Fifty years after the debut of the Ford Mustang, the all-new sixth-generation version of the original ponycar sets new standards for the segment it created back in 1964. The 2015 Ford Mustang represents a fresh take on a formula that had grown stale, making a car that was meant to evoke carefree youth seem faintly middle-aged. Gone -- finally, finally -- is the solid rear axle, belatedly replaced by a fully independent suspension that soaks up bumps and road imperfections. Ford also navigated a nifty escape from the straitjacket of retro design by embracing a sleeker, more contemporary shape whose general contours and proportions still scream Mustang.
But even as the car moves boldly into the 21st century, it continues to embody all-American automotive verities such as distinctive styling, bang for the buck, and, best of all, brawny Detroit muscle. The volume sellers are bound to be models featuring a capable 300-horsepower V-6 or the more fuel-efficient EcoBoost inline-four (which actually makes 310 horsepower, thanks largely to turbocharging). But buyers who can afford it will opt for a Ford Mustang GT, whose V-8 is now rated at 435 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque. Although it displaces 302 cubic inches, this isn’t the 5.0-liter of yore. It’s a new iteration of the all-aluminum, four-cam Coyote engine, and it’s a sweet piece of work, not only generating serious speed but also making all the right noises.
Mustang muscle: The six-speed manual is a perfect mate to the rip-roaring V-8. The interior is also much improved.
Even as Ferrari has gotten out of the manual transmission business, Ford continues to offer a six-speed stick, and it’s a perfect mate for the rip-roaring V-8. With the hefty shift lever and robust shift motion, the gearbox seems to have come out of an old-school Woodward Avenue street racer. Still, there’s nothing archaic about the Mustang when it’s roaring through the twisties or carving around a road course. Sure, it’s easy -- and fun -- to induce power oversteer coming out of slow corners. But the chassis is remarkably well composed when driven briskly, and the brakes are a revelation, with a high, hard pedal and more stopping power than you’d expect in a car that weighs more than 3,700 pounds.
Make no mistake: The Mustang isn’t a small car, and it feels even bigger because of the seating position and long hood. Still, the interior is so much better than the cockpit of the outgoing car that it’s easy to overlook the plastic trim and hokey touches such as a “Since 1964” plaque and a “Ground Speed” legend in the speedometer. Finally, the interior feels appropriate for a car that real grown-ups buy for more than $40,000 with options. (Technically, an entry-level V-6 starts at $24,425, while a GT can be had for as little as $32,925.)
Yes, the Mustang has come a long way from the bare-bones coupe bought by secretaries for a mere $2,368 back in 1964. But five decades later, America’s first and foremost ponycar is still a deal any horse trader would love.
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