Expert Review:Autoblog

Forty-six Years Of Refinement Make It The Pony Car To Beat

2011 Ford Mustang GT Convertible

2011 Ford Mustang GT Convertible - Click above for high-res image gallery

Potentially ruinous. All that work on an impressive new 5.0-liter V8 engine, chassis tweaks and other piecemeal refinements for the 2011 Ford Mustang GT are almost all for naught because of a single glaring issue. What could erase all the gains the Mustang has made for 2011? The answer is nestled between the front seats, and it goes by the name 6R80.

Despite the promise that a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission carries, not to mention the associated fuel economy, the auto 'box blunts the Mustang's edge severely. Can the new 5.0-liter V8 and wind in your hair make up for the dulling effect of the Mustang GT Convertible's transmission? Follow the jump to find out.

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Photos copyright ©2010 Dan Roth, John Neff / AOL

The 2011 Mustang wears year-old styling that still looks up-to-the-minute fresh. Of course, there are retro cues in the sheetmetal, but the changes to the Mustang's looks for 2010 deftly separate the newest Mustangs from the 2005-2009 cars. Surfaces are far more sculpted and much more playful with light, and the front-end styling brings a lot of the Shelby GT500 to the everyman's Mustang. The $34,645 entry point for a V8-powered Mustang convertible is attainable, and the GT Premium Convertible carries SYNC as standard equipment, as well as the Shaker 500 audio system (both options on lower trims), along with interior ambient lighting. The gauges in the GT Premium also get into the chameleon routine with MyColor, and trim detailing dresses up the Premium's interior with chrome accents and a glossy center stack finish.

With the arrival of the new V8, "5.0" badges make a return to the Mustang's flanks after an 18-year absence. The folding soft top on the convertible saves weight and only consumes 3.8 cu. ft. of trunk space, though it does add some buggy-whip anachronism to the Mustang's otherwise slick profile. Mustang GTs are also quickly identifiable by their grille-mounted foglamps and 18-inch wheels that fit snugly under the boldly flared wheelarches. Awkwardness does creep in around the tapered rear corners, but ponycars are bold, and the 2011 Mustang is no wallflower.

2011 Ford Mustang GT Convertible side view2011 Ford Mustang GT Convertible front 3/4 view2011 Ford Mustang GT Convertible rear 3/4 view

Fine assembly quality is on display both inside and out. Panel gaps are close enough to pass muster in the luxury world, and even without its roof, the Mustang Convertible feels tight, though there is cowl shake on some surfaces and distinctly less body rigidity than the coupe. The interior is much improved over the previous generation, though it won't be winning any awards for opulence. The cabin is on par with its Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger competition. The dashboard is made of low-gloss, soft-touch material that presents well and the leather upholstered seats in the GT Premium Convertible we drove are comfortable, if under-bolstered.

Sadly, door panels are cheap-feeling hard plastic and make elbows ache. A power lower cushion and manual backrest adjustment may save weight, but it's annoying in practice and gives the impression of cost-cutting more than any nod to trimming a few pounds. Taken in context with the rest of its class, however, the Mustang's interior is well-imagined and functionally excellent. The power-operated convertible top has a rigid front panel that makes it less necessary to wrestle with the tonneau cover, and weather sealing is good. Predictably, noise is up over coupe versions; good in that you can hear the burble of the 5.0 more, bad in that there's more wind noise at highway speeds. It's nothing that the Shaker 500 audio system can't overcome, if it's tinnitus you seek.

The retro-themed interior, with its patterned-metal inlay, chrome-ringed electroluminescent gauges sporting a retro narrow font and running-horse emblems will please baby boomers looking to recapture their senior year of high school. Modern details hide inside, too. Ford's Sync system is a star in everything, and illuminated door pulls, sill plates and footwells are a nice touch – in switchable colors, no less. The Rapid Spec 401A Premier Trim and Color Accent Package was tossed in on our test car, a $395 charge that adds colored trim to the seats, stitching and Pony badges on the door panels and a darker finish on the instrument panel.

2011 Ford Mustang GT Convertible interior2011 Ford Mustang GT Convertible seats2011 Ford Mustang GT Convertible gauges2011 Ford Mustang GT Convertible door panel

The real news is the 5.0 liter V8 that makes its debut in the 2011 Mustang GT. Dubbed the Coyote during development, the dual overhead cam engine independently varies the timing of intake and exhaust events with a system Ford calls Twin Independent Variable Camshaft Timing (Ti-VCT.) Tubular exhaust headers and a classic "Powered by Ford" legend on the valve covers are outward signals of performance. Inside the aluminum engine block, jets of oil keep the pistons cool, main bearing caps are cross-bolted for rigidity and a baffled oil pan shrugs off repeated hi-g cornering. Ford knows it's built a killer affordable performance car that can mop the floor with most vehicles it encounters, and has endowed it with an engine that can stand up to racing right off the showroom floor.

From behind the wheel, it's immediately evident that the Mustang GT Convertible is no parade float, even with the automatic. The engine's 11.0:1 compression ratio realizes its full potential on premium fuel, resulting in 412 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. Horsepower drops off to 402 on regular fuel, while torque takes a greater hit, falling to 377 lb-ft. Truth be told, the automatic transmission is okay once you get used to it. There's a delay for kickdown, as in most modern automatics, but shift quality is good and it gets itself into locked-up overdrive as soon as possible, resulting in EPA fuel economy estimates of 17 mpg city and 26 mpg highway.

There is no manual shift gate, sport mode or paddles on the non-telescoping steering wheel. You're faced with the very same shifting options as your grandmother's Crown Victoria: PRND321. It's frustrating. Of all the cars in Ford's lineup, the Mustang should be first in line when doling out the sporty shift programs. The V8 with automatic is perfectly happy to swallow interstate miles or drag race tarmac, but when the road turns twisty, it's a dud thanks to the recalcitrant transmission.

2011 Ford Mustang GT Convertible engine

It's a shame that the automatic cuts into enjoyment, because the rest of the 2011 Mustang is so fully realized. The engine is responsive, throaty and strong; it's a trifle to blow the car sideways by pulling into traffic over-zealously. There's low-end torque and plentiful high-rpm power. The 245/45 Pirelli P Zero Nero tires on 19-inch wheels that our tester wore can only resist the wave of muscle from the engine so much, though the Mustang is easy to bring back under control once it breaks traction.

There's finally satisfying mojo under the hood of a Mustang that can keep up with the excellent V8 engines in the Camaro and Challenger. The new 5.0 is the last piece of the puzzle to Mustang dominance in the segment, too. It's still significantly lighter than its two main rivals, and moreover, it feels lighter on its feet. Live axle or not, this is one great-handling car. Ford's electric power steering system can do impressive things like compensate for crown in the road or unevenly worn tires, but it's also slightly on the numb side. The roofless structure is relatively solid, with only some occasional cowl shake. Load up those 19-inchers in a tight corner and the Mustang Convertible doesn't feel like a clockspring winding up; that's good.

2011 Ford Mustang GT Convertible rear 3/4 view

For a $37,845 base price, our 2011 Mustang GT Premium Convertible was not only very well equipped, as it should be, but very capable. And most drivers will likely see the automatic transmission as an asset, rather than the detriment to driving enjoyment we found it to be. In our experience, the live rear axle simply isn't an issue, despite the constant drone of the naysayers. The Mustang rides and performs impressively, with tightly controlled chassis motions and predictable handling. It's a better-rounded package than either of its neo-ponycar colleagues, and it's the only convertible in town, at least until the drop-top Camaro arrives next year.

In addition to being at the head of its own class, the 2011 Mustang GT Convertible is also a scrappy athlete that can mix it up with much more expensive and snooty hardware. In that sense, it's a repeat of what's always been great about Detroit performance cars – just try and find a better deal on a new car that performs this well. Even with the wrong transmission.

Photos copyright ©2010 Dan Roth / AOL

Second Opinion: 2011 Ford Mustang GT Premium
by John Neff

I'm not a convertible guy. Aside from the extra weight and platform compromising characteristics of a drop-top, I just don't like sharing my stereo with the rest of the neighborhood. I'll also take a manual transmission over an automatic any day, so I thank the car gods that the 2011 Ford Mustang GT delivered to me wasn't the same one Mr. Roth reviewed. Mine was the coupe with the six-speed MT82 transmission, sprayed in evocative Grabber Blue and commanding a less-expensive base price than the convertible at $32,845 (all Mustangs carry an additional $850 in destination charges, as well).

In the case of the 2011 Ford Mustang GT, if you're interested in things like performance, handling and price more than whether or not your not cranium can get a tan, go for the coupe. Comparing manual-equipped models of both, the Mustang GT coupe is 118 pounds lighter than the automatic and $5,000 less expensive. There's not much left to consider unless you plan to drive your Mustang GT in a parade every weekend.

2011 Ford Mustang GT Premium

As for Dan's distaste of the Mustang GT's automatic transmission, I'll agree that saddling any modern day muscle car with an automatic transmission is a disappointment from the get-go, especially when said slushbox comes with no manual shifting functions. The 'Stang's six-speed manual is the transmission you want if you're going for the full muscle car effect; accept no substitutes.

Whereas the six-speed automatic effectively corrals the new 5.0-liter V8, the six-speed manual lets those ponies run free, fuel economy be damned. The shifter action is nice and deliberate if a little notchy, but definitely not sloppy. The stick itself is also very short, which makes throws quick and easy unless you've got a beverage in the center console's cup holders. Best to avoid bottles of any kind, which are tall enough to get right in the way of your arm's motion when shifting gears.

The new 5.0-liter V8 is a gem of an engine and plays perfectly with the manual transmission. Perhaps its most surprising characteristic is that it delivers power everywhere, even high in the rev range before it tops out a redline just shy of 7,000 rpm. That makes the new 5.0 more than just what its peak power numbers of 412 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 390 pound-feet of torque at 4,250 suggest, since its broad powerband is working hard for you at every rpm. Of course, that's to say nothing of the engine's aesthetic qualities, a feature so often forgotten these days under the many plastic shrouds that commonly obscure an engine's actual shape. The Mustang GT bucks this, showing off its tubular exhaust headers like a body builder's bicep peeking out from the sleeve of his muscle shirt.

Fortune had it that I also drove a 2010 Dodge Challenger SRT8 a couple weeks prior to the Mustang GT, and a comparison between either the Challenger or this car's other obvious competitor, the Chevrolet Camaro, brings into sharp relief what Ford is doing with the Mustang. Its cross-town rivals are less focused on bringing a balanced performance car to the party than creating an experience. At its most basic level, the feeling of driving a modern day muscle car requires retro styling and a big, powerful engine. Both the Challenger and Camaro offer this, though each takes their own tack at what "retro styling" means.

2011 Ford Mustang GT, profile2011 Ford Mustang GT Premium front detail2011 Ford Mustang GT Premium 5.0 badge2011 Ford Mustang GT Premium faux gas cap

The Mustang, however, hasn't taken a break in 46 years, and so doesn't need to convince anyone that it shares a direct link with the cars from the late '60s and early '70s that defined this class. Instead, the latest generation Mustang nearly evolves the car right out of the muscle segment. It is a high-performance car on every level, perhaps evidenced best by what it's being compared with other than the Challenger and Camaro. We ourselves pitted the new 2011 Mustang V6 against the Nissan 370Z and Hyundai Genesis Coupe, while Motor Trend put up this same GT model against the BMW M3. Let me repeat: the BMW M3. And the Mustang GT almost won, which is a victory itself.

All this is to say that the 2011 Ford Mustang GT is laser-focused on being the best all-around performance value on the market, not just the best reinterpretation of what it means to be a muscle car in 2010. If you just want to look good in a Mustang, get the automatic-equipped convertible model reviewed above and idle along on Woodward Avenue to your heart's content. If you want Challengers and Camaros in your rearview mirror while nipping at the back bumper of an M3, get this model.

Photos copyright ©2010 John Neff / AOL

2011 Ford Mustang V6 – Click above for high-res image gallery

To many, the terms "Mustang" and "high technology" are as mutually exclusive as "China" and "transparent, open society." After all, the first Mustang rolled off the assembly line before the Vietnam War got under way, and in the minds of most people it hasn't changed all that much in the 4.5 decades since. Sure, every once in a while Ford will bolt a fairly high-tech motor into a special edition 'Stang (SVT, Cobra, GT500), but for the most part the original pony car represents exactly that: the origin of the species. Especially when it comes to the base model, the until now lowly – some might say primitive – V6 iteration.

For seemingly ever, Ford has been content to let its low-hanging fruit edition Mustang rot away in irrelevance. Nothing seemed to make the Blue Oval boys happier than stocking every rental car fleet in the nation with soft-riding, underpowered has-beens. Let's make that never-rans. So for the performance minded buyer, the V6 version of the Mustang never even entered the picture. Worse, do you know what car people interested in a V6 Mustang cross-shopped the most? Pat yourself on the back if you said Honda Accord Coupe. In other words, the V6 Mustang was never a sports car.

Now, along comes the 2011 model year and you can throw everything you thought you knew about Ford's entry-level pony car out the window. It simply no longer applies. Gone is the archaic, universally unloved and soon to be totally forgotten 4.0-liter V6. In its place is a very high-tech version of Ford and Mazda's 3.7-liter 60-degree V6. With it, the 2011 Ford Mustang V6 produces 305 horsepower, 280 pound-feet of torque, and yet returns 31 mpg on the freeway according to the EPA. In fact, as Ford was happy to tell us (quite a a few times), the 2011 V6 is the only car ever to produce 305 hp and get 31 mpg. Fabulous numbers no doubt, but they only tell part of the story. In our opinion, the Mustang V6 could be the most significant car released this year. Follow the jump to learn why.

Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

Before we get to the significant part, we'll start with the car itself. For 2011, all Mustangs receive new front and rear fascias. Part of the reason is, of course, aesthetic, but the bulk of the impetus behind the change has to do with mileage. In other words, Ford is getting serious about aerodynamics. As such, the 2011 Mustangs are four percent slipperier than last year's models, which themselves were brand new designs. The V6 aero-tweaks include a new upper grill, lower front-spoiler and air dam, an underbody "aeroshield," a decklid seal and rear wheel spats.

A few years ago, Jeremy Clarkson produced a DVD called The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. In it, he came to California and basically explained that all American cars are shite, save his precious Ford GT. There's a particularly noteworthy segment where he races a Mustang against a horse around a quarter-mile track. He claims it's the (at the time) 300-hp GT model. Predictably, the Mustang loses the race. Hey, it's Clarkson – he's made millions bashing the US of A. However, those in the know noticed about halfway through the clip that Jezza's not driving a GT, he's actually behind the wheel of a V6. The big giveaway? A single tailpipe. Well guess what? All V6 Mustangs now ship with dual pipes. Inside, it's more of the same good stuff we met with the 2010 refresh, but as Mustang chief engineer Dave Pericak points out, everything that looks like metal is actually metal. Hooray! And, of course, Sync is still at the top of the infotainment pile.

About that engine: It's a peach. Similar in bore (if not a few internals) to the all-aluminum 3.7-liter you'd find in the 280-hp Mazda CX-9, the 2011 Mustang's V6 comes equipped with some fancy heads that feature fully variable intake and exhaust valves. Ford calls the technology Twin Independent Variable Camshaft Timing or Ti-VCT for the short and unmemorable. Like all variable valve-timing setups, a computer is able to adjust the flow into and out of the engine. Ford claims it takes just "microseconds" to recalibrate the cams and ensure that the engine is always breathing optimally. Again, the results are 305 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque, up from the previous engine's paltry 210 hp and a just-okay-but-not-great 240 lb-ft of spin. Also, the redline's up to 7,000 rpm.

Other bits of new mechanical tech include two all-new six speed transmissions – your choice of automatic or manual (we highly recommend the manual, though the auto is fine, kinda) – and a revised suspension, a limited slip differential (see the burnout pics in the gallery), a cold air intake, a weight-saving plastic fuel tank and a host of NVH improvements that make the vehicle 15-percent stiffer than last year's car. Most importantly, the brakes have been enhanced, mostly by way of a larger brake booster. The question then becomes what's all this new stuff add up to?

One shockingly fun-to-drive entry level Mustang, that's what.

While obviously not quite as straight-line potent as a 2010 GT, the 305-hp V6 and its $22,995 starting price (that's including destination) is a pretty startling performance proposition. We're guessing here, but 0-60 mph and quarter-mile times are probably better than cars like the Mazdaspeed3, Volkswagen GTI and Chevrolet Camaro V6. Figure around 5.5 seconds to 60 miles per hour (or even slightly less) and the quarter-mile in about 14 seconds flat at around 105 mph. We won't be surprised if instrumented tests reveal the new V6 is even quicker, as the engine really is more than an admirable performer and the solid rear axle, in conjunction with the new limited slip, puts the power down in spectacular, tire-smoking fashion.

But of course, that solid rear axle means that the Mustang V6 can't go around corners, right? After all, that was Jeremy Clarkson's entire point in his video (and about 20-percent of the sentences he's ever written). Well, in this situation, Jeremy is quite wrong. When the 2010 Mustangs were released, Ford based them on the 2009 Bullitt Mustang, a car that never had to make any apologies for its handling. Starting with that solid foundation (no pun, no pun), Ford has further improved the Mustang's rear end for 2011 to the point where they were so confident with their work, they set up an autocross track for us to compare the new Mustang V6 against the 304-hp, 273 lb-ft of torque 2010 Camaro V6 RS, its most direct competitor.

Not to overstate things, but the four-wheel independently sprung Camaro felt prehistoric compared to the lighter and more sprightly Mustang. Actually, the Camaro's ponderousness helped it out on Ford's track, as it was a second gear affair (meaning nothing but quick turns and big braking zones), but even on the broken asphalt the cars were running over, we much preferred the Mustang's moves and prowess to the frankly clunky, chunky Camaro. Also, your author is about 5'11" standing up straight, 5'10" otherwise. By no means tall. Yet while wearing a helmet in the Camaro, yours truly was tall enough to get caught against the Chevy's roof, which prevented proper visibility while turning. No such problems in the more spacious Ford, and further proof that the 2011 Mustang V6 is the more serious sports car, if not just a plain better car.

On the highway, the Mustang V6 proved even more impressive. With that lofty new redline in place and relatively tall gearing, you can really beat on the engine without worrying about hitting fuel cutoff. Another way to look at this is that you have to pound on the 3.7-liter to get it to come to life. But hey, beating on a car like this is half the fun. Unless you're in the shorter first or second gears, you can forget all about hitting the 7,000 rpm redline. It's just not going to happen. That said, burnouts are seriously, ludicrously easy to pull off. Before you go calling us childish, remember that smokey, tire-abusing burnouts are most likely a Mustang design prerogative.

Through the twisty stuff, the 2011 V6 impressed us with handling that was leaps and bounds better than expected. The lighter, smaller, aluminum mill better balances the car's weight and makes for a nimbler steer. That's correct, the V6 Mustang changes direction quite confidently. The chassis tackles turns quite well, and there's none of the twisting, clunking or falling down we've long associated with the bottom rung Mustang. If we have one complaint it's that the front springs are a little floppy. Meaning that at higher speeds the front-end floats and bobs around too much. Nothing catastrophic, but we would have liked a more tied down nose. For that, there's always the aftermarket. Of course, looser springs mean a more comfortable ride, and the V6 is certainly pleasant to drive.

Right, so Ford's transformed an uninteresting rental appliance into a legitimate performance car and kept the price down. A neat trick, but how on earth does this equate to "the most significant car released this year?" Here's how. Like they always do, automakers screamed bloody murder en masse and assured us that if a 35 mpg CAFE standard (i.e. fleet average) for 2020 became the law of the land, they would all immediately go bankrupt. Well, two of them did, but that's not related. Anyhow, here's Ford with a 305-hp vehicle that gets 31 mpg in March of 2010. Just imagine what the 2021 Mustang's numbers will be like! The point is that Ford's going to be able to easily meet a 35 mpg fleet average without sacrificing fun. That rocks, and is an undeniable challenge to the rest of the industry.

To further drive home the point, Ford's not even throwing its best kung fu at the 2011 Mustang V6. Its EcoBoost technology has been left on Dearborn's cutting room floor – for now. Even without turbocharging, we again implore you to imagine what this motor will be like when outfitted with mileage-enhancing direct injection (it's coming) or other fuel sipping tricks like cylinder deactivation and/or auto stop/start. 350 horsepower and 35 miles per gallon is not as ludicrous as it sounds. With Ford's newly found aggressive product cycle, we might even see stats like that in 2012. As it stands today, the 2011 Ford Mustang V6 is the entry level pony car to beat.

Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

V6 Sports Car Comparison – Click above for high-res image gallery

This comparison test couldn't have happened just a few short months ago. Sure, the Hyundai Genesis Coupe has been around since 2009. And not counting a seven-year walkabout, the Datsun/Nissan Z has been with us in one form or another since the first moon landing. Want to talk old? The Ford Mustang dates back to the invention of the wheel. At least it seems that way.

So why no comparison until now? Because until quite recently, Ford's entry level V6-powered Mustang was never really a sports car. The heavy, near impotent Cologne iron-block V6 was a joke, fit for little more than rental car duty, and it wasn't even terribly adept at that. But the non-V8 pony car has undergone some significant changes for 2011 – the biggest being its all-aluminum V6 producing 305 horsepower and 280 pound feet of torque – allowing it to finally hang with these two V6-powered competitors from across the Pacific.

At least on paper.

Read on to find out which V6-powered sports car reigns supreme. If you can't wait, skip right to the results.

Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

Looking at nothing but numbers, all three cars match up rather well. All have high-revving V6s that produce in excess of 300 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque. Aside from their potent mills, each ride comes with prima facie sports car stuff: rear-wheel drive, six-speed manual gearboxes and some form of manufacturer-supplied go fast/stop fast parts. For instance, all three cars featured strut tower braces. Better yet, all three lie within 200 pounds of each other.

Specifically, our blue 370Z tester has Nissan's Sport Pack that includes a limited slip differential, sychro-matching downshifts, and massive yet lightweight 19-inch forged RAYS wheels covered in sticky Bridgestone Potenza 245/40R/19 front rubber and 275/35R/19 in the rear. The Z also came equipped with upgraded NISMO brake pads. The Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 Track also sports a limited slip diff, 19-inch wheels and beefed up brakes – Brembo units, in fact. The Genny even featured the same performance Potenzas as the 370Z, only much narrower at 225/40R/19 up front and 245/40R/19 out back.

The Mustang, or as Senior Editor Lavrinc called it, the "Comparison Test Special" featured not a single interior option (honestly, the trim is called "Black Cloth"), yet came with the all-important $1,995 Performance Pack. This includes big 19-inch wheels slathered with Pirelli P-Zero 255/40/ZR19 rubber at all four corners, the same stiffened suspension found on the Mustang GT, the aforementioned strut-brace, heavy-duty brake pads and a limited slip differential tucked into a 3.31:1 rear-end. Once more, just lining these cars up numerically made this look like quite the comparison.

Looking at the cars side by side, it's a much different story. Nissan spilled much ink bragging about the 370Z's "golden ratio" wheelbase. Measuring a scant 99 inches from hub-to-hub and 167 inches long overall, the Z is visually much more compact that its two opponents, especially the glossy red Mustang. While the somewhat lumpen-looking Genesis coupe is actually within six inches of the big Ford's length (182 inches long for the Hyundai vs. 188 inches for the 'Stang), the Mustang is without question the visible heavyweight of the group. The scales bear this out. The two-seat Nissan is still the baby of the bunch, clocking in at a respectable 3,250 pounds. Both the Ford and the Hyundai offer rear seats (and the Mustang's are even inhabitable), inevitably adding to their curb weights. That would be 3,452 pounds for the American and 3,389 pounds for the Korean. To reiterate, while it is physically bigger than both the Nissan and the Hyundai, the Mustang looks it.

An important note about our methodology for this comparison. After some back and forth, we decided that this was to be a sports car competition. Meaning that while other factors will come into play, what would matter most at day's end would be the contestants' inherent sportiness. For instance, the Mustang absolutely dominates the Nissan 370Z in the cupholder department. But we weren't going to let fluff like that – or other trifling non-sequiturs such as day-to-day livability, comfort, ride quality or infotainment systems – interfere with our sporty pronouncement. That said, the bargain basement steering wheel on the Mustang felt like a Tupperware container. As fellow editor Harley commented, "How much does a piece of McDonalds cow leather cost?"

We headed out to a very good road in the canyons north of Los Angeles (Harley again: "A road in the top ninety-ninth percentile of all roads on earth!") and would each take back-to-back-to-back 25-mile runs in the cars. At the end, we'd put our skulls together and come up with a winner. Before we began, and because we were running on public roads with borrowed cars, Lavrinc cautioned all of us to "Keep 'em in your pants, boys." As you might imagine, within seconds, our trousers were unzipped. To paraphrase General Patton, we had precisely the right weapons at the right moment in history, and subsequently let it all hang out.

It quickly became obvious that the 370Z and its mighty 332-hp, 270-lb/ft VQ V6 was the stud. On the straights, it could easily pull away from both the Mustang and the Genesis Coupe. That said, the 305-hp Ford and 306-hp, 266-lb/ft Genesis were no slouches in the straight line department. But the Z's engine – and its lighter weight and rear tire-width advantage – simply outgunned the other two.

As fast as the Nissan went, we found the VQ to be overly harsh and buzzy. Same with the Hyundai's powerplant. In fact, both the Z and the Genesis Coupe had to be flogged harder to get at the grunt. Harley noted, "Annoying vibrations aside – and none of these six-cylinder engines would ever win a smoothness contest –

It turned out that we all agreed on the finishing order of our V6 sports cars.
the Mustang's new 3.7-liter V6 is my top choice. It delivered consistent power at the low end of the tach." Quite unlike the other two. In fact, both the Z and the Genny preferred to tackle the canyon in second gear, while the Mustang was much happier in third. As a result, the Ford was easier to drive and needed to be shifted less. The aluminum-engined Ford also won our informal Best Noise competition.

Of course, Harley wouldn't have gushed so hard over our chosen road it if just went straight. With the exception of one or two sections, the road bent mercilessly, with a series of fast lefts and rights for several miles until the stretch we dubbed "the Alpine Section," which was made up of super-tight, decreasing radius turns; huge sweeping circles; and even a tricky changing-elevation 180 that put each car's rear end through its paces. Then it was seven more miles on constant switchbacks. We all agreed that we liked the Genesis best in terms of feel, though Harley felt the Z was a very close second. The Hyundai's steering was light and precise, and the Genesis Coupe was the only car of the group that provided anything resembling feedback. It wasn't Porsche Boxster-like, but it also wasn't muted and heavy like the 370Z or comparatively dead-numb like the Mustang.

The Ford, however, surprised us with its fondness for corners and ability to keep up with both the Z and Hyundai over some severely twisted tarmac. In the same situation, a 2010 Mustang V6 would have rolled over and died. Harley was actually reluctant to drive the 2011 version, fearing he'd meet a similar fate, however, "Its flat cornering attitude had me running hard after just a few corners." The Mustang felt planted and the car's limits were surprisingly high, especially considering its size and history. However, when you did cross the Mustang's threshold, those same limits came up quickly. The other two cars were much more forgiving. Harley said, "Even though it was optioned with the so called 'Performance Package,' the Mustang wallowed too much – it still needs firmer shocks." We all felt the Mustang's bulk on the tight, constantly narrowing back road. While never a serious problem, the Ford's mass made for the sloppiest lines.

The 370Z, however, had the most grip. Lavrinc described its canyon manners as, "Hard. Core." And went on to say, "This is a vehicle designed for backroad bombing – and it shows in nearly every aspect." My own notes state, "GRIP - Big time, big league grip," while Harley commented that the rather harsh suspension tuning, "translated into excellent transitional handling when pushed hard – really hard."

The Genesis Coupe was somewhere in the middle, let down by its skinny tires. While the Nissan and the Ford just dug in and smoothly transitioned from corner to corner, the Hyundai squealed and bopped all over the place. It was without question the most taxing and tiring car of the three, yet paradoxically was also by far the most rewarding, fun and satisfying to drive. The 370Z was like driving a fist. Brutal, mean, unapologetic and somehow mindless. Our Mustang, despite its option-free skid row interior, was the closest to a luxury ride up in the canyons. Easygoing, nonchalant and almost effortless. Harley noted that the Mustang might very well be his pick for a daily driver, but the best of the three for a long distance run. The Genesis, by contrast, was the Goldilocks of the trio. It moved the right way, it's ride was firm without being jarring and was without question the sportiest feeling car on hand. On one run at the limits of both grip and sanity, I was thrilled by the Coupe's excellent moves. However, no matter how hard I pushed the Hyundai there was a bright blue 370Z (and Lavrinc's smile) up my tailpipe.

Aside from its undersized tires, the area where the Genesis Coupe fell down the hardest was its traction control system. While we were running our tests on a practically deserted stretch of road, 150-foot straight drops were all around us. Because of that, all of our testing was done with the traction control systems fully engaged. On a good run, the Z's yellow idiot light would flicker constantly, but its inputs and corrections were so subtle that you rarely noticed any actual electronic interference other than the blinky light. Similarly, the Mustang's upgraded nanny (part of the Performance Pack) was damn near ideally tuned. A dab of braking would get applied here and there, but you really didn't notice the corrections.

Not so for the Hyundai. Both Harley and myself felt we broke the Genesis Coupe on various runs. Somehow, all the pounding overwhelmed the car and it decided to stop working. Lavrinc determined that what was actually happening was the traction control coming down like Thor's hammer. Lavrinc explains, "If there were ever a vehicle in need of a two-stage TC setup, the Genesis Coupe is it. Coming out of several tight, second-gear turns the traction control would abruptly limit the engine's revs to 4,000 rpm, no matter the actual amount of throttle. The TC would shut the engine down for what felt like eons, but turned out to be three seconds. You could count it: Turn in, overcook it, throttle, flickering dash light and then 1...2...3... power!" Again, it was disconcerting to the point that two of us thought something was wrong with the car. A system this severe in its intervention has no place in a minivan, let alone a sports car.

All three cars featured good-but-not-great row-your-own transmissions. While we all appreciated the Nissan's high-tech auto-downshifting, we all turned it off after a few corners. The reason why is that if you're used to performing rev-matched downshifts yourself, you wind up over-throttling the engine – not to mention all three vehicles had perfectly placed pedals for heel-and-toe downshifting. That said, we all liked the Z's gearbox the best. Oddly, it was the sloppiest of the three, but somehow also the easiest to use – it just worked the best. The Hyundai's was the most masculine of the bunch and featured the longest throws. However, its clutch engaged so quickly (more like an on/off switch than a progressive meshing) that Harley and I wound up regularly stalling the car in first gear. The Mustang's six-speed was the crispest of the bunch, with the shortest throws. However, the throws were so short that downshifting from third to second-gear happened faster than you could reasonably let the clutch out, overwhelming the rear-wheels and sending the car into a tizzy. Says Harley, "I wasted too much time looking for gears."

Our trio all came with excellent (and optional) brakes. In fact, we felt that the Hyundai had more brakes than tires. It also had the best pedal feel. As a result, it was the most reassuring to drive. None of us had any confidence issues while stomping on the big Brembos. Though they did get hot to the point of not only smoking (after a particularly brutal run), but also heating up to the point where the brakes shut down the Coupe's traction control system. Sort of a mixed blessing. The Mustang's brakes astounded us because Fords traditionally have lousy brakes (Taurus SHO, anyone?) and these were anything but. Harley did note that the front calipers were the only single piston jobs of the bunch, and when they got hot, strange and unnerving vibrations would suddenly come shimmying up the steering wheel. That said, we were pushing the base Mustang much harder and longer than most V6 owners ever will. Like everything else about the 370Z, what the brakes lacked in feel they more than made up for in results. Said Harley, "The Nissan's brakes are the strongest – almost too good for a street car."

At the end of our runs, we sat down to a big, unhealthy breakfast and talked shop. As it turned out, we all agreed on the finishing order of our V6 sports cars. Third place goes to the Ford Mustang V6, The Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 gets second and the blue ribbon goes to the unflappable Nissan 370Z. Said Lavrinc, "I like a little sadomasochism in my cars, and the Z's rough nature and pavement punishing chops easily give it the win." Harley elaborates, "The 370Z is right at home in the canyons. Of the three, the Nissan arrived with the shortest wheelbase, lightest weight, lowest center of gravity, firmest suspension and it threw the most horsepower at its rear wheels." Simply and honestly put, the 370Z is the best sports car of the three, hands down.

However, and riddled with complications, there are several caveats to the Z's win. We all feel that with some tweaking, the Genesis Coupe might have prevailed in our comparison. Going into the day, we all had the suspicion that the Hyundai might just eek out the win. However, the car was massively under-tired compared to its competitors and featured a traction control system that's at least one generation out-of-date. While the 370Z, with its power and weight advantage, will remain the faster car, we felt that the Hyundai could take top honors by dint of its more communicative chassis, better steering and overall "fun to drive" character. But not this time.

Here's the real kicker: Our Nissan tester stickered for a whopping $9,000 more than the Mustang V6. At $34,605, the 370Z is also nearly $4,000 more than the $30,875 Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8. This means that our third place Mustang verdict comes with a big old asterisk. We knew the Ford was punching above its weight, but we didn't know exactly how much until we looked at the numbers. At $25,780 then, the 2011 Mustang V6 is something of a hero. Our point is this: if one were to pour $9,000 into a Mustang, not only would that tick nearly every single option box, but you would also get a 'Stang GT stuffed full of Ford's righteous new 5.0-liter Ti-VCT V8 with 412 hp and 392 lb-ft. Gussied up in that garb, and complete with a set of Brembos, we strongly suspect the Mustang GT would wipe the floor with the Genesis Coupe 3.8 and wholly humble the winning Nissan 370Z. But alas, that's another comparison.

Battle of the Sixes: Best V6 Sports Car

2010 Nissan 370Z
The first Datsun 240Z rolled into American showrooms in 1969. Four decades later, we've got our hands wrapped around the thick steering wheel of its direct descendant, the 370Z, which reigns supreme in this six-cylinder sports car comparison.
2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe
A surprisingly competent first stab at a sports car from the equally surprising Korean car maker. The best driving car of the test, yet one that's desperately in need of larger wheels.
2011 Ford Mustang V6
In the minds of most people, the Mustang hasn't changed all that much in the 4.5 decades since it was created... until now. Consider the new V6-powered 2011 model a revelation for Mustang fans.


More power, more refinement.


The Ford Mustang just keeps getting better. After a redesign for 2010, the 2011 Mustang gets two new engines, as well as new transmissions and improvements to ride, handling, and noise. So the 2011 Mustang represents a significant improvement over the superb 2010 edition of America's pony car, which was a large improvement over the 2004-2009 models, which was a major improvement over what came before that. 

The Mustang has been in continuous production for 46 straight years, and more than 9 million Mustangs have been built and sold to date. That gives the Mustang the longest production run of any single model in Ford history. 

The 2011 Ford Mustang comes in three body styles: coupe, convertible, and a glass-roof coupe. Each is available in both the traditional V6 model and the V8-powered Mustang GT. Both engines are much more powerful this year. 

The 3.7-liter V6 replaces the old 4.0-liter V6, the new one producing 305 horsepower versus just 210 horses from the older, bigger engine. The new V8 marks the return of the 5.0. An new all-aluminum engine, the 5.0-liter V8 in the Mustang GT produces 412 horsepower, which is far more than the 315 horsepower of the outgoing 4.6-liter V8. Both new engines for 2011 get new six-speed manual and automatic transmissions versus the five-speeds of 2010. 

The Ford Shelby GT500 gains power for 2011, with a new aluminum version of the 5.4-liter V8 producing 550 horsepower instead of the 500 ponies from the 2010 iron-block engine. We have not driven the new Shelby GT500. Yet. 

The 2011 engines transform the Mustang, providing the type of willing power pony car fans will love while improving fuel economy at the same time. The engines are lighter and the car has more rigidity, so the already impressive handling is that much better. 

The 2011 Mustang is also quieter and more refined than ever, and, more importantly, it's an absolute blast to drive. It is quick off the mark with a brawny sound, crisp handling, a tight suspension, and much improved brakes. Put simply, this is the best Mustang ever, and it is the model that other pony car makers should follow. 

In addition to the new engines and transmissions, the 2011 Mustang gets an additional front Z brace and a revised suspension to improve ride quality while also improving handling; new safety features including Ford's MyKey system, power side mirrors with integral blind spot mirrors, and fold-down rear headrests; electric power steering meant to improve fuel economy while also aiding steering feel; and new features, such as a Performance Package for V6 models and available Brembo brakes for the GT. 


The 2011 Mustang is offered in V6 Base and Premium models, V8-powered GT Base and Premium models, and the supercharged V8-powered GT500, each in coupe and convertible body styles. V6 models use a new 3.7-liter V6 that makes 305 horsepower. GT models have a new 5.0-liter V8 that produces 412 horsepower. The GT500s have an updated 5.4-liter V8 that produces 550 horsepower. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automatic is optional ($995) on all but the GT500. 

The Mustang V6 coupe ($22,145) comes standard with cloth upholstery, air conditioning, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, split folding rear seat, power mirrors, power windows, power door locks, remote keyless entry, AM/FM/CD player, auxiliary input jack, compass, outside-temperature indicator, theft-deterrent system, limited-slip differential, and P215/60R17 tires on alloy wheels. 

The Mustang V6 convertible ($27,145) features a power convertible top and deletes the split-folding rear seat, but it is otherwise equipped the same as the coupe. 

The Mustang GT coupe ($29,645) and Mustang GT convertible ($34,645) get everything above plus aluminum interior trim, automatic headlights, rear spoiler, fog lights, and P235/50WR18 front and 245/45WR18 rear tires. A Brembo Brake package ($1,695) adds Brembo brake calipers, reprogrammed electronic stability control that allows more leeway for performance driving, a tire mobility kit, and P255/40R19 tires. 

Premium versions of the V6 coupe ($25,845) and V6 convertible ($30,845) and GT coupe ($32,845) and GT convertible ($37,845) upgrade to leather upholstery, six-way power driver seat w/lumbar adjustment, aluminum interior trim, leather-wrapped steering wheel, Shaker 500 AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio, Sirius Satellite Radio, Ford Sync entertainment and communications system, iPod adapter, wireless cell phone link, MyColor adjustable gauges, ambient lighting, and an automatic day/night rearview mirror. 

The Shelby GT500 coupe ($48,645) and convertible ($53,645) come with leather/alcantara-wrapped steering wheel, leather/alcantara upholstery, xenon headlights, sport suspension, Brembo brakes, and P255/40ZR19 front and 285/35ZR19 rear tires. The GT500 does not have a split-folding rear seat. An SVT Performance Package ($3,495) for the Shelby includes a 3.73 rear axle ratio, unique shift knob, special exterior stripes, rear spoiler with Gurney flap, performance suspension with unique springs and rear shocks, P265/40ZR19 front and P285/35ZR20 rear tires on painted forged aluminum wheels. 

The V6 Performance Package adds a 3.31 rear axle ratio; the front and rear stabilizer bars, front struts, and rear shocks and springs from the GT coupe; the rear lower control arm from the Shelby GT500; 19-inch wheels with Pirelli performance tires; the brake calipers from the Mustang GT with Performance Friction pads; a strut tower brace; and electronic stability control calibration with a Sport mode for performance driving. There's a Sport Appearance package ($295) that just has the rear spoiler and body stripes. 

The Mustang Club of America Special Edition ($995) for the V6 Premium adds P235/50ZR18 tires on sterling gray metallic-painted alloy wheels, dark stainless painted billet grille with tri-bar pony badge, side tape stripes, decklid tape, rear spoiler, carpeted floormats with pony logo, and automatic headlights. 

The California Special ($1,995) edition for the GT Premium adds 19-inch painted alloy wheels, a chrome billet grille with tri-bar pony badge, unique lower front fascia with foglamps, pedestal spoiler, decklid badge with faux gas cap, instrument panel applique, carbon door panel inserts, carbon inserts for leather seating surfaces, carpeted floormats with logo, rear diffuser-style fascia, decklid tape and side scoops. 

A navigation system with voice recognition and real-time traffic information, and dual-zone automatic climate control come with the Electronics Group ($2,340). The Comfort Group ($595) adds heated front seats and a six-way power-adjustable front passenger seat. Other options include remote engine starting ($345), a rearview camera ($385), xenon headlights ($525), a convertible top boot ($160), Shaker 1000 audio ($1,295), polished alloy wheels ($495), hood and side stripes ($395), racing stripes ($475), 19-inch alloy wheels ($995), and a glass panel roof ($1,995). 

Safety equipment includes dual front airbags, front side airbags, tire-pressure monitor, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, and Ford's SOS post-crash alert system that unlocks the doors, turns on the four-way flashers and sounds the horn if an air bag is deployed. 


The 2005-09 Mustang featured a modern retro design with a front end that recalled the 1964-68 Mustang. With its 2010 redesign, Ford gave a nod to the 1969-70 Mustang with a new face that features a wider grille opening. 

Other elements of the redesign could be seen as tributes to the past. The coupe's fastback roofline, unchanged from the last generation, recalls the original 1964.5 Mustang. The chamfered three-element taillamps, which house sequential turn signals that blink from the inside lamp to the outside lamp, were first found on the 1964 Thunderbird, then the 1967-68 Shelby Mustangs and late '60s Mercury Cougars. And the hockey stick lower character line could be viewed as an homage to the lower portion of the side coves found on Mustangs from 1964 to '68. 

Compared to the last generation body style, Ford said the 2010 Mustang had 23 percent less aerodynamic lift at the front with a new slotted panel installed under the radiator to direct air, 50 percent better in front/rear lift balance, and seven percent less aerodynamic drag. For 2011, the company has lowered the front air dam and added a front splitter and an underbody aero shield to improve aerodynamics by another 4 percent. 

Ford took several steps to improve noise, vibration and harshness for the 2010 model year, and the company has done even more for 2011. Additional sound-deadening material on the instrument panel and a rear wheel arch liner help drivers hear the sounds they want (namely the engine) and avoid the sounds that can be a distraction (such as dash creaks and tire noise). 

The 3453-pound Mustang (3605 pounds for the GT) uses welded steel unibody construction with front and rear subframes to mount the steering and suspension systems, with almost half the body weight in high-strength low-alloy steel. It is by far the lightest of the new breed of pony cars, beating the Camaro by 300 pounds and the Dodge Challenger by as much as 500 pounds. The weight savings are a definite advantage. 

The convertible comes standard with a power top with a glass rear window. The top uses two latches that the driver must operate, but they're within arm's reach and they latch and unlatch easily. 


Anyone who hasn't been in a Mustang for a couple of years will want to take a look at the 2011 model. The interior was much improved for 2010 and there are even more improvements for 2011. The front bucket seats are significantly more comfortable and better looking than the slabs used in the 2009 models, though they could still use more lateral support. The aforementioned noise, vibration and harshness improvements have made what was once a rather loud car pleasingly quiet, though the Mustang's all-American pony car rumble is still audible to drivers and onlookers alike. 

The interior design benefits considerably from the 2010 improvements. The 2005-2009 Mustang was notorious for its poor interior. What it lacked in soft-touch surfaces it more than made up for in cheap, hollow plastics. This time around, the throwback look is very much the same but the execution is far better. The dash top itself is now a one-piece soft-touch panel versus the hard multi-piece version of prior years. Real aluminum is used on the fascias, pedal covers, scuff plates and shifter knob instead of plastic. Interior ambient lighting in the door pockets, cupholders and footwells is a welcome interior feature, and the lighting colors can be changed through a range of 125 colors with the flip of a switch with Ford's MyColor system. 

The look of the cabin is especially impressive when the Premium Trim with Color Accents package is ordered. This includes leather-upholstered sport bucket seats with cashmere accents running down the middle, as well as a dark aluminum instrument panel and unique door inserts. The available leather-clad steering wheel is a massive affair with six brushed metal spokes in three groups of two, with cruise control switches and controls for the sound system. 

The Mustang also has a few options and amenities you might not expect, including a rearview camera, Ford's Sync voice-activated entertainment and communications system (which includes an iPod/mp3 player interface), Sirius satellite radio, and a navigation system with Sirius Travel Link. 

The news isn't all good, though. There are still elements of the interior that could benefit from sturdier materials. The gauge surrounds, in particular, still look like cheap albeit chromed plastic. Ford says it used Audi interiors as aspirational benchmarks for the Mustang. If that's the case, they didn't clear the bar. Audi interiors are among the best on the market, and the Mustang, while fun and much better than in the past, really isn't close. 

Most drivers should find a comfortable seating position, though we would like a telescoping feature for the steering wheel. There is plenty of head and leg room up front for most drivers, and the Mustang's sight lines are impressive. The side mirrors add blind spot mirrors in their upper, outer corners this year. We found this simple and cheap solution works quite well, and the mirrors are wide enough to provide a good rear view otherwise. The coupe's rear pillars don't intrude much in over-the-shoulder visibility, but it's hard to see out the back in the convertible with the top up. Coupe or convertible, the Mustang does not have the high beltline of its main competitor, the Chevrolet Camaro, and this is an advantage for the Mustang. The lower beltline makes for better visibility to the sides. This advantage became especially noticeable in an autocross. We could easily see the cones from inside the Mustang, but not from inside the Camaro. 

The Mustang's two-passenger rear seat is not a place for adults. Head room is limited by the rake of the coupe roof, and leg room is minimal. You could get an average size adult back there, but he/she won't want to stay there long. It's a better place for the kids. 

The trunk has 13.4 cubic feet of cargo space, which is pretty decent for a car this size. The opening isn't particularly big and the liftover is rather high, but the coupe's fold-down rear seats allow owners to carry an impressive amount of cargo. 

Driving Impression

The big news for 2011 is the Mustang's new power. Gone are the antiquated 210-horsepower, single overhead cam 4.0-liter V6 and the heavy but effective 315-horsepower sohc 4.6-liter V8. They have been replaced by two lighter, more modern, more powerful and more fuel efficient engines. 

The new 3.7-liter V6 is a dual-overhead cam engine that makes 305 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 280 pound-feet of torque at 4250 rpm. Those numbers are close to those of the outgoing V8. Fuel economy is also better, thanks in part to new six-speed manual and six-speed automatic transmissions for 2011 to replace the previous five-speeds. 

Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 19 mpg city and 31 highway with the automatic and 19/29 mpg with the manual (versus 16/24 mpg and 18/26 mpg for the 2010 V6). 

Ford wouldn't provide 0-60 acceleration times for either engine, but we suspect the V6 can get there in less than 6.0 seconds, which is about a second quicker than the old engine. The new engine sounds great, too, emitting a muscular American growl. Both new transmissions work well with the engine. An autocross course revealed that the automatic's gears are spaced a little tighter than those in the Chevy Camaro. The result was more willing response in lower gears at low speeds. Basically, it means that power is there when you want it. The manual works well, too, but the shifter doesn't have quite the satisfyingly positive action that enthusiast drivers might like. We also found the clutch is a bit hard to modulate in first and second gears, making for some jerky starts. 

The Mustang GT is even better. The 5.0 designation is important in Mustang history. The 1969-'70 Boss 302 displaced 5 liters, and in the 1980s, Ford resurrected pony car muscle with a 5.0-liter V8. That engine later gave way to the 4.6 V8 that was used until last year. For 2011, Ford introduces an all-new dual-overhead cam 5.0-liter V8 that puts all of its predecessors to shame. Not only does this engine have 97 more horsepower and 65 more pound-feet of torque than the outgoing 4.6, but it also weighs about 100 pounds less to improve handling, and gets better fuel mileage. 

The 5.0 transforms the Mustang into a muscular pony car with power to spare. It will easily smoke the tires with the manual or automatic transmission and it provides a big kick in the pants when floored from a stop. Passing is just a matter of a twitch of your throttle foot, and the whole experience is backed by a glorious rumbling soundtrack that is distinctly American. 

With the new V8, Ford has caught and possibly surpassed the usable power of the Chevrolet Camaro SS. While previous Mustangs just couldn't keep up with GM's 427-horsepower 6.2-liter V8, the 5.0 makes the new Mustang just as fast or quicker from 0 to 60 mph and in a quarter mile. At the press introduction, Ford provided Mustang GTs and Camaro SSs with automatic transmissions to drive in a 1/8-mile drag race. The Mustang was consistently about a half-second faster than the Camaro. 

Over the past two years, the Mustang chassis has been upgraded and stiffened, which means it rides tauter, turns in quicker and has less pitch, dive and body roll than any previous Mustang. A front Z brace was added for 2011, helping to increase torsional rigidity by 15 percent. 

Antilock brakes, traction control and AdvanceTrac yaw control are standard on all models. For track work, both the traction control and the yaw control can be turned off (but not the ABS), and there is a Sport mode which allows higher handling limits before traction and yaw controls are called in to save the day. 

The Mustang GT is an absolute blast to drive. The car has a fairly light, tossable feel and it responds quickly to driver inputs. It is very willing to attack turns, with the new electronic power steering providing a light but natural feel. The car is extremely quick to transition from left to right and back again with a minimum of body roll, dive or pitch in the suspension. The brakes are larger for 2011, and the Brembo brake package adds larger brakes that should be the choice for anyone who wants to take their car to the track or drive regularly on twisty mountain roads. And the sound and power of the V8 is fantastic. 

Formerly a glorified rental car, the V6 model is now nearly as much fun to drive as the GT. A new Performance Package for the 2011 Mustang V6 includes the GT suspension and an additional strut brace. 

The convertible benefits from more structural rigidity for 2011. The changes include a tower-to-tower front strut brace, a stiffened V-brace, the addition of the aforementioned front Z-brace, added A-pillar stiffening foam, and a stronger secondary crossmember. These changes make the ragtop much more solid than in the past and even stiffer than competitors from Infiniti and Lexus. That translates to competent handling, though the stiffer coupe remains the choice for the ultimate in handling and chassis rigidity. 

In short, the Mustang is the best it's ever been and is the model for pony car sportiness and power. The only drawback remains the solid rear axle, which can cause a busy ride on bumpy roads because jolts to the rear axle are transmitted from side to side. An independent rear suspension would deal with bumps much better as it would isolate road imperfections. That's a small price to pay considering how much better the rest of the car is. 


The 2011 Ford Mustang is at the front of the pack when it comes to performance per dollar. The 2011 Mustang V6 handles quite well and delivers power close to last year's V8. The GT is quicker, faster, quieter and more refined than any V8 Mustang ever. With its updated engines, the Mustang no longer has to take a back seat to the accomplished engines in the Chevrolet Camaro or Dodge Challenger SRT8, plus it weighs less than those rivals and provides much better handling. The 2011 Mustang has more features, more comfort, and more sheer performance than any previous production Mustang, and it's priced to sell. 

Jim McCraw filed this report from Los Angeles. Kirk Bell contributed from Los Angeles. 

Model Lineup

Ford Mustang coupe ($20,995), convertible ($25,995); Mustang GT coupe ($27,995), convertible ($32,995); Shelby GT500 coupe ($46,325), convertible ($51,325). 

Assembled In

Flat Rock, Michigan. 

Options As Tested

Electronics Package with Navigation ($2,340) with navigation system with voice recognition and real-time traffic information, and dual-zone automatic climate control; Comfort Group ($595) with six-way power passenger seat, heated front seats; rear spoiler delete ($-200); 3.73:1 rear axle ratio ($395); HID headlights ($525); Brembo brake package ($1,695) with Brembo brake calipers, Sport version of electronic stability control, tire mobility kit, and P255/40R19 tires; GT Coupe Accessory Package 1 ($720) with quarter window louvers, side scoops and decklid face panel; Security Package ($395) with anti-theft system, wheel locks. 

Model Tested

Ford Mustang GT coupe Premium ($32,845). 

*The data and content on this web site is subject to change without notice. Neither AOL nor any of its data or content providers shall be liable for errors in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

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