You can say what you want about the Mustang, but Ford has done its homework with its newest version of the famed Pony car. It's doubtful any other automobile in North America has been on the receiving end of as much research, scrutiny, clinical study and just plain hand-wringing as the 2011 Mustang.
Given the precarious state of the automotive industry these days, Ford has to get this one right, and company designers have clinic-ed this car to the nth degree, working closely with various enthusiast groups - the 11,000-member Mustang Club of America, among others.
The fact that it still retains a solid rear axle as opposed to an independent rear suspension setup, for example, is a direct result of feedback from Mustang owners.
"We know what our customers want and expect," said Dave Paricek, chief engineer at the launch in Los Angeles. He must be right; Ford has sold more than nine million Mustangs since its introduction in 1964.
For 2011, the Mustang retains its familiar retro-themed body style and gets a performance shot in the arm, with three different drivetrains: a revised V-6, 5.0 litre V-8 and supercharged 550-horsepower V-8.
Of the three, the V-6 is arguably the most noteworthy. It's also traditionally the best seller, accounting for about 60 per cent of total Mustang sales.
For the 2011 model year, it goes down in size, but up in performance. Displacing 3.7 litres, it now develops 305 horsepower, compared to 210 for the 2010 version. "That's about the same horsepower as the 1998 Mustang SVT," comments Paricek.
Part of the reason for the power boost comes from a new variable valve system Ford is calling Ti-VCT, which reduces friction and modifies the valve train for optimal combustion and breathing.
It's also mated to a redesigned intake manifold and the V6 can be had with a six-speed transmission - manual or automatic. It's interesting to note that the original 260-cubic-inch V-8 engine that came with the first Mustang, back in '64, had roughly half the power of the new V-6.
But, this being 2010, any V-6 engine worth its salt has to deliver decent fuel economy, and Ford is claiming a 3 per cent increase in highway fuel economy with the new V-6 - 6.4 L/100 km, compared to 7.6 for the current model.
At the launch, we got the chance to put the V-6 through a slalom course, and it behaved more like a tweaked V-8 than a mass-production V-6. With the traction control disabled (part of the performance package), the rear wheels can break traction like a 1950s hot rod and you can hustle it through the cones like a sports car.
It's still a little on the loud side, and a bit of a handful during tight cornering, but in terms of power and performance, the V-6 should satisfy all but the most rabid high-performance buffs.
And for those guys, the 5.0-litre V-8 bangs out 412 horsepower, while providing an aural treat while it's at it. If you've seen the movie classic, Bullitt, you may remember the noises made by Steve McQueen's Mustang GT as he chased the bad guys' Dodge Charger through San Francisco at full throttle. Somehow, Ford has managed to replicate all that mechanical whining and growling and, under throttle, the V-8 sounds almost exactly the same as McQueen's GT.
You can get the V-8 with either an automatic or manual transmission - again, both six speeds. I found the manual gearbox to be a little on the crowded side, with kind of an ambiguous feeling in the linkage from third to sixth, but that's something owners would probably acclimatize themselves to.
What is really appealing about this drivetrain is the way it sustains power through the rpm range as you go through the gears. When you shift from second to third, for example, there is almost no momentum loss and the engine's massive torque allows you to drive "lazy" and still get the performance pop of a muscle car.
Ford also gave us the chance to run the five litre through an eighth-mile dragstrip and it reached a top speed of around 150 km/h on a fairly regular basis. Impressive.
There will be five basic versions of the new Mustang in Canada, and two of them will be convertibles. Both the soft-top and hardtop models can be had with the V-6 or the 5.0 litre V-8.
As well as the usual standard equipment such as air conditioning, power windows, four-wheel disc brakes, full instrumentation and so on, you can order things like leather interior ($1,500), remote start (with the automatic only, $300), a slick glass roof ($2,200), block heater ($80), cloth soft-top, DVD navigation system and a thoughtful little extra known as MyKey. In a nutshell, this feature allows owners - read: parents - to program the car's ignition key and limit the vehicle's top speed and stereo volume, while activating a "persistent" seat-belt reminder and various speed alert chimes.
2011 FORD MUSTANG
Type: Two door coupe/convertible
Price Range: $22,999-$42,899
Engine: 3.7-litre V-6/5.0-litre V-8
Horsepower/Torque: 305 hp/280 lb-ft for V-6; 412 hp/390 lb-ft for V-8
Transmission: Six-speed manual/automatic
Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 10.7 city/6.4 highway (V-6 with automatic); regular gas
Alternatives: Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger, Hyundai Genesis Coupe, Nissan 370Z, Audi A6, Honda Accord Coupe
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