Thumbs Up: Finally, a Mustang GT that’s good enough for track days, even bone stock
Thumbs Down: Interior of base GT is bland, cloth seats aren’t comfortable
Buy This Car If: You want a muscle car and sports car rolled into one
I’ll admit it: I’ve always liked Mustang GTs, since back in the day when the Fox bodied GTs were available as rentals from Hertz. They were fun cars to flog on a road trip, particularly if that road trip involved the sparsely populated roads of the American Southwest. They were amusing, but only for short periods of time. I was a sports car guy, after all, and flogging a Mustang around a road course just seemed wrong, like using a garden shears to cut hair. Even if it gets the job done, it isn’t going to be pretty.
When the new body style was released in 2005, I loved the lines and the cars homage to classic Mustangs of the past. I drove the GT and was suitably impressed at how much better it was over the previous generation, but it was still a “no sale” for me. The 2005 Mustang GT was still a car you wanted a friend, relative or neighbor to own; they’d let you borrow the keys for the occasional romp, even if you couldn’t commit to owning one yourself.
And then Ford launched the 2011 Mustang GT, and suddenly the line between muscle car and sports car is very blurry. I’ll come clean up front and say this: if I had the means to afford a 2011 Mustang GT, I would buy one tomorrow. I’d even trade my ’06 Miata in on the new Mustang, because it’s that entertaining to drive and that communicative to the driver. For the first time, I can use the words, “Mustang” and “sports car” in the same sentence. If you think I’m blowing smoke, go drive one and see for yourself.
Strangely enough, I’m not a fan of the 2010 restyle. I prefer the looks of the 2005 to 2009 cars, which were somehow more authentic to the classic Mustangs of the late 1960s. The rear looked cleaner before it was beveled for the redesign, presumably for better angled visibility of the taillights. Ditto for the front; I much preferred the old-school headlight and driving light design of the pre-2010 Mustangs to the more aerodynamic refresh. It’s still a good looking car, but it’s now a good looking car that has had some plastic surgery. In any case, there’s no mistaking that this is a Mustang, and Ford deserves credit for staying the course with Mustang styling.
Climb into the Mustang GT and you’ll notice a few things right away. It’s easier to get into and out of than the new Camaro SS, and has better outward visibility. You still sit low in the Mustang, but the car seems to have a lower beltline than the Camaro, which helps the Mustang feel smaller than its bowtie rival. Mustang seats had previously been a weak point, since they never offered sufficient bolstering for spirited driving. The seats in the 2011 are a big improvement, but they could still use more side bolstering on the seat back. I wasn’t a fan of the cloth seatsin the base GT, which had a stiff fabric and were too softly padded for all day comfort. This is easily corrected by opting for the GT Premium, which includes some very nice leather seats.
The base Mustang GT has a somewhat bland interior. I liked the textured, soft-touch vinyl used on the sculpted dash, but found the dark silver trim drab in the black interior. Quality of material was good enough, but there just wasn’t enough color and texture to break up all the black of the interior. The steering wheel in the base GT is textured plastic, with only a silver horse logo in the center of the wheel to provide contrast. Again, opting for the GT Premium gets you upscale (and brighter) interior trim, and a much nicer leather wrapped steering wheel.
The base GT had pretty simple controls for the stereo and HVAC. Gauges are retro, with a round speedometer on the left and a round tachometer on the right. Splitting the two is a fuel gauge and a temp gauge, with the driver information display below. Opt for the GT Premium, and it comes with Ford’s excellent Synch infotainment system, which includes Bluetooth phone connectivity (something the base GT lacks).
Start the 5.0 liter, 412 horsepower V8 and all sins are forgiven. The motor makes great noise, even at idle, and it reminds you that you’re driving a muscle car. If you short shift and keep the tach below 3,000 RPM, the Mustang GT is surprisingly docile and gets decent mileage. Even my mix of city and highway driving, done without much regard for fuel economy, yielded 21.2 miles per gallon. That’s a pretty impressive number, considering that the car puts out over 400 horsepower.
The clutch is surprisingly light and provides excellent feedback. Shifts aren’t particularly long throw, but the rubber bushings give a sloppy feel especially when you’re rowing backwards through the gears. Until you get used to the pattern, it’s not difficult to grab third from sixth when you meant to grab fifth. If you track your Mustang, a short shift kit (with harder bushings) should be one of your first mods. Aside from that, I was impressed with the clutch feel and the gearbox.
Let’s be honest though – no one buys a Mustang GT as a commuter car. You buy a GT to mash the fun pedal and grin like a maniac as the 255/40-19 tires go up in smoke. Zero to sixty happens in less than five seconds, and the Mustang GT has an electronically limited top speed of 155 miles per hour. Above 3,500 RPM, the Mustang is an entirely different beast, and the sound it makes is utterly intoxicating. Ford uses a tube to link the engine compartment with the passenger compartment, and its sole purpose is to transmit some degree of engine noise. It works, and the Mustang sounds amazing as you wind it out towards its 7,000 RPM redline. Ford’s Advancetrac stability control is retuned for cars that come with the Brembo brake package, and allows for moderate tail-out cornering even before you put it into Sport mode (or turn it off completely). Previous Mustang GTs were a handful to drive smoothly, and there was a very fine line between “hanging it out in a corner” and “inadvertently doing a 180 in traffic”. That’s no longer the case with this Mustang GT; in fact, the only car that’s ever given me more confidence with less seat time is the latest generation Miata. Comparing a Mustang GT’s handling to that of a Mazda Miata says volumes about how good the GT’s suspension has gotten. Yes, it still has a live axle, and yes, that will give you some drama over rough pavement in corners, but it isn’t a big deal. Take the time to get familiar with the car’s handling and the whole live axle versus independent rear suspension argument goes right out the window.
As for handling, I truly regret that I didn’t have the opportunity to take the Mustang GT to a racetrack. The 2010 Camaro SS feels big behind the wheel, and tossing one around a road course would take a fair amount of concentration and effort. Not so with the Mustang, which feels lighter, more communicative and more responsive to driver input. This Mustang GT is really the first one I could buy and be happy using for track days, even box stock. Grip in corners is better than you’d expect, and the Brembo brake package is definitely an option worth checking. Heads up, though – the Brembo brake package does away with the spare tire, which is replaced by an air compressor and a can of Slime. As long as you avoid blowouts (and throw a tire plug kit in the trunk), I don’t see this as a big deal.
My Mustang GT tester was a base model with a sticker price of $30,495 including destination charge. Options on the car included the $395 Security Package (active anti-theft system, wheel locks), the $395 Rear Axle Ratio (3.73) and the $1,695 Brembo Brake Package (14” vented front rotors with four piston calipers, 11.8” vented rear rotors with two piston calipers, 255/40-19 summer only tires, 19” painted wheels, revised stability control) for a total sticker price of $32,980. That’s a pretty reasonable price for 412 horsepower and handling that will impress even hard core sports car fans.
There’s been a lot of hype lately comparing the Ford Mustang to the BMW M3, and Motor Trend recently found the Mustang to be equal to the M3 in zero to sixty acceleration, sixty to zero braking and even lateral acceleration. Randy Pobst was able to turn a faster lap time at Willow Springs in the M3, but only by 9/100 of a second; given the price discrepancy of these two cars, that’s pretty damn amazing. Still, a BMW buyer is not a Mustang buyer and vice versa, so the comparison is only relevant to prove one point: the 2011 Mustang has evolved into a sports car, and it’s worthy of consideration if you’re shopping for one.