2011 Ford Mustang: First Drive

The new, new Mustang gets the engine it's long been wanting for

2011 Ford Mustang: First Drive
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Rarely has an automobile been so thoroughly trashed and dismissed as a V6 muscle car. Bad rentals. Insurance specials. Secretary transport. Ignored by enthusiasts with good reason: They are so terribly engineered, so much an afterthought compared to the rumbling V8 models of various displacement that you wonder who would ever pay real money for something so mediocre?

FAST FACTS

1. For 2011 the base mustang tosses the old 210-hp 4.0L V6 for a 3.7L unit with variable valve timing that makes 305-hp and 280 ft-lbs of torque.

2. Fuel economy is rated at 19/31 mpg for the 6-speed auto. and 19/29 mpg for the six-speed manual transmission.

3. Ford claims the new Mustang is the only vehicle that makes over 300-hp and gets over 30-mpg on the highway.

4. Pricing jumps a few hundred dollars for 2011, with the Mustang now starting at $22,145.

Despite all of the improvements made in 2010 in regards to sheet metal, interior quality and suspension tuning, Ford left the unwilling 210-hp 4.0-liter V6 engine alone, thus damning another generation of – admittedly great looking – rental cars to ambiguous futures.

Fear no more. For 2011, Ford has made it fun to rent a car again.

BIG CHANGES UNDER THE HOOD

The new, new Mustang gets some tweaks compared to the old, new 2010 Mustang, but the peach underhood is what gets the blood boiling. Ford ditched the ancient lump for an all-new 3.7-liter unit with trick intake timing and other niceties. Horsepower comes to a sizzling 305 at 6500 rpm, while the engine produces 280 ft-lbs of torque at 4250 rpm. The engine doesn’t hit the limiter until a good 7000 rpm either, and sounds like a motor of much better provenance. Its cultured yell is aided by standard dual exhausts, and sounds better than the VQ-engines in various Nissan and Infiniti products.

Controlling all that power is the responsibility of two six-speed transmissions – a manual or optional automatic. The manual has a short travel, and the gates are well defined. It engages cleanly, without any of the will-it-won’t-it of mid-level BMW transmissions, and is a willing partner in clean heel-and-toe downshifts. The clutch is well weighted too, and has a perfect pickup point.

The automatic is a good choice for those who have no desire – or ability – to shift themselves. There’s no real loss of throttle response, and it kicks down willingly if your right food commands it.

INCREDIBLE FUEL ECONOMY

Amazingly, Ford claims that its Ti-VCT engine is the first to produce both over 300-hp and to achieve over 30 mpg on the highway – which is true if you opt for the automatic. The official ratings are 19/31 mpg for the slushbox and 19/29 mpg for the manual. But that’s significantly better than competition from Chevrolet, Dodge, Hyundai and Honda.

Most of that comes from a proper diet that keeps the base Mustang less than 3,500 lbs. along with lots of aerodynamic tweaks, including lots of under-body plastic panels. Acceleration numbers were not released, but one Ford engineer told us to ‘do the math’ regarding weight, power and gearing. Our bet is that the rental-grade Mustangs will nearly outrun last year’s V8-powered GT.

The base car’s suspension has also been tweaked to provide better ride and more balanced handling. And brakes get upgraded pads to help slow the V6’s near V8-like speed.

One of the only negatives is Ford’s adoption of electric assist power steering – the calibration on V6 models leaves too much assist at low speeds, and doesn’t start firming up soon enough. Surely that wouldn’t be a difficult challenge to overcome.

PERFORMANCE PACKAGE A REAL GEM

Those looking for a real barn burner will opt for the V6 Performance Package, which adds GT-level suspension settings, larger wheels with summer-only tires and a 3.31 rear axle ratio for improved acceleration. This version is a full-on insurance friendly competitor to the Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8, and Nissan 370Z, not to mention stomping all over the equivalent Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger. The really cool thing is that you can add the package to any V6 Mustang, including the appearance-only Pony Package or Mustang Owner’s Club package, in coupe, convertible or glass-roof body.

Speaking of which, the convertible is a refreshing change from the legions of power-folding hard tops that gobble all available trunk room. With the soft-top stowed, there’s still a ton of room for luggage, coolers and more.

The interior is comfortable, if still more brittle than its import competition, but Ford uses its own technology, like SYNC, MyKey and MyColor gauges to keep it up to date. Tall passengers will not like riding in the back seat, though.

Ford is holding the line on pricing too, with V6 Coupes starting at $22,145 and Convertibles opening at $27,145. That’s about $500 more than a 2010, but given the extra power and handling tweaks the ’11 offers, that’s small change. Move up to Premium models, which include upgraded stereo systems, a power driver’s seat and more, and it’ll run you either $25,845 or $30,845. Switching to a glass roof will cost just under $2,000, while the navigation and electronics package runs $2,340. Add a rear-view camera and that’s $240.

The sheer number of paint colors, stripe packages, option packages, performance packages, wheel options and spoiler combinations is mind-boggling. Ignore the hype from Scion – this is true from-the-factory customization at its finest.

THE VERDICT

As mentioned before, the V6 Mustang’s competition goes far beyond the Camaro and Challenger. Ford trotted out a statistic saying that the number-one cross-shopped vehicle to the Mustang is the Honda Accord Coupe, which is a little mind-blowing. But even in high-end EX V6 mode, the Honda is out-powered and uses more fuel than the Ford. Imagine trying to convince someone walking into an Infiniti dealership that a G37 Coupe just won’t do compared to a revitalized pony car. Talk about a hard message to sell.

But all Ford has to do is get people to drive one. With no real glaring errors, the Mustang probably delivers the most surprising performance in a line-up full of surprising performers.

LOVE IT

  • Big V6 power
  • Excellent highway fuel efficiency
  • Performance Package

LEAVE IT

  • Low-speed steering assist
  • Some chintzy plastics
  • Can’t ignore V8

RELATED READING

2010 Chevrolet Camaro 2009 Dodge Challenger SE

2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 2010 Nissan Altima Coupe 3.5 SR Review

2009 Nissan 370Z Coupe 2009 Honda Accord Coupe 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS Review 2009 Dodge Challenger SRT8

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