First Drive: 2011 Ford Mustang GT changes the game

Changes you can't see include a whole host of NVH improvements, namely rear wheel liners, eight sound absorbers and hood liner insulation that all add up to a surprisingly quiet vehicle. Some might say too quiet as you can't hear the 5.0 burble, but we'll disagree. Overhead cam engines don't really burble the way cam-in-block mills do anyway. Put it this way, day-to-day livability has been greatly increased. Besides, once you open the V8's taps, the cabin is quickly filled with the sort of soundtrack that gearheads dream about. Ford has retained the 2010 Mustang GT's sound resonators, and the noise is even more blissful in 2011. In fact, above 3,500 rpm you're treated to a very finely balanced stereo mix of induction and exhaust noise. Trust us, you'll love it once you get on it.

Speaking of getting on it, the 7,000 rpm redline begs you to do just that. An all-new six-speed (finally!) manual further encourages you to bash the motor all you like. There's also a new six-speed automatic that's okay (though it does lack paddle shifters), but we spent exactly 17.5 seconds driving the auto version (that's two blasts down an eighth-mile drag strip), so you'll need to do your own research if you're not interested in rowing your own. If you are, the new six-speed manual is pretty good, though we'd prefer a short-throw kit. We also had occasional trouble coming down into second and/or fourth. We suspect this is mostly due to the shift lever's long throw, which again would be fixed by a short throw kit. That said, the new transmission doesn't seem to mind abuse.

The same can be said for the brakes. We drove both the stock brake GT and the Brembo-kitted version. As far as the regular brakes go, Ford saw fit to provide a bigger brake booster and for the first time in my car reviewing career, I have nothing negative whatsoever to say about Ford brakes. They're actually pretty good, and the Brembos are that much better. If you spend a lot of time hooning it up on windy canyon roads or at the track, go for the ain't-gonna-fade 14-inch Brembos. If you just like roasting fools at stop lights, the standard brakes are more than fine.

Time to put it all together. I found myself actually saying, "This engine's a pot of honey." Out loud, with another human being in the car. Why would anyone make such a ridiculous statement? Probably because the new motor really is a pot of honey, specifically when you're in fourth gear at 4,000 rpm and you bury the throttle. Turns out that 4,000 rpm is when peak torque (390 lb-ft) happens and the 5.0-liter V8 pulls like a jet airliner. Outside of the GT500 or a very breathed-upon Roush/Saleen, we've never experienced this kind of at-speed acceleration in a Mustang. Very impressive, and more than just impressive, a bit intoxicating. From a standstill, the 5.0 is every bit as superb. We won't be surprised if and when the 2011 Mustang GT breaks into the high 12s running the quarter-mile with a trap in the 112-mph range. Ford went all "no comment" when asked about performance figures, but again we'll speculate that 0-60 mph is probably mid-4s, which is quick by any method of accounting.

Our one serious gripe with the new V6 Mustang was the floaty front end, especially at high speeds. No such gripe with the GT. Not only is the front of the V8 much stiffer than its smaller, lighter sibling, but the entire car has been hardened by 15 percent compared to the 2010 model. Not only does this help handling, but triple-digit stability is impressive, words we thought we'd never type about a run-of-the-mill Mustang GT. But here we are.

Also improved for 2011 is the GT's handling. 2010 was something of a breakout year for the Mustang, as Ford finally committed itself to building a Mustang that goes left and right as well as it goes straight. Not only is the 2011 Mustang GT happy to turn into a corner, once you're flirting around with the apex you won't find yourself making loads of corrections. Put another way, the suspension is able to handle whatever you throw at it, and the steering feel is good enough that you only have to measure and cut once. As far as the never ending live rear end vs. independent suspension argument goes, we're saying the following: The 2011 Ford Mustang GT sports the very best solid rear axle in the world. We'd rather have the best solid axle than a mediocre multi-point rear. Hint, hint, Chevy. 'Nuff said.

The bottom line is this: Ford is done messing around. With the release of the 2011 Mustang GT 5.0 there are no more "Yeah, but..." reasons to buy any other pony car. Only serious Mopar-philes would choose the drastically more expensive and substantially worse Dodge Challenger SRT-8 over the Mustang GT. Aside from looks, we can't think of a single area where the similarly priced but slightly more expensive Chevy Camaro SS beats the Mustang. Speed, handling, soundtrack, brakes, interior (the GT is actually creeping into Audi levels of interior sophistication – look at those seats!), fit and finish – you name it, the Mustang's the superior sports car.

Speaking of Audi, the 5.0 makes the 354-hp S5 look like an overpriced slowpoke. We've driven both cars in anger and the 2011 Mustang GT is not only faster, but is actually rear-wheel drive, not a FWD platform fitted with Quattro all-wheel drive. Want us to go even further? We'd prefer the Mustang GT to a BMW 650i. Sure, the BMW has dash leather and... iDrive. But (again), the GT makes more power (the 650i manages 360 hp), handles better and is quieter unless you're really belting the throttle. Also, Sync's a whole lot better than iDrive, even the much improved new iDrive. Not only that, but the GT's new 5.0-liter V8 engine is in another league than (previous) competitors like the Nissan 370Z and Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8. Getting the point? In 2011, the Mustang GT is the car to beat. Welcome back, 5.0.

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

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