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WARNING: The 2011 Mustang 5.0 GT's performance can be intoxicating; you are urged to enjoy it responsibly.

You wouldn't want to actually do this on public roads, for instance, but – with judicious application of the GT's metal-trimmed throttle pedal (with the traction control switched off) – you can generate rheostat-like rotation of the rear tires.

From a standing start, this launches the car both quickly and quietly, or lets you neatly and unobtrusively square off a 90-degree turn, allowing you to subtly enjoy the smoothly delivered thrust of its 412-hp V-8 without drawing unwanted attention to yourself.

Of course, if you stand on the gas, the GT will do what Mustangs have been doing since the mid-1960s. Which is make loud V-8 noises, turn the rear tires into smoking pinwheels and attract all sorts of attention – most of it the wrong kind.

So save that kind of "bad" – in the best possible sense – behaviour for bracket racing at the drag strip or for road course track days, where the GT would be right at home and deliver upwards of 500 individual sparkplug-ignited thrills per second at its 7,000 rpm redline.

I've grated like a balky synchro over the years about why Ford hasn't let the Mustang evolve into a more "modern" design, something slick and sophisticated. But every time I drive another one I'm reminded why the Mustang's classic approach – big engine, big horsepower, big torque, traditionally not-so-big bucks (you can still get into a 305-hp V-6 for low-twenties money, although the GT at $38,499 isn't exactly inexpensive) – still has big appeal.

Mustangs are just, as they've always been, great fun to drive. And the 5.0 GT for 2011 with its new high-output, high-tech V-8 provides more pony car performance for its price tag than anything on the planet.

The Mustang was redesigned outside and in for 2010 and the "new" styling maintains a look that's as all-American iconic and visually familiar as the Coke bottle. The new interior, while visually tidier and more attractive, retains that somewhat plastick-y – most noticeably the scratchy hard door caps – and kind of clunky, clumsy, heavy-handed feel I've always associated with Mustangs.

The leather-wrapped steering wheel feels just a bit too thick, the metal gearshift knob is billiard ball sized – and stays cold for a long time on a winter morning – and the seat leather slippery.

On the plus side, the metal-mesh trim looks neat, as does the chrome-trimmed gauge cluster and there are plenty of features such as the trip computer, Shaker 500 audio system, Ford's Sync voice-activated infotainment system and the usual power assists and multiple airbags. Ford's cool cap-less fuel filler is also on that list.

You can fit four inside – the front two get power seats, the ones in the back get to know each other better – and there's a 380-litre trunk under the deck lid.

As with all Mustangs – with the exception perhaps of the secretarial pool sixes of the '60s – it's what's under the hood that really counts for most buyers. And if you ask your Ford saloon barkeep for a GT you get 412 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque straight up with a new six-speed manual back.

The Ti-VCT, 5.0-litre V-8 comes with good stuff like twin cams, four valves per cylinder, cross-bolted mains and a high-capacity baffled sump that should allow it to run hard for a long time. It lights off with a wonderful high-compression V-8 "whomp" and revs to a screaming 7,000 rpm, yet idles around in sixth gear so slowly you can visualize the individual pistons sliding up and down in the bores.

It will get the GT from zero to 100 km/h in under five seconds and to a (governed) top speed of 255 km/hour. Which is pretty awesome in a car selling for less than forty large that actually isn't all that bad on fuel.

And despite weighing in at a solid 1,623 kg, the GT's responses to street-legal-style driving are delivered with an entertaining degree of immediacy – steering is direct – and more than hint of plentiful reserves of both grip and braking power available for sessions at the track. You can also order up go-faster bits such as Brembo brakes.

Not only is it one of the most muscular Mustangs ever produced, but the 5.0 GT is also one of the most pleasant to drive and civilized members of the herd I've enjoyed wrangling over the years.

2011 Ford Mustang 5.0 GT

Type: Sports Coupe

Base Price: $38,499 as tested, $44,009

Engine: 5.0-L, DOHC, V-8

Horsepower/torque: 412 hp/390 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed

Drive: Rear-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.2 city/7.6 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: Chevrolet Camaro SS, Dodge Challenger RT/SRT8, Mazda RX-8, Nissan 370Z Coupe, Hyundai Genesis 4.6

Correction: The 2011 Mustang GT has a top speed of 255 km/hour. Incorrect information appeared in the story.

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