More than just retro – the new 2005 Mustang is a great new car

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

LOS ANGELES --- We gained confidence quickly as we came down out of the San Gabriel Mountains, outside of Los Angeles. It was a stirring drive with vistas as beautiful as you can find. But we were not distracted from the task at hand and to the credit of the car we were simply at ease behind the wheel of this new, hot GT.

The all-new 2005 Mustang GT inspired confidence as we took each winding section of road at an increasingly higher speed. The Mustang, with standard Z-rated performance tires, stayed planted on the mountain curves at a pace double the posted 35 to 40 mile per hour “recommended” speed limit. This of course is certainly not recommended.

We are not of the nature to put ourselves, or oncoming motorists at risk by overextending the ability of the car or the driver. But the new Mustang sat flat into the turns. No drama. No need for sudden course adjustments.

After just 15 minutes behind the wheel we were convinced that Ford¹s new pony car is not just about style, and it has style written all over it with unmistakable cues from the late ‘60’s Mustangs, but also about 21st century handling and performance.

This car will not disappoint Mustang lovers, and it should rightfully pull people into showrooms that have not necessarily been Mustang fans. It’s a hand’s down award winner. In fact Mustang is a finalist in the North American Car of the Year award that will be announced at the Detroit Auto Show next January.

Earlier this summer we were impressed for the most part with the new Ford Five Hundred sedan and the Ford Freestyle crossover vehicle. What they lack is pizzazz. Perhaps a family sedan doesn’t need pizzazz. The Mustang is PIZZAZZ!

We spent a day with the new pony car cruising some of the most famous places in the Los Angeles vicinity including Beverly Hills and Hollywood, and eventually into the mountains and back down to the Pacific Coast Highway. Every place a Mustang should be seen. And heads did turn on these famous streets. The 2005 Mustang is an eye catcher.

This Mustang can’t miss. Very few times are we so sure about a new car. This is one of them. If the Mustang was an all-new coupe without its lengthy and storied history, it would still be a best seller.

The thing that has tweaked the imagination of the American motorist over the past few months is the look. Pictures of the new pony car have proliferated in magazines and newspapers, whetting the appetite of the car-hungry public.

It is striking. It evokes the best of the Mustang’s illustrious, if somewhat occasional checkered past. It carries the stylized look of the 1960’s Mustangs, perhaps the most graceful and sought after Mustangs in the car’s 40-year history.
It was the look of Steve McQueen and “Bullitt,” during the heart of the muscle car generation. It was the 1967 Mustang rounded and sculpted, the long-hood, the short rear-deck look that symbolizes V-8 power.

The 2005 Mustang captures that look with its slopping nose, round headlights – two of which are set inside the grille on the GT, and the galloping pony racing emblem. The side sculpting and taillights also recall the Mustangs of the late ‘60s. Additionally, a higher beltline and narrow windows give the Mustang a solid, substantial look.

Ford Motor Company and its chief designer J Mays who is known for his fascination with retro-futurism has not always got the retro theme right. A recent example is the revived Thunderbird; a brilliant piece of exterior design that captures the look of the 1950’s classic T-Birds but failed to carry the styling theme into the interior. The Thunderbird dashboard and console came straight out of the Lincoln LS and had nothing to do with the original Thunderbird – a mistake that has caused a shortened lifespan for the T-Bird.

Ford has learned a lesson, perhaps, because it used a unique dashboard for the Mustang, very successfully carrying the ‘60s theme to the interior. There was no raiding of the parts bin this time even though the Mustang is built on a modified Lincoln LS platform.

The dashboard and console are unique to this car. And after we checked out a few vintage 1967 Mustangs, courtesy of a local Mustang club, we were astounded as to how accurately the 2005 dashboard mimics the 1967 dashboard, but in a contemporary and user-friendly fashion.

The interior designers got this car right – from the three spoke steering wheel to the brushed aluminum instrument panel to the two large round instrument clusters.

One thing the 1960’s Mustangs didn’t have was a color configurable instrument cluster. With the touch of a button, 125 shades of color can be created for the instruments. That feature is a low-cost option.

Another thing the older Mustangs lacked; comfortable bucket seats. The chairs in the new Mustang are well bolstered and proved extremely comfortable for our day of driving.

Great looks are one thing the guts of the beast are another. Let’s get the big issue out of the way first. We have a car-loving friend who will be appalled when he learns that the new Mustang has “gone backward” reverting to a solid rear axle. And he probably will not be in the minority.

Yes, Ford gave up the independent rear suspension of the previous edition because of cost, attempting to keep the Mustang affordable. Fear not though, Ford has done a marvelous job in designing a new three-link rear suspension making the Mustang very responsive with a more than acceptable ride. In this sports coupe, solid rear axle is just a term, and one to forget. This is the best standard-edition handling Mustang in history.

The new powertrains are superb. The GT edition comes with a 4.6-liter V-8 rated at 300 horsepower, a jump of 40 horsepower from the previous edition. It can be mated to a surprisingly slick-shifting 5-speed manual or a 5-speed automatic.
We did most of our L.A. driving with the manual, and discovered early on that this Mustang can run and run and run. Putting down precious rubber on the asphalt is not a problem except when it comes time to replace the tires.

A major magazine estimated a 0 to 60 time in just a shade less than 5 seconds. Clutch action is light and consistent. Even the most novice driver should be comfortable shifting the Mustang.

And the rumbling exhaust note emitted from the GT is enough to raise goose bumps on your arm. Can you say All-American muscle car?

Just as rewarding, perhaps, is what will probably be the volume-leading base Mustang that comes with a 210-horsepower 4.0-liter V-6 that offers satisfying performance with either the manual or automatic.

The Mustang may be the absolute bargain of the 2005 model year. The V-6 edition can be purchased well equipped for a base price of $19,410 and the V-8 GT begins at $24,995. You can’t have this much fun in a Penny Arcade for this kind of money.

Ford has not scrimped on standard equipment, which includes AM-FM stereo with CD player, tilt wheel, cruise control, power windows and locks, air conditioning and disc brakes.

Desirable options are affordable including antilock brakes with all-speed traction control, $775; side airbags, $375; and leather seating surfaces, $695.
Prospective buyers will discover, and perhaps be a bit amazed, at the Mustang’s fit and finish and upscale materials. Amazing because this isn’t a Honda or Toyota, it’s a Ford and a very desirable and affordable Ford, at that.

And yet there is more – good news that is – the Mustang convertible is coming. The production version will be introduced at the Los Angeles Auto Show on January 5. And it too combines the nostalgic look of the most sought-after Mustangs of the past with modern technology and excellent build quality.

It is worth stopping by a Ford store to see the new Mustang coupe (the convertible will be there in the spring). You will discover that the Japanese do not have a corner on exciting, well-made, affordable cars.