LeftLaneNews

Review: 2010 Ford Mustang GT Premium

With the reborn Camaro just around the corner and Dodge's retro-styled Challenger available in a variety of flavors, Ford decided it was time to keep up with the Joneses by releasing a throroughly revised Mustang - the car that introduced the world to the pony car concept almost 46 years ago.



What is it?
Much like the '67 and '69 Mustangs that upgraded the same basic Mustang theme presented to the world way back in April of 1964, the 2010 serves as a substantial mid-cycle upgrade over its predecessor, which was first released as a 2005. Outside, only the roof panel is shared with the 2009, and inside, the door panels and a few minor trim bits serve as the only carry-overs.

Under the new power dome Thood, Ford says that the V6 Mustang performs close to the outgoing V8 GT, while the GT now takes over where the old Bullitt trim package left off. Our evaluation focuses on the six-speed GT, the model most likely to resonate with the enthusiasts Ford hopes will continue to flock to the sporty coupe.

What's it up against?
It's the fall of 1969 all over again. Obvious rivals include the Camaro SS - expected to go on sale in March - and the Challenger R/T. Given the unrest in Detroit, we'd also put the Mustang up against some new rivals from Japan, most notably the fresh Nissan 370Z and the Mazda RX-8. In 1969, as Americans watched man walk on the moon, the thought that Nissan and Mazda would someday be selling Mustang rivals was beyond unthinkable.

Any breakthroughs?
Ford let its Ford Racing division loose - and, as you'll soon find out, it shows. Ford Racing is a mixed group of Ford GT, Mustang and SVT engineers - with a healthy dose of on-track competitors thrown in for good measure. For 2010, Mustang GT features a factory cold air induction system, an optional front strut bar (with 19 inch wheels), a choice of rear axle ratios (3.73 or 3.55) and a performance-oriented Track package that, among other things, includes retuned shocks and springs, stabilizer bars from the GT500 and upgraded brake pads.

Mustang firsts include optional high intensity discharge headlamps, navigation, automatic temperature control and a spoiler-mounted backup camera.

How does it look?
Even if you don't yearn for the '60s, there's plenty to like about the revised Mustang. Though visually similar to the outgoing 2009 model, the '10 provides some enough visual boost to keep it fresh.

Up front, GTs get a unique fascia designed to work with the cold air induction system. The grille opening is visually smaller and the prancing pony is now a black chrome finish. We like the changes for the most part, but we can't help thinking that the headlamps are awfully similar to those on the upcoming Camaro.

Mustang's tail is a bit more bulbous for the new year and it features trick tail lamps used on the Shelby GT 500 of the late '60s. Rather than simply flashing one lamp, three lights flash in sequence, one after another. The trunk opening is still too small to be useful, but most buyers will be more interested in the enlarged dual exhaust pipes. They're now three inches in diameter, if you're looking for barroom bragging rights.

Wheel sizes are up a step: V6s get standard 17s and GTs gain 18s with big 19s as an option.

And on the inside?
You might be forgiven for thinking that Ford only changed the center stack switchgear, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. In what has become a comically predictable trend, Ford replaced the outgoing car's hard plastic trim with more upscale, soft surface bits. If it was so simple to replace, why wasn't it there in the first place?

The new dashboard is composed of one big, soft-touch piece rather than a collection of coarse bits only Gumby could love. The new center stack boasts the best application of Ford's new parts bin switchgear yet; we had no trouble sorting out the well-spaced buttons that operate the audio system and the climate control.

Our test car featured attractive bright red leather seats, a red leather steering wheel and red vinyl trim on the doors. Overall, the effect was sufficiently retro - and way more convincing than its predecessor.

Count the absence of curtain side airbags and the lack of a power backrest adjuster for the driver as the only content deficiencies in our otherwise well-equipped tester. That said, it should have been well-equipped; if you haven't skipped to the end of this article, we'll surprise you with the bottom line: $37,295 as-tested for our option chart darling GT Premium.

But does it go?
To improve the visceral excitement the Mustang badge promises, Ford actually pipes the induction noise into the cabin. This unorthodox procedure endows the Mustang GT with absolutely the most intoxicating soundtrack you'll find in a current production car.

That snorting growl is met with the kind of acceleration you'd expect from 315 horsepower. With 0-60 figures around five seconds flat, the Mustang GT moves quickly. Low-end torque isn't as present at low RPMs, but the Mustang GT generally responds quickly to throttle inputs. The 325 lb-ft. of torque makes itself apparent much closer to its 4,250 RPM peak - a surprise in a V8 muscle car.

Perhaps our tester wasn't fueled with premium grade juice, which Ford says will broaden the V8's torque curve. Regular unleaded can be run in the Mustang GT with only a mild performance penalty.

The 4.6-liter modular V8 is pretty much a carry-over aside from gaining an cold air induction system and an engine-bay strut tower brace on 19-inch wheel-equipped models. We're still lamenting the fact that Ford hasn't upped displacement to an even five liters - primarily so we can finally tell people that we're "rollin' in our five point oh."

Standard stability control prevented us from looking as stupid as Vanilla Ice (he was really driving a 4.9), even though it includes a less-aggressive mode and can be fully defeated.

Left in standard mode, the stability control proved fairly unobtrusive. No doubt much of this is thanks to a revised and recalibrated suspension, which features new springs, shocks and stabilizer bars. Compared to the '09, the new Mustang's ride was notably more controlled and compliant over our Southern California test route. Winding in and out of the canyons that make the area just north of Los Angeles a playground for enthusiasts, the Mustang proved a capable companion. Steering effort has been reduced, though Ford says that's more a result of tire and suspension changes than actual revisions to the steering assembly. We actually grew to appreciate the lighter effort, which made the Mustang more livable around town without encroaching on its handling tenacity

If powered aggressively into a corner, Mustang's tail will slide out in a predictable manner until the stability control intervenes.

Compared to the outgoing model, great strides were made. There's still some of the telltale axle hop inherent to a solid rear axle, but Ford has done an admirable job of working with a tried and true platform. You'll find more handling precision elsewhere, but the gap between the muscular Mustang and more dedicated handlers like the RX-8 and 370Z has shrunk considerably.

Why you would buy it:
You want to live your muscle car fantasies - including a stylish, look-at-me car, a recording studio soundtrack and plenty of giddy up 'n go.

Why you wouldn't:
The '60s were rough on you - or you're looking for a more precise track day tool.

Leftlane's bottom line
Ford has successfully addressed all of our complaints with the outgoing Mustang by revising the interior and smoothing out the ride. The styling is more aggressive than its predecessor and should be enough to woo a few buyers away from the Camaro. Though we haven't driven the upcoming effort from GM's bowtie division, on paper and in person, it gives the Mustang a serious run for its money. Still, Ford's efforts have managed to keep the original pony car fresh and fun - and they've added a dose of much-needed refinement.

2009 Ford Mustang GT Premium base price, $31,845. As tested, $37,295.

Premier trim package, $395; glass roof, $1,995; HID headlamps, $525; 19-inch wheels, $695; Security package, $395; Comfort group, $595; Destination, $850.

Words and photos by Andrew Ganz.