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Many carmakers hide their engines under sheathes of plastic. Others might leave the heads exposed under a tangle of hoses and wires. But some engines get treated like a work of art. Such is the case with the new 5-liter V-8 in the 2011 Ford Mustang GT.
A centerpiece of the car, the bas-relief of the intake manifold's crisscrossing pipes sits between gray, coated valve covers embossed with the legend Powered By Ford. A wide pipe leads out the front to a cold air induction filter, stock on the Mustang GT.
And as a multimedia piece of art, this engine makes an excellent sound as the revs climb, a classic symphony of well-controlled explosions driving the cylinders.
This engine is more sophisticated than past Ford V-8s, using variable timing technology on the double overhead cams to control the intake valves. The result is a massive 412 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque, enough to pin you back in your seat as the Mustang GT jumps off the line. Even half throttle will make the car leap.
A tower brace runs across the engine in the Mustang GT, improving cornering stability.
A smooth aluminum ball shifter is a conversation piece in the car, and an excuse to wear driving gloves. It has an extremely short throw, so when shifting through the pattern at a stop, it is hard to tell when the car is in neutral.
The big power from the engine makes wide power bands with the gears. Third is good for anywhere from 20 to 80 mph. But this transmission has a mind of its own. Probably in an effort to increase its EPA fuel economy, the shifter diverts upshifts from second over to fifth, when you're expecting to go to third. Likewise, shifting down from sixth, it likes to divert to third instead of fifth, which can make for an unpleasant surprise. However, the car can handle it just fine, the engine sounding as happy at 6,000rpm as at 2,000rpm.
Ford managed to score 17 mpg city and 26 mpg in EPA fuel economy testing, but don't think those are real-world numbers. To achieve anything close, you would need to get it in sixth gear by 35 mph, consistently. Midteen fuel economy will be more commonly achieved. CNET's car, driven through city streets, on freeways, and over mountain roads, only averaged 15.4 mpg.
Cornering by torque
The Mustang GT exhibits classic muscle car handling. Its initial turn-in is good, but then the heavy front end starts to understeer. Not a problem, as prodding the gas makes the back end float around. It may not be precision handling, but it is fun to steer the car with torque, and the Mustang GT has plenty to spare.
The modern Mustang is an excellent take on a classic muscle car, combining retro styling and a solid suspension.
A limited slip differential is standard on the Mustang GT, and Ford even lets you specify the rear axle drive ratio. Default is a ratio of 3.31, but buyers can opt for 3.55 or 3.73. The limited slip differential makes a huge difference in putting the Mustang GT through a tight corner.
The suspension also does an excellent job of keeping the car flat. The Mustang GT has a heavy feel, and the load shifts substantially when entering a corner, but body sway is minimal. And Ford did an excellent job of tuning this suspension for everyday driving. It certainly shows plenty of sports car stiffness, but it softens the jolts when going over bumps, giving occupants a reasonably comfortable ride.
With Ford's commitment to the Mustang legacy, the rear wheels still sit on a live axle, but the front wheels use an independent suspension. Less in line with that legacy is the electric-power-steering system, but this feature should help the fuel economy, an aspect of the car that needs all the help it can get.
Tuning for this steering unit is too much on the power side. The wheel turns a little too lightly, even at speed or when taking turns forcefully. It doesn't make the driving experience as engaging as the big engine would suggest.
The Brembo package not only upgrades the brakes, but adds more sporty suspension tuning.
CNET's car was also equipped with a Brembo brake package, a $1,695 factory option. Rather than gaudy red calipers, the ones for the Mustang GT are a dusky black with a small, red Brembo logo. The Brembo package takes the front brakes from two pistons to four, increases the size of the rotors, and adjusts the suspension for more aggressive driving. The Brembo brakes allow for good modulation, making it easy to drag the Mustang GT down to an appropriate speed for upcoming turns.
Minus MyFord Touch
The Mustang model has not yet been updated for Ford's latest round of cabin tech, the MyFord Touch system. But as we saw in the Ford Edge, that system needs further development. The Mustang GT can be had with Ford's older generation hard-drive-based navigation system, which works much better than the newer system.
That navigation system integrates traffic, weather, and a variety of data services through Sirius Travel Link, such as gas prices and movie times. CNET's review car did not come with this option, merely showing the more basic radio display. However, its iteration of Sync, standard in the Mustang GT, includes Sync Services, an offboard telematics system that includes turn-by-turn directions.
Sync includes a Bluetooth phone system that works very well, downloading a paired phone's contact list and making it available through voice command.
Sync offers Bluetooth audio streaming, but the display lacks any track information.
The Mustang GT's console contains a USB port, which works with any USB storage device or an iPod cable. This Sync-enabled music source lets you request music by name with the voice command system, again something that works exceedingly well. Other automakers are only starting to catch up with this functionality.
As CNET's car lacked the hard-drive-based navigation system, there was no onboard music storage. But the car included Bluetooth streaming audio, satellite radio, and a CD/DVD slot. The Bluetooth streaming-audio interface is limited, showing no song information on the radio display, but letting you skip forward tracks with the stereo controls.
Ford equips the Mustang GT with an audio system by Shaker, the stock system using a 500-watt amp with eight speakers. That system can be upgraded to the Shaker 1000 system, with 1,000 watts.
The base system, though powerful, isn't very good. There is no depth to music, the speakers hammering out all nuance and flattening the timbre. Layers get lost in a generally muddy middle frequency. Bass does not come through with any kind of sharp edge. The sound quality is average for cars, but audiophiles will find a lot to be desired.
The 2011 Ford Mustang GT is great fun to drive, and shows excellent styling. The car is a looker, and its big engine makes an impressive sound under acceleration. But its EPA fuel economy requires a driving style that takes all the fun out of it. Expect real-world fuel economy in the midteens, which also means shortened driving range.
Although not part of the muscle car mystique, Ford's standard and available cabin tech for the Mustang GT are very good, offering a set of very useful features with the navigation system. Sync remains one of the best technologies for integrating phones and MP3 players. The Shaker audio system is a letdown, but could probably be improved through a set of aftermarket speakers.
|Model||2011 Ford Mustang|
|Power train||5-liter V-8, six-speed manual transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||17 mpg city/26 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||15.4 mpg|
|Navigation||Hard-drive-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single-CD/DVD|
|MP3 player support||iPod, Zune, others|
|Other digital audio||Onboard hard drive, USB drive, Bluetooth streaming, auxiliary input, satellite radio, HD radio|
|Audio system||Shaker 500-watt eight-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Backup camera|
|Price as tested||$36,675|