Mustangs with six-cylinder engines were traditionally disparaged by the macho gearhead faithful as “secretary’s cars,” but that’s no longer the case with this recent generation, and in particular the revised-for-2013 V-6 Premium.
The current generation’s base V-6 puts out more power and easily outpaces legendary models of the past, such as the original Boss 302 of 1969. And it, arguably, makes more sense to own one than the current mega-horsepower V-8.
But what does “sense” have to do with it? We’re talking Mustangs here, not grocery-getters.
To give it a little historical perspective, the 2013 model year Mustang is a direct linear descendant of the 1960s original. It may have evolved in the details, although not as far as you’d think in some areas, but its roots and styling are still firmly connected to that now far-off era of youth-market-driven high-performance and all-American sporty cars.
Back in the Mustang’s swinging 1960s heyday, you could buy tame and tepid versions. In 1969, a pony-car pretender could order up a Mustang coupe, maybe in power blue, powered by a 200-cubic-inch inline-six that made all of 115 hp, or order up a 250-cubic-incher with 155 hp. Real car guys, however, could opt for a Boss 302 with 302-cubic-inch V-8 that made 290 hp, or the 429-cubic-inch monster with 375 hp.
Today, for $22,999, you can still drive off in a base Mustang six. But today’s version is equipped with a high-revving 3.7-litre V-6 engine that makes a serious 305 hp, or double the power you’d get in most compact class coupes for that money.
And that should be enough power to make you think before taking the step up to a 5.0-litre V-8 engined GT that will cost you – and admittedly, given it makes an astonishing 420 hp – a still reasonable $33,199. Or make the move to the reintroduced-for-2012 current iteration of the Boss 302, with its V-8 tweaked to 444 hp for $48,199.
Of course, nobody will actually want a base car, which means the review vehicle, a V-6 Premium that goes for $26,999, is the likely starting point.
The fifth-generation Mustang arrived for 2005, with a distinctly 1960s look and a distinctly 1960s solid rear axle rear suspension. It was restyled for 2010 and freshened for 2013, arriving last spring with new grille and splitter (the horizontal element), front and rear fascias, LED taillights and other minor touches.
Gen-five six-cylinder versions started out with an iron-block 4.0-litre V-6 making 210 hp with a five-speed gearbox. The current aluminum, 3.7-litre, twin-cam, 24-valve, variable-valve-timing V-6, rated at 305 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque was introduced for 2011.
And unlike the slogging sixes of the past, both inline and vee, it takes the Mustang to a new level with its racer-revvy 7,000-rpm redline, yet abundant torque at half that figure, which is fed to the rear wheels through a six-speed manual or automatic.
With the test car’s manual gearbox, which shifts quickly and accurately, you can sprint to 100 km/h in 5.5 seconds. The V-8 is about half a second quicker and the 1969 Boss 302 required about seven seconds. Drop down a gear from a loafing secondary road cruise to tap into that generous torque to make a quick and safe pass. Some driveline clunkiness is noticeable in lazy, around-town driving.
And you can afford to play with the throttle given fuel economy ratings are 11.6 litres/100 km city and 7.3 highway with the manual (a little better with the automatic). I averaged 10.0 for the week and 8.0 (the readout rounds off the numbers, likely to the low side) on a 200-km/h highway drive.
The MacPherson strut front and well-located (three links and a Panhard rod) rear axle, and electric power steering that has a bit of heft were combined on the test car with a $3,000 performance package.
This added 255/40R19 tires on painted alloy rims, a 3.31 limited-slip differential, strut tower brace, heavier anti-roll bars, stiffer front springs, bigger brake calipers with performance pads and a re-calibrated stability control system. Another $500 buys a pair of good-looking Recaro seats.
All of which makes the Mustang V-6 a car that’s a hugely fun to drive, whether you’re smoking the rear tires or carving up a curvy back road. As much fun as the V-8? Well, more power is always good, but the reality is you can only really use so much and still hang on to your license.
Despite its long history, the Mustang still retains some of its traditional interior plasticky-ness and the trim pieces look a little mix-and-match. But the cabin is quiet, those Recaro seats are comfortable, there’s plenty of up front headroom (and room for strapping six-footers to stretch out), the steering wheel feels hefty and there are the usual electronic features, including a more-than-decent audio system.
The long doors still close with a cheap and rattle-y feel and sound and, as always, the back seat of a Mustang isn’t where you want to spend any time. Knee-room is marginal and headroom, well, there isn’t any and, sitting back there with your chin on your chest, about the only view you have outside is through the small side windows. Trunk space, at 380 litres, isn’t a selling point, either. If you wanted to carry two sets of golf clubs, one would have to go in the rear seat. But overall, the interior looks and works well.
And lest I forget one important attribute, the tester looked really neat with its white paint and $500 “Over The Top” black racing stripes. It will be interesting to see what the next generation looks like when it arrives, probably within a couple of years.
2013 Ford Mustang V6 Premium
Type: Sports coupe
Base price: $26,999; as tested, $33,829
Engine: 3.7-litre, OHV, V-6
Horsepower/torque: 305 hp/280 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.6 city/7.3 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger, Hyundai Genesis Coupe, Mitsubishi Eclipse Coupe and various wimpy four-banger-powered compact coupes