First Drive: 2010 Ford Mustang GT

Click above for high-res image gallery of the 2010 Ford Mustang GT

It's a new day and we all know what that means! Yet another post about the Mustang. Most of us here at Autoblog are unabashed Mustang fans. So when the call comes from Dearborn to drive yet another new Mustang, we invariably set about rearranging schedules. Such was the case last week. No sooner had we returned to frost-bitten Detroit after the LA Auto Show than the call came to return to SoCal. It was time to take the 2010 Mustang off the LA Convention Center stand and out into what passes for the real world in these parts.

Before we hopped into the updated Mustangs, Ford wanted to give us a refresher on what was being left behind. We were supplied with 2009 models to drive from our hotel to the staging area in Malibu. Anyone who has ever spent time in a 2005-09 Mustang is immediately aware that the weak link is its interior. In a word, it looked and felt cheap. The order of the day for the new 2010 model is refinement. Find out after the jump if Ford has made a Mustang worthy of competing in the now crowded class of modern day muscle cars.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.

When the S197 Mustang debuted as a 2005 model, it was actually the first Mustang ever to get its own purpose built platform that wasn't shared with any other Ford product. The Mustang has always been a solid selling car for Ford, which is why it's been produced uninterrupted for nearly 45 years. Nonetheless, the Mustang engineering team was working with a budget when that 2005 model was being developed. As a result, they put the focus on the mechanical bits at the expense of some of the touchy-feely stuff.

The result was easily the best driving Mustang ever, if not necessarily the best working environment for the driver. The 2010 model is clearly not an all new car. It is, however, a very significant refresh. The hard plastics that comprised the old dashboard are now gone, replaced with soft touch materials and real aluminum trim. The basic design concept remains but has evolved into something more grown up and functional, as well as more attractive.

When we revealed the new Mustang a few weeks ago, some of you complained that the exterior had hardly changed and wondered what all the fuss was about. Clearly the new version still looks like a Mustang, but when you put them side by side the differences become much more stark. The 2005 model was a huge leap forward and at the same time backward when it debuted. We still think it looks great and embodies what a Mustang should be with its long hood, short deck proportion, forward leaning grille and deeply set headlights.

Park it next to the new Mustang, though and the current model looks almost boxy by comparison. The DNA is there, but the even more aggressive nose, curved rear shoulders, more contoured flanks and chamfered rear corners take it to a whole new level. Call us fanboys if you must, for we surely are, but we definitely love this updated look. I say that having plunked down my own hard earned cash on a 2005 model soon after that car launched, which I still own.

After chief engineer Tom Barnes again reviewed the new Mustang's highlights, it was time to drive. Drew Phillips and I were handed the keys to a Kona Blue GT with the "Track Pack" and a 5-speed manual transmission. My own Mustang is one of the comparatively rare Sonic Blue versions and I've never been fond of the Vista Blue that replaced it in 2006. The Kona Blue is much more like Sonic but even darker, and if I were spending my cash again would opt for this color.

Ford had a Grabber Blue example for us when we went into the design studio to photograph the 2010 Mustang before LA Auto Show, and that's the same car Drew chose to shoot for this story. The Grabber Blue was less than enthralling under studio lighting with many details of the new body work getting lost. Out in the California sunshine, though, it was a whole different story. The rest of the new color pallet including the Gold and Dark Metallic Red are also stunners.

Enough about the crayon box, what is the 2010 Mustang like to drive? The key word is refinement. Refinement can be a double edged sword, though. Refining something too much can sap the life out of it. Wonder Bread is made from highly refined wheat and also flavorless. Give us a loaf of hand-made sourdough, rustic or paesano any day.

Just like a good loaf of bread, a car's character can be found in some of its rough edges. The sound and the feel of it. The heart of a car like the Mustang is its engine. You want to hear it rumble and sense the slight vibration as it turns over. Barnes' team has refined those elements of the Mustang that don't enhance its character in order to amplify those that do. Changes like reshaping the mirrors, moving the radio antenna from the front fender to the rear quarter and moving the windshield washer nozzles behind the trailing edge of the hood all cut wind noise inside the cabin. The result is that the sonic signature of the Mustang's 4.6L V8 has now been enhanced.

The new car has 3.5-inch tail pipes from which emanate a wonderful rumble when the engine is opened up. Once we turned off Pacific Coast Highway to head up through Topanga Canyon, we were still stuck behind some slow moving traffic. We backed off to fall away from the traffic, dropped the windows and a couple of gear ratios and floored it. The song that echoed off the canyon walls would make the heart of any performance car fan melt. A deep, throaty exhaust note emerged with no hint of drone. It's the kind of thing that makes you thankful for $1.50 gas, because you can keep stabbing the throttle to hear it again without wallet remorse.

After what seemed like an eternity behind slow poke SUVs wasting curves we would kill for in Michigan, we finally got some relatively open space to run. However, it wasn't until we saw the sign along Mulholland with the squiggly line and "Next 2 Miles" message that we could truly appreciate what the Mustang engineering team has wrought from this seemingly unsophisticated chassis.

We hear the constant nattering about the Mustang not having an independent rear suspension. Frankly, it's quite simple. It doesn't need it. Most of the people who race Mustangs do it on drag strips where a live axle is the best weapon. Elsewhere, Mustang FR500s have been winning consistently in the Grand Am series for the last several years.

Along Mulholland Drive, the 2010 Mustang GT proved to be very neutral with nary a hint of understeer. The brakes dissipated speed with a firm, easily modulated pedal and squeezing the throttle blasted the car away from apexes. Body roll was held to a minimum and the 'Stang had excellent mechanical grip. There was some pretty rough pavement along our drive route, but the chassis kept the tires firmly planted on the ground following whatever contours were there. There was none of the dreaded side-stepping typically associated with rear-drive live-axle cars.

The car we drove was equipped with the optional Track Pack that adds retuned springs, dampers, bushings and upgraded brake linings. The Track Pack also includes 19-inch summer tires in place of the usual all-season rubber. In spite of the more performance oriented tuning, the ride remained comfortable on even the roughest pavement we encountered.

Despite this being a driving report, we have to mention that the new interior is also a huge step forward for the Mustang. The new shape of the console and door arm-rests is a welcome change and the chamfered spokes on the steering wheel make it more comfortable to hold. One thing we'd like to see further improved is the seats. The front seats are comfortable and offer decent thigh support, but they could use more lateral support. An optional sport seat would also be a welcome addition.

No V6 models were available for us to drive, but that's just fine. The 2010 Mustang GT is every bit as good as our previous favorite Mustang, the 2008 Bullitt, but with a much improved interior. Now the 2010 model is the best production Mustang ever, and barring any big price increase, will remain the best performance car bargain on the road. Now where did I put that Wilson Pickett CD?

Photos Copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.

Our travel and lodging for this media event was provided by the manufacturer.

Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own — we do not accept sponsored editorial.

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