2009 Mustang New Car Test Drive
The Ford Mustang defined the pony car segment in 1964 and was a runaway sales success. It helped create a niche that exploded in popularity with the Camaro, Firebird, Barracuda, Cougar, Javelin, and Challenger. They're all gone now, leaving the Mustang with no direct competition, at least for now.
Fortunately, today's Mustang, introduced three years ago, is a superb example of the genre. The Mustang GT comes with a 300-hp V8 and is an absolute hoot to drive, making all the right sounds, hanging onto corners tenaciously, and delivering thrilling acceleration performance. The American pony car has never been better than the current Mustang GT.
The Mustang is available as a coupe or convertible. The Mustang V6 Deluxe is a nice cruiser and its 4.0-liter V6 engine is a solid performer, all for around $20,000. But the Mustang GT is what the Mustang is all about and the basis of the legend.
For 2008, a new Bullitt model joins the herd. Faithfully styled to celebrate the hero car in the famous chase scene starring Steve McQueen, the 2008 Mustang Bullitt is tuned to a higher level than the standard GT. Some media have positioned the Bullitt as nothing more than a hopped up Mustang, but that sells what's going on here a bit short. Rather than simply bolting on some modifications and re-tuning the setup, Ford took the higher road, thoroughly re-engineering and painstakingly massaging the Bullitt to attain its additional performance. In other words, they did it the hard way, the right way. Ford used technology learned from development of the Shelby cars, and the chief engineer for the Mustang says technology gained from the development of the Bullitt will be used in the next-generation Mustang. In any case, the Bullitt is more responsive than the Mustang GT. We found the Bullitt to be superbly balanced, making for a more enjoyable, more sophisticated car to drive on a daily basis, a car that responds beautifully to the driver's whims. Ford plans to build about 7,000 Bullitt models.
For 2008, three Shelby models are available: The 319-hp Shelby GT comes in coupe and convertible form along with the 540-hp Shelby GT500KR coupe. The Shelby GT500 offers near-Corvette performance and we found it easy to drive, and fun for gymkhanas, race tracks or back roads. Its solid rear axle is bouncy on bad pavement, however, and all this comes at a substantial price increase.
For 2008, front side airbags come standard on all Mustangs, and high-intensity discharge headlights and interior ambient lighting are newly available.
While its styling is retro inspired, the Mustang is a thoroughly modern car. Redesigned from a clean sheet of paper for 2005, the current Mustang is fast and agile, more so than any past Mustangs. It delivers the bold styling, rear-drive performance and affordability that have been Mustang hallmarks for decades, but it's smoother and quieter and better built than older models.
The interior looks like a throwback from the '60s, and we think it's really neat. We just wish the interior materials were a wee better. A navigation system is available and it works well.
The Ford Mustang is an American success story. It holds true to an idea that still appeals to people of all ages, decades after the original was launched; 44 years after it created an automotive niche, the Mustang has returned to its roots and it's better than ever.
The Mustang V6 Deluxe coupe ($19,250) comes with cloth upholstery, one-touch power windows, power mirrors and door locks, keyless entry, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD stereo with auxiliary input jack, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, rear window defroster, a split-folding rear seat, and 215/65R16 all-season tires on steel wheels. Its 4.0-liter overhead-cam V6 generates 210 horsepower. A five-speed manual transmission is standard; a five-speed automatic is optional ($995). The V6 Premium coupe ($20,480) upgrades to painted machined aluminum wheels with chrome spinners, plus a six-way power driver's seat, and 500-watt audio system with six-disc CD changer and MP3 capability.
The V6 Deluxe convertible ($24,075) and V6 Premium convertible ($25,305) are equipped the same as the coupes, except they delete the split-folding rear seat and add a power folding top.
The GT Deluxe coupe ($25,840) adds to the V6 Deluxe a six-way power driver's seat, in-grille fog lamps, a rear spoiler, sport suspension, and 235/55R17 performance all-season tires on painted aluminum wheels. Its 4.6-liter overhead-cam V8 produces 300 horsepower. A five-speed manual transmission is standard; a five-speed automatic is optional ($645). The GT Premium coupe ($27,020) adds a 500-watt six-disc CD changer and Aberdeen leather-trimmed sport seats. The GT Deluxe convertible ($30,665) and GT Premium convertible ($31,845) are equipped similarly.
The 2008 Shelby GT-H coupe ($37,480) and convertible ($44,605) are being offered to the public. Their 4.6-liter V8 makes 319 horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque. Additional features include unique front fascia, special hood scoop and side scoops, high-flow exhaust, performance suspension, Hurst short-throw shifter, lowered ride height, and 235/50R18 performance tires on polished aluminum wheels. The five-speed manual transmission is standard and the five-speed automatic is optional. GT-H coupes were sold to Hertz rental agencies last year. Ford said production of the 2008 GT-H will be limited to 2300 coupes and convertibles.
The Shelby GT500 comes as coupe ($41,930) and convertible ($46,755), powered by a 5.4-liter supercharged V8 developing 500 horsepower. All Shelby GT500s have a six-speed manual transmission. They have P255/45R18 front and P285/40R18 rear performance tires, Brembo front brakes, and SVT-tuned suspension. All also come with a gas-guzzler tax ($1300). The GT500 comes standard with leather upholstery.
The 2008 Shelby GT500KR features a 5.4-liter V8 rated at 540 horsepower. The GT500KR comes with a short-throw shifter, 3.73:1 gear ratio (versus the GT500's 3.31:1), a carbon-fiber hood with hood pins, and unique suspension tuning. KR stands for King of the Road. The original Shelby GT500KR was offered in 1968 and this model is a 40th anniversary edition limited to 1000 examples.
Pony Packages for V6 models give them the look and handling of a GT. The base package ($750) adds sport suspension, a custom grille with fog lamps, rear spoiler and other visual upgrades. The upgraded version ($1675) adds 17-inch painted aluminum wheels. For 2008, Ford makes 18-inch wheels ($925) available on V6 Premium coupes.
The California Special ($1895) spiffs up a Premium GT with 235/50R18 performance tires on polished aluminum wheels, side scoops, unique tape stripes, bright exhaust tips, black leather-trimmed seats with unique Cal Special contrasting Dove or Parchment inserts, a larger air intake, a deeper chin spoiler, and unique front and rear fascias. The name refers to a limited edition package offered to California Ford dealers in 1968, but this Cal Special is available nationwide. The GT Appearance Package ($245) features bright exhaust tips, an engine cover with a Pony emblem, and a hood scoop.
Option packages for Mustang include a Comfort Group ($575) with an auto-dimming rear-view mirror with compass, heated front seats, and six-way power for the front passenger seat; an Interior.