My brother wasn’t the most adventurous member of the family. When we were kids he was always whining: “mommy I don’t wanna go in the hot air balloon”, “mommy, I don’t wanna ride the pony”. These memories came flooding back when I stepped out of a cute, light little Fiat 500 and into the high-beltline V6 Mustang. As the Mustang pulled up, my first thought was: mommy, I don’t wanna ride the pony. My problem with the Mustang V6 wasn’t the car itself, it was the driver: me. Maybe it’s because when I was a kid my Mustang was killed by the Mustang II. Maybe it was because the last 5.0 was really just a weak-sauce 4.9. Before I even got behind the wheel, I was asking myself: what is the point of the pony car? Is it just to look cool? Deliver easy burnouts? Why not buy something else? The new V6 ‘stang is headlined as the holy grail of RWD car shopping; 300+ HP, 30+ MPG or as I like to say: all the hoon, half the gas. Because of the hype I had to see for myself if the V6 pony car is the perfect RWD companion, or should if $22,000-32,000 would be better spent on something else. Let’s find out.
From the outside, the Mustang checks all the right boxes for me: it’s big, it’s bold, it’s brash. The same could be said of the Camaro, except that somehow the Chevy’s form ends up being a tad cartoonish for my tastes. The Camaro reminds me of that kid in high school that tried too hard to be cool and ended just up being weird instead. The Challenger is as true to the old muscle car form as any, and is perhaps my favorite style-wise in this segment. The 370Z’s simple lines are in many ways the most conservative in the segment, and the Hyundai Genesis being fairly unique among coupes. Of course style is very much a matter of personal taste, and the Mustang’s look may not be to your liking. Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.
Let’s talk engines. While the Mustang’s design has historically evolved slowly over time with evolution not revolution describing the chassis and drivetrain changes, 2011 is different. While last year’s Mustang received the same 210HP 4.0L V6 and 4.6L “modular” V8 (that trace their history back to 1968 and 1991 respectively), the 2011 model year brings not one, but two new engines to the plate. While the power-hungry in the crowd will gravitate towards the new 5.0L “Coyote” engine with its 412 or 444 horses (GT vs Boss 302), the 305HP 3.7L V6 is what we’re here to talk about.
Ford’s 3.7L engine is a member of Ford’s new V6 family introduced in 2006. This family includes the 3.5L engine in the Ford Edge and the 3.5L twin-turbo direct-injected V6 in the Taurus SHO. For Mustang duty, Ford opted to fit the 3.7L variant with dual variable valve timing, skipping over turbos and direct injection no doubt to keep costs low, the V6 ‘stang starts at $22,310 after all. This means Ford’s new V6, like those from Japan, needs to rev to produce the advertised numbers. For someone that’s driven Ford’s previous generation pony cars, this high-revving nature takes some adjusting to get used to.
The exhaust note of the new Mustang doesn’t sound like other high-revving V6s like the 3.7L from Nissan which is like a siren call enticing you to rev the nuts off the engine. Instead, the Mustang reminds me of a mid-90s Pontiac with an exhaust tuned to highlight a low burble. Noise aside, there’s no arguing with the numbers, the new V6 produces 305HP at a lofty 6,500RPM (up a whopping 46%, or 95HP from the old 4.0L V6). Because the V6 isn’t force-fed, the torque gain is a more modest 15% increase to 280lb-ft at 4,250RPM.
While many reviews bemoan the high-revving needs of the V6 compared to the V8-packing GT, the numbers match up against the competition favorably with the Genesis 3.8 sporting 306HP @ 6300RPM and 266lb-ft at 4,700RPM, the 370Z packing 332 at 7,000RPM and 270lb-ft at a very lofty 5,200RPM and of course the Camaro V6 at 312HP at 6,500RPM and 278b-ft at 5,100RPM. Combine this with recent reports that Ford is underrating the V6’s power output and the blue oval’s latest baby-pony is certainly running with the “string”.
If the numbers make you leery, I can assure you that V6-burnouts are extremely easy and quite satisfying. Easy and satisfying are the two words that frequently came to mind when engaged in shenanigans I would normally never admit to engaging in. Suffice it to say the new V6 is far livelier than ever before, and while you do need to keep the revs up to keep the fun going, doing so is a cinch. Instead of spending money on a new independent rear suspension, Ford chose to fit the Mustang with a set of features that are just about worth the trade-off. First among them is the slick new 6-speed manual transmission, the same as GT buyers get. Shifts are incredibly short and the feel is almost up to BMW standards. Base V6 buyers also get true dual exhaust, a limited slip rear diff, side-impact airbags for when your sideways shenanigans end up in a tree and the usual assortment of power windows and locks. Ford didn’t just fiddle with options, they also stiffened the chassis and tweaked almost every aspect of the suspension.
When the going gets twisty, he base V6 Mustang can end up feeling like it’s writing checks its brakes and suspension just can’t cash (something that could never be said of the old V6). Fortunately Ford offers a solution to this problem in the form of the $1,995 “V6 Performance Package” which buys you GT brakes, GT suspension, sway bar, strut tower brace, performance rear axle, and 19-inch summer rubber. If you are buying the V6 mustang for any reason other than price, this option is an absolute must-have and the only reason a gear-head should buy the base V6 would be if you plan on modding your pony extensively.
Out on the road, the live rear axle works flawlessly on smooth roads but broken pavement unsettles things in a way you don’t experience in more expensive chassis setups like the 370Z or Infiniti G coupé. Still, the Camaro with its crashy ride is far worse, and the Dodge is just too soft and heavy for performance aspirations. The unsettled feel on mountain roads I frequent, combined with the numb electric power steering meant it took a few days to really start pushing the limits of the car, which are actually fairly high despite the less-than-polished road manners. Without access to a slalom or skid-pad I can’t speak absolute numbers, but the horizontal grip is quite possibly the best among the V6 competition. It’s the feel that sells the Mustang short, and makes it feel like your car is secretly plotting to kill you in some spectacularly diabolical fashion. Mind you, the Dodge Challenger V6 has absolutely nothing up its sleeve, neither does the Hyundai Genesis, and that makes them rather boring in comparison. The Camaro on the other hand just feels like it’s going to kill you in some sloppy un-planned affair that will end up in the tabloids.
Inside, the mustang shows off Ford’s recent attention to interior quality with suitably squishy dash bits, optional real aluminum trim, and all the modernity you expect in a car from the 21st century wrapped in a suitably retro wrapper. While I find the lack of a telescoping steering column a fairly large omission (especially due to the reclined seating position) taller drivers are likely to be fine, short drivers, not so much. At 6-feet tall, the Mustang’s high belt-line and far-away steering wheel position made me feel like I was driving my dad’s Oldsmobile when I was a kid, not the feeling I look for in a car. Fortunately for the gadget lover, a retro wrapper doesn’t mean old-school electronics. Well, OK, so the Mustang is “stuck” with the old SYNC navigation system for the moment. Personally however, I call that a good thing as it is far, far more responsive than the MyTouch system that has been receiving fairly bad press lately for sluggishness and frequent system crashes.
The only downside to the older SYNC system is the lack of a second USB port, no internet connectivity and a few differences in the voice command system, all of which I wager 99% of buyers will never miss. As always with SYNC, voice commanding your iPod or USB device, the navigation system or radio is just a button press away, the best thing since sliced bread and without real competition from anyone. Once Hyundai brings the new UVO system to the Genesis, the Korean coupé will give the Mustang a run for its money, but that’s later. Also on offer is an up-level Shaker audio system on which “Ice Ice Baby” sounds particularly bitchin, dual zone climate control, and an interesting gimmick in the form of “My Color”. MyColor allows the driver to select from a pre-defined selection of colors for the gauge cluster, or you can create your own “custom” colors by entering R G B values in the on-screen menu. Check out the video below for more.
Of course, comparisons are essential when you see a V6 Camaro or Challenger in the Starbucks parking lot. In this three-way-shootout the Mustang shines. The Dodge can be almost dismissed early due to the 600lb heavier curb weight and much larger proportions. (Due to the added heft, the V6 Mustang is more comparable to the V8 Challenger R/T.) The Camaro is a close contender and you could be forgiven for buying a Camaro because you like the look, you would however be buying the slower vehicle as the V6 Mustang is quicker (with the right manual driver of course). If however you see an Infiniti G Coupe or Nissan Z in the parking lot, just stare at your latte and get in your ‘Stang without making eye contact; they will beat you at the stop-light-races every time.
Perhaps the most appropriate comparison of all however is to the “other” Mustang, the GT. It goes without saying that Ford’s new 5.0L V8 sounds better, delivers more torque, more horsepower, faster 0-60 times and some totally rad 5.0L badges. (I know, I’m a child of the 70s, so sue me.) Pricing and fuel economy are the real reasons you would shop the V6 over the GT. The V6 starts at $22,310 which is about what you’d pay for something like a Chrysler 200 and $7,000 less than a base Mustang GT. Adjusting for feature content (aside from the fire breathing V8), the V6 still enjoys a $5,000 lower starting point. For me, the $695 reverse sensing system is an absolute must because of the poor rearward visibility. The $1995 performance package is a no-brainer since it basically gives you GT brakes, suspension, rear diff, etc. This brings my personal realistic base price to a still reasonable $25,000. Stepping up to the “Premium” V6 (as our tester was equipped) gets you the snazzier instrument cluster with MyColor lighting, better looking 17-inch wheels (which are replaced by the performance package), the up-level Shaker audio system, SYNC, Satellite radio and an auto dimming rear-view mirror for a fairly hefty $4,000 over the base V6. If, however you would like things like heated power seats, dual-zone climate control and navigation, you have to start with the Premium trim. Our tester was an essentially fully loaded V6 premium (manual transmission) that rang in a $32,320, or the same price as a GT with only a few options.
I think we all agree we live in the muscle car renaissance. This new generation of muscle car delivers the brash style we Americans seem to crave and six-cylinder engines that would easily dust the majority of “muscle cars” from the last 20 years. However, this is 2011 and not 1991, and the rest of the automotive landscape has changed as well. In this light the V6 is not a high-performance muscle car; that would be the GT. It is however a blast to drive, a fairly good value, and more than enough pony for most shoppers, including perhaps that brother of mine.
Ford Provided the vehicle for our review, insurance and one tank of gas
Statistics as tested
0-30: 2.0 Seconds
0-60: 5.1 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 13.8 Seconds @ 102.0 MPH
Fuel Economy: 25.2 MPG over 689 miles