NOT SO FAST CAMARO: THERE’S A NEW PONY IN TOWN
By Joe Tralongo
There are two kinds of driver in this world and Ford builds a Mustang to suit them both. On the one hand there are people like my friend and fellow automotive journalist Wes Siler, one of the annoyingly cute adrenaline junkies from the impossibly straight Jalopnik clan. Wes and his ilk see cars as Herculean vessels designed to test the limits of manhood and common sense. They revel in pushing tires to their limits, get goose-pimply at the thought of triple digit speeds and dream of exceeding NASA approved g-force limits without ever leaving the ground. It is for the Wes Silers of the world that Ford builds the Mustang GT.
To prove the point, I recount for you my recent trip to Southern California, where I was invited by Ford to test the 2011 Mustang and Mustang GT. Wes was invited too, although after some insane red-eye flight from hell and a mere three hours of sleep, he appeared nearly catatonic at breakfast and was not much livelier as the drive began. He remained in this state until our group reached the Camarillo Airport. Here, Ford had transformed part of the tarmac into a quarter-mile drag strip and slalom course. Handed the keys to a bright red Mustang GT, Wes quickly jumped behind the wheel and set in motion a power braking session the likes of which I have not seen since my last day in the parking lot at Robert E. Peary High School, circa 1981. With tachometer racing and Mustang motionless, the spinning rear wheels quickly vaporized into a toxic veil of white smoke that immediately enveloped the Mustang. After a few minutes, the newly created low-lying cumulus cloud drifted away to reveal Wes, staring at us through the driver’s side window, a giant, shit-eating, Cheshire Cat-like grin spanning his cherubic face, delighted with the thing he’d just made. Wes was happy, which made the Ford guys happy, which meant the Mustang GT had accomplished its mission.
I tell this story because there is another Mustang to be touted, the kind that appeals to people like me; moderate car junkies that may be a little older, a little wiser (or wider) and endowed with measurably slower reflexes than our young, GT loving friends. For us, Ford builds the Mustang V6. Stay with me because the 2011 V6-powered Mustang has undergone a complete transformation from the car it replaces. Gone is the anemic V6 of rental car lore, with is spongy suspension, sickly manual transmission and laughable 0 to 60 speeds. The new Mustang uses a 3.7-liter V6 with variable valve timing for the intake and exhaust valves to generate big horsepower and torque numbers while keeping fuel consumption to a minimum (that is when you’re not mashing the accelerator pedal to the floor). In V6 guise, the Mustang now boosts a whopping 305 horsepower, yet claims an amazing 31 mile per gallon highway driving when equipped with the automatic. That’s nearly as much muscle as the old GT’s V8! Better still, Ford has improved both its manual and automatic transmissions, instilling each with six gear ratios that help to enhance rather than inhibit the driving experience.
On the GT front, the 5.0-liter engine returns to the Mustang ranch using the same variable valve technology to raise output to 412 horsepower and 390 ft.-lbs of torque. Gear heads will quickly point out that these figures are not superior to the Camaro SS’ 426 horsepower and 408 ft.-lbs figures. But, the smaller, lighter Mustang is indeed faster than the more powerful Camaro. To prove the point, Ford shuttled an entire fleet of journalists to the aforementioned makeshift drag racing course, where we discovered the Mustang GT to be quicker in a straight line than the Camaro SS–at least when both cars are equipped with automatic transmissions. Of course the numbers vary widely when you move to the six-speed manual transmission, since it’s the skill of the driver, not the transmission’s computer brain, that decides which car is first to cross the quarter-mile marker.
Beyond the improvements in power, both the base Mustang and the uber-macho GT see significant improvements to their chassis, suspensions, brakes, and steering. The GT can be equipped with a Brembo brake package, which brings, not surprisingly, the Brembo disc brake setup from the GT500 and a set of really big, really expensive 19-inch wheels. The base Mustang also can be enhanced through a Performance Package that equips the V6 with much of the GT’s upgraded stock suspension and performance equipment, including an enhanced electronic stability control with a sport mode. Needless to say, the Mustang, no mater which trim, is a far better performance car than its predecessor.
But, there is more to the story than just the car’s performance aspect. There is the livable daily driver side that so eludes competitors like the Camaro. It is here that the Mustang V6 takes center stage, for unlike the boy-racer GT with its rumbling exhaust note, stiff ride, and so-so fuel economy, the Mustang V6 seems to strike the perfect balance between performance and comfort.
Ford has made a number of improvements designed to stiffen the chassis and quiet the cabin, but it’s the upgraded cockpit that makes the Mustang V6 such an enjoyable place to spend time. I found the seats to be much more comfortable than those in the Camaro and the quality of materials and dedication to details is light years ahead of both the Camaro and Dodge Challenger. Where the Camaro’s instrument cluster looks like something developed by the skunk works division of Fisher Price, the Mustang’s layout shows a sophistication and elegance harking back to the original car. The modern mixes with the old through the magic of Ford’s “My Color” instrument cluster that can be modified with over 125 color combinations. Add to this an ambient lighting option allowing you to choose the lighting color in the foot wells, door panels and overhead pin lighting, and you have a car even Tim Gunn could love.
The six-speed manual is tight and accurate and the clutch feels light and easily engaged; opting for the automatic brings an equally capable six-speed gear box, but the omittance of steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters makes this choice less engaging. Once up to cruising speed, the Mustang’s ride is firm but not so much that it telegraphs every bump and road blemish into the cabin. The optional fixed glass roof bathes the interior in sunlight and creates a feeling
of largess not found in most sports cars. Technophiles will love Ford’s SYNC audio system that allows seamless integration of Bluetooth or USB compatible music storage devices and cell phones. Voice integration allows you to call out your favorite music by artist or song title; you can also call out commands to your cell phone, such as “call Mike.” Team SYNC with the onboard navigation system, and your voice options expand to include such helpful shout outs as “increase driver’s side temperature to 68 degrees.” The brilliance of the SYNC system is that it allows you to control so many functions while keeping your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.
If it sounds like I’m high on the Mustang V6, you’re correctly reading between the lines. With a base price starting around $23,000 and a well equipped V6 Premium remaining below $30,000, there’s much to like. The GT trims range from a low of $30,000 to around $45,000 fully loaded, while the convertible trims add about $5,000 to the bottom line.
In a nutshell, if you’re all about speed, sound and burning rubber, the GT will please you in ways you never thought possible. But if you’re looking for something a bit more demure, a pussycat that can become a panther only when it needs to, then Mustang V6 is the way to go. An unbeatable combination of price, fuel economy, performance, and comfort make this my favorite pony car for 2011. As for Wes, I figure he’ll eventually reach the same conclusion, probably sometime around the year 2031.