the counter — as funds permit.
Is there anything to not like about the Mustang?
Just one thing — and it’s probably a home-correctible thing.
The Mustang still has a manual, pull-up emergency brake — as a car like this should have. The cable tension is set so loose by the factory that it is useless for locking up the rear wheels while the car is moving.
There is just enough tension to hold the car in place when it is not moving.
It’s not just Ford that’s doing this, either. There is probably another federal edict decreeing low-grab emergency brakes because Uncle does not approve of Bullitt-style 180s and 90s.
But Ford left us everything necessary to correct this problem. Ford did not replace the pull-up emergency lever with an eBrake (button you push to engage and disengage the parking brake) which can’t be adjusted.
The tension on a pull-up emergency brake lever can be.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Cars like the Mustang are a Nixon salute at the current climate of neurosis and no fun.
It is the antidote to the electric car blues.
*** Photo courtesy of Caricos
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The Eric Peters Car Review is sponsored by the NMA Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting your interests as a motorist and citizen through the multi-faceted approach of research, education, and litigation. The Foundation is able to offer this assistance through tax-deductible contributions.