The 2011 Ford Mustang (Ford).

Ford Motor Company introduced their Mustang in 1964. Many credit Ford with creating a new class of car affectionately dubbed The Pony Car. General Motors quickly entered the corral with their Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird. Chrysler fielded with the Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Barracuda. Even AMC posted with their Javelin and AMX.

Equine geneticists at the Ford's HQ quickly began to refine their breed of steed. The process continued relentlessly for the 47 years. Some offspring were more lovable than others (anybody remember the Pinto-based Mustang II? That was not one of our favorites).

To find out what Ford had been up to, we recently took their newest foal for a good, hard ride.

A Two-Year Makeover
Those who follow autos may be wondering why we're bothering to look at the 2011 Mustang. The car was virtually all-new in 2010, with an exterior and interior that were seriously overhauled. While these changes significantly improved the Mustang, the car was still powered by older engines that were no longer competitive in terms of fuel economy and power output.

The big news for 2011 is that Ford force-fed huge helpings of radioactive oats to the entire Mustang family. Now their pony car has the performance to match its new-in-2010 looks.

See more 2011 Mustang pictures Photo by Drew Phillips / Copyright 2010 Weblogs, Inc.

V-6 with 305 horsepower and 31 mpg
Technology is a wonderful thing. Never before in the history of automobiles have manufacturers offered so much power with such high fuel economy.

Camaro fans got bragging rights when their 2010 model launched with GM's excellent 3.6-liter V-6 engine. It produced 304 horsepower and achieved a minimum of 17 mpg city, 29 mpg highway. For 2010, Ford's decades' old V-6 - actually an engine designed for trucks - could only muster 240 horsepower with fuel economy of 16/26 mpg for the five-speed automatic, and 18/26 mpg for the five-speed manual. Advantage GM.

For 2011, Ford pulled ahead of GM by a nose. The Mustang's new V-6 is the sophisticated 3.7-liter V-6 first seen in the Lincoln MKT and MKS models. When equipped with a six-speed manual transmission, the 305-horsepower engine achieves 19 mpg city and 29 mpg highway. Pick the automatic and highway mpg increases to 31.

For those who haven't memorized EPA numbers, the highway figures bests plenty of four-cylinder economy cars, including the Scion tC, Mitsubishi Lancer, Nissan Sentra, Mazda3, and the Toyota Corolla. Ford Marketing Manager Amy Marentic told us, "One part of our research to develop the 2011 Mustang was to find out why people didn't buy the previous car. Fuel economy was one of the most mentioned reasons. We've got it now."

Proving that Ford didn't sacrifice performance to get the mileage, engineers estimate V-6 Mustangs should accelerate to 60 mph in just over six seconds for the manual, and one click more for the six-speed automatic. This out runs decades of V-8 powered Mustangs. Quarter-mile acceleration should be solidly in the 14-second range.

On the road the V-6 Mustang with a base price of $22,145 is a great drive. We spent most of our time behind the wheel of a coupe equipped with a manual six-speed transmission and the Performance Package.

Putting the spurs to the V-6 makes the car leave the gates like a spooked horse. The V-6's power comes on strong, but the engine is refined, something you'd expect given its use in Lincolns.

The abundance of power clearly made itself known when I rolled on the throttle in third gear at the beginning of a long straightaway. The Mustang just kept building speed. The engine revs easily to its power peak at 6,500 rpm. Maximum engine speed is 7,000 rpm!

The action of the six-speed manual is smooth. The shift gate is tight, so it takes some getting used to. Upgraded brakes help manage the velocities achieved by the new engine.

Because the aluminum V-6 is light, the car felt especially agile and responsive when driving through the mountains north of Malibu, California. Unlike the original pony cars, the latest generation is capable of doing much more than just going fast in a straight line.

With such excellent performance, why would anybody want a V-8?

Some people won't. Marentic explained, "People who want a sporty car with great fuel economy won't be interested in the V-8. Additionally, some people don't want to pay the extra insurance premiums that go along with a V-8."

See more 2011 Mustang GT pictures Photo by Drew Phillips / Copyright 2010 Weblogs, Inc.

V-8 with 412 horsepower and 26 mpg
As good as the V-6 Mustang is, Ford is banking on over 40-percent of buyers opting for the V-8. Here's why

The engine is also all new and builds on almost half a century of Ford small-block V-8 history. To help define the goals for the new engine, Ford again put GM in its engineering crosshairs.

The Camaro's 6.2-liter V-8 produces a maximum of 426-horsepower when backed by a manual, and 400-hp when attached to an automatic. The Mustang's big five-oh churns out 412 regardless of transmission. Torque is 390 lb.ft. Looking at the numbers, one could feel bad for those who bought the 2010 Mustang GT with only 315 hp.

This power directly translates into way more performance. With the six-speed manual transmission and optional performance-oriented 3.71:1 rear axle ratio (3.31:1 is standard), the new Mustang GT flat out flies to sixty mph in under five seconds. If you stay on the throttle and shift competently, the quarter mile blasts by in a bit over 13 seconds and the show doesn't stop until the car reaches V-max at 145 mph. This new pony has some legs.

Properly controlling the V-8's power took more than one try from your author. The engine builds its speed so quickly that the first time I cracked the whip I wasn't ready to move the cue-ball styled manual shifter fast enough. A moment after hitting the throttle the tachometer needed was bouncing around 7,000 rpm. The V-8 was revving against its protective rev limiter. When my brain caught up with reality, I finally realized that I needed to shift, hit second sloppily, and hoped no one noticed my gaff.

Once ready for explosiveness of the acceleration, the Mustang GT delivers speed in huge helpings. Traction control and Ford's electronic stability control (AdvanceTrac) are both standard. Until drivers get used to this Mustang's speed, we recommend leaving them both engaged.

While the new Camaro uses an independent rear suspension (IRS), the Mustang makes no apologies about its solid rear axle. Derided as being primitive, the setup works really well. Years of development have yielded a rear suspension design that puts the power down and works well in corners (where IRS designs have historically held an advantage). The tried-and-true design works fine, and experienced drivers can easily steer the Mustang GT with the throttle.

See more 2011 Mustang pictures Photo by Drew Phillips / Copyright 2010 Weblogs, Inc.

Electric Power Assisted Steering
Even though the pony car is a throwback class of vehicle, that didn't stop Ford from endowing it with new technologies. For the first time ever, the Mustang uses electric power assisted steering (EPAS). As a technology, EPAS has been around for years because it requires less power to operate than traditional hydraulic power steering units. EPAS helps boost a vehicle fuel economy.

While a bump in mpg is good, in most applications, enthusiasts haven't liked the way EPAS units actually work. They tend to feel "fake," delivering artificial steering feel that closer to a video game than a sports car.

There's nothing fake feeling about the Mustang's EPAS rack-and-pinion unit. The steering responds immediately and in an intuitive manner. Dial in a little steering wheel movement, and get a precisely measured bit of turn. Yanking the wheel gets a predictably bigger result.

The weight of the steering is also spot-on. Our only gripe is that the steering lacks feedback, something enthusiasts genuinely appreciate. Some steering systems transmit what's going on at the tire with exceptional clarity. The Mustang's doesn't, but most drivers won't even notice because the rest of the package is so good.

Performance Hardware
Regardless of engine, the Mustang is well equipped with dedicated performance hardware. For example, a limited slip differential is standard on all models. This boosts control, especially on slippery roads.

Dual exhaust pipes are also standard regardless of engine. The systems are "true duals" that have been tuned to minimize mpg-robbing exhaust pressure and maximize the quality of sound coming out the pipes.

The 2011 Mustang V-6 is also available with the Performance Pack. This option includes a range of hardware bits from the V-8-powered Mustang GT including brake calipers, struts, shocks, and sway bars. The package also includes 19-inch aluminum wheels, grippy summer-only compound Pirelli tires, front strut tower brace, a Sport mode setting for the AdvanceTrac system.

Drivers who want to hustle a V-8 Mustang can get the Brembo Brake Pacakge. This makes the powerful brakes from the impressive 2010 Shelby GT500 available on the mainstream GT.

See more 2011 Mustang pictures Photo by Drew Phillips / Copyright 2010 Weblogs, Inc.

Less Noise, More Refinement
Charting the Mustang's evolution, earlier models weren't the most comfortable or refined vehicles. Ford has seen the customer base for Mustang expand dramatically over the years, and realized that to satisfy more drivers of all ages and income levels, their pony car couldn't be coarse, noisy, rough, or unrefined.

Ford's grooming for 2011 included adding significant amounts of insulation and noise blockers. These add a sense of quality to the Mustang's interior, and the quieter interior helps Ford's Sync voice control system work better. (It's easier for the system to understand commands when the interior environment is free from road and wind noise.)

Sync, MyColor, NAV and MyKey
While some buyers might look at the Mustang as being a nostalgic vehicle, Ford doesn't think of its pony that way. In addition to making it more refined for older buyers, the company is making sure that the car has technology inside that interests young drivers.

Sync - developed with Microsoft to help reduce driver distractions - is extremely popular with younger drivers. It comes grouped in the Mustang's Premium Package. With it, drivers have wireless hands-free access to their cell phones, PDAs and MP3 players. Using Sync, drivers can press a single button on the steering wheel to initiate a cell phone call. Say "Call home," and the cell phone in your purse or pocket automatically dials and pipes the audio through the vehicle's audio system. Sync can also read incoming text messages.

MP3 players are controlled similarly. Sync's voice-recognition can identify song titles and artists on iPods, other MP3 devices, cell phones and PDAs. No more digging for the unit in the console, fumbling with the controller or reading its tiny screen in an effort to find your favorite songs.

Ford recently expanded Sync's capabilities. The system can access directions from MapQuest, tag songs for later purchase on iTunes, and can also dial 9-1-1 in the event of a serious accident.

While it may seem like a total non-essential, the Premium Package also includes MyColor. The system lets drivers pick the color of the interior's ambient lighting as well as the color of the gauges. Colorblind guys will appreciate being able to switch gauge coloring to something with plenty of contrast so they actually read the instruments. Everybody else will just think it's cool.

See more 2011 Mustang GT pictures Photo by Drew Phillips / Copyright 2010 Weblogs, Inc.

The 2011 Mustang hasn't yet been crash tested by the NHTSA or the IIHS. However, test results of the 2010 Mustangs yielded five-star results, the highest attainable. Since the 2011 model is stiffer in key areas, results for the newest Mustang should be just as good.

Front airbags are standard, as are driver and front-passenger side airbags. Anti-lock brakes, stability control, and traction control provide dynamic assist drivers trying to avoid an accident.

Evaluating the Breed
So after a two-year gestation period, a completely all-new Mustang is ready for delivery. Ford dramatically increased the car's performance while simultaneously improving its day-to-day livability.

Evolution is a very good thing.

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