Ford Mustang V-6 — Turning up the heat

 By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The pony car has always been among our favorites especially since it was reworked for 2005. It was restyled and updated once again for 2010 with a high-quality interior and a number of new features. And now for 2011 Ford has turned the heat up a notch with new powertrains.

With the massive engine revitalization, we have learned to love the Mustang even more.
A new 5.0-liter V-8 developing 412 horsepower levels the playing field against the Chevrolet Camaro SS and the Dodge Challenger Hemi.

But the big news — yes, even bigger than the new 5.0-liter V-8 is the long overdue upgrade of the V-6 engine giving Mustang additional bragging rights. The new 3.7-liter V-6 produces 305 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. Gone is the ancient — 40 years is ancient in engine design — V-6 with 210 raspy horsepower used as the base powerplant for far too long.

While we never tire of driving the more muscular Ford, the new V-6 is the more intriguing choice because it provides outstanding performance at a more affordable price and with lower insurance premiums.

We drove both the V-6 with a six-speed manual transmission — and one with Ford’s modern 6-speed automatic — and we compiled a long checklist of things we like. One of those things is a storage area in the trunk perhaps no one until now has discovered.

The Mustang, we found to our summertime fresh produce market delight, has a handy watermelon holding area located under the trunk floor in a horseshoe cutout around a device called the tire mobility kit. This dugout easily accommodates two decent-sized melons, which for us was the perfect answer to the big green orbs banging off the trunk walls.

Ford owners’ forums across the Internet are discussing — with some distaste that has nothing to do with summer fruit — the mobility kit, which subs for a tire. But had our Ford test car had a real spare tire, it would have robbed us of our first-class watermelon holder.

So what about this Tire Mobility Kit? Basically, it’s a glorified can of Fix-a-Flat, designed to pump up your deflated tire and get you to the nearest tire store or dealer. The downside, there’s no jack or a donut spare tire, which sometimes is needed if your flat is the result of a sidewall cut. In that case, have the cellphone handy and punch in AAA. On the upside, the under-floor well that used to house a spare tire will handle a week’s worth of watermelon.

The vastly improved V-6 now powering the base Mustang has lightweight aluminum architecture, four-valves-per-cylinder dual-overhead-cam, twin independent variable valve timing, and a deep-sump aluminum oil pan. What does this mean for the consumer? For one thing it means you are only required to change oil every 10,000 miles.

It also means a 0-to-60 time in the mid-5-second range and a quarter-mile time around 14 seconds and in the neighborhood of 100 mph. In fact, a major automobile publication recorded rather stunning times of 5.4 seconds to 60 and a quarter mile in 14 seconds at 101.4 mph with the 6-speed manual transmission. Those are near V-8 times, and in fact are just a fraction off the best times recorded by the 2010 Mustang GT.

Braking is also extraordinary, measured at a neck-snapping 115 feet from 60 to 0.
We drove our usual twisting back road and costal mountain “test tracks” and found handling from the rear-drive coupe rewarding despite the continued use of a solid-rear axle. Ford has tweaked the suspension, and cornering and handling seem as good as the competition.

Really thick frosting on this tasty performance cake is gas mileage ratings of 19 mpg city and 29 or 31 highway depending on transmission. That combination of performance and gas economy was unheard of just a few years ago. Conversely Mustang prices have gone up about a grand on average. But we don’t mind paying for improvements this rewarding.

The recent exterior restyling left the Mustang looking as good as any Mustang in its long history. While it shares many exterior traits with its predecessor, every panel except the roof is completely new. The styling tweaks are noticeable everywhere, with a sloping nose that produces a more sinister frown, and more shapely taillights highlight the rear. From any angle, this is still the quintessential Mustang.

The new Chevrolet Camaro is indeed intriguing and the modern Dodge Challenger is a head-turner, but the Mustang gets the blood pumping. Check out the October 2010 issue of Consumer Reports for a head to head comparison between the Mustang and Camaro.

While the Mustang cabin retains its retro design, it features upgraded materials and quality workmanship. Seams fit and pieces neatly blend together. Although the Ford still lacks a telescoping steering wheel, we had no problem finding a comfortable driving position through the use of the power seat controls. And the seats are wide and comfortable for those of us who have spread out a bit over the many years.

Gauges are easy to read with large speedometer enclosure to the left and tachometer to the right. Four information gauges are neatly placed in the middle including gas, oil pressure and temperature.

The Mustang has some new worthwhile features and sports new technology. For instance, there’s the latest voice-activated Sync system for audio and navigation, and there’s a unique feature available called the MyKey system. It allows parents to restrict the Mustang’s top speed and audio functions when their children are behind the wheel.

A standard feature we very much like and wonder why more manufacturers don’t include is a small blind spot mirror in the upper outer corner of both outboard mirrors. The sight lines are excellent in the new pony car, but the new blind spot feature brings an added bit of safety in a smart and simple application. 

The Mustang comes in coupe and convertible with base and premium trim levels. Prices start at $22,995 for the V-6 with manual transmission. The automatic adds $995.

There’s a host of standard equipment including impressive safety — four-wheel antilock disc brakes, electronic stability control, the aforementioned side-spotter mirrors, and a full range of airbags. Our V-6 Premium test car with a navigation system, SYNC, and a handful of other options had an MSRP of $33,055. All prices include destination charges.

Base price: $22,995; as driven, $33,055
Engine: 3.7-liter V-6
Horsepower: 305 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 280 foot-pounds @ 4,250 rpm
Drive: rear wheel
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Seating: 2/2
Wheelbase: 107.1 inches
Length: 188.1 inches
Curb weight: 4,000 pounds
Turning circle: 33.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 9.6 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 16 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 29 mpg highway, 19 mpg city
0-60: 5.4 seconds (Road & Track)
Also consider: Chevrolet Camaro V-6, Dodge Challenger, Hyundai Genesis V-6 coupe

The Good:
• New powerful V-6 engine
• Classy interior
• Excellent gas mileage
• Cutting-edge technology

The Bad:
• No telescoping steering wheel

The Ugly:
• Back-seat passenger space tight