For someone who prides himself on slaughtering the sacred cows of automotive journalism, such as the irrational infatuation with the CTS-V Wagon, it was about time that I got a taste of my own medicine. The Ford Mustang V6 ended up being the bitter pill that finally bitch slapped by bloated, post-adolescent head back down to normal proportions. But just as I had swallowed the last bit of humble pie, there came another vehicle that led me to question the received wisdom propagated by enthusiast publications.
In my mind, the V6 Mustang carried an inexoribale stigma of poor moral character, prior credit delinquencies and even borderline femininity. One buys a Mustang for the booming, belligerent V8 engine. A V6, no matter how good, would never be right, and the failure of the SVO edition (yes, I know it’s a turbocharged 4-cylinder) despite its dynamic superiority was, in my mind, vindication of my idea that all Mustangs must have 8 cylinders.
Not even the critical acclaim for the 305 horsepower 2011 Mustang V6 was enough to sway me. Like a stubborn, pig-headed Car Lounge regular convinced of the inferiority of “fail-wheel drive”, I firmly supported V8 Mustang hegemony, turning down V6 Mustang press cars and doing whatever I could to book myself into the Boss 302 or Shelby GT500 versions. It was Davey G. Johnson of Autoweek who first put me on to the fact that the V6 Mustang was worth driving. “It’s great,” he said in between drags of American Spirits. “It’s lighter, there’s less weight over the front wheels, it’s still fast. It’s what I’d buy if I wanted a new ‘Stang.”
I couldn’t believe that a grown man, an auto enthusiast no less, would profess his admiration for what I thought of as mere fodder for administrative assistants and the Hertz Fort Lauderdale rental lot. I let him know as much, but Davey wasn’t having any of it.
“Dude, you’re like 7 years old. You don’t even remember when the V6 Mustang really was a secretary’s car. Yeah, the Boss is cool, but I’m telling you, the V6 is awesome.” Fast forward 7 months and I’ve been bugging the Ford fleet guys for first crack at the Boss and the upcoming 2013 Shelby GT500. I’ve just sold my Miata and my first press car since is a Mustang. A V6 Mustang. I’m hardly petulant or jaded enough to complain about my disappointment in getting a free car for a week, but I felt a certain twinge of irony when i thought about the idea of my nimble, flickable elementally pure Miata being replaced by the Mustang Low T edition – all of the weight and heft of the Ford ponycars, none of the ragining masculine essence that makes them so anti-social and fun.
This one was different. Although it conspicuously lacked the 5.0 badges that I longed for in a Mustang, it had the wonderful fabric Recaro bucket seats from the Boss. Unlike its track-focused brother, the 6-speed manual was light and crisp, the clutch easy to operate and it still made a burly burble when prodded – it just sounded more 370Z than 351 Windsor. Put the power down in a V8 Mustang, and the back-end bucks and jives, like an adolescent girl performing a racy hip-hop routine in front of her mortified parents. If the V8 is like an out of control Miley Cyrus, the V6 is like Taylor Swift, putting the power down in a demure, dignified manner with minimal histrionics.
As good as the Mustang V6 is, I’d still have to have the V8, no matter how flawed. The wart-laden driving experience (as someone used to Japanese cars, the Mustang’s seat position, vague steering and overall heft are alien to me) and price premium is all negated by the gurgling V8’s note and superior forward thrust. “Coital” is the word to describe the feeling of tearing through the gears in a 5.0 Track Pack, the ultimate street Mustang. The Boss 302 is a bit much for the daily grind. The GT500 just screams “I NEED CIALIS” and the interior looks like a brothel.
On the other hand, there is a V6 powered Ford that is unreservedly better than the much hyped V8, and it only came to light after spending some time with the F-150 SVT Raptor.
The Raptor may be the most hyped American vehicle next to the CTS-V Wagon, but unlike the two-box Caddy, which is admittedly versatile and somewhat practical, the Raptor is a single-purpose vehicle. Once you get past all the hyperbolic copy about blasting through the desert and long-travel Fox shocks, the Raptor really is an utterly miserable vehicle in 99 percent of situations that you encounter behind the wheel. In mixed driving, I got 11.4 mpg as the vaunted chassis and suspension setup did its best to make sure I knew about every frost heave and pavement patch on the road. The 6.2L V8 was full of sound and fury but all did was signify to other drivers that I was a goofy looking show-off with a noisy orange truck. Those who knew better (i.e. use trucks for manual labor jobs) mocked the short bed, and the additional 7 inches of width did not come in hand when navigating the two-lane city streets on my commute to work.
Reconciling the overwhelmingly positive reviews of the Raptor with reality seemed impossible, until I read that almost all of the test drives praising it to high heaven were conducted off-road, whether at a Ford-sponsored press event in a desert locale, or somewhere else sandy and rugged. Living with the car every day outside of those environments made the idea of setting it ablaze for an insurance payout seem favorable. The 26 gallon fuel tank would ensure a fiery death, like a Buddhist Monk protesting Burma’s military junta, and then I’d take the insurance money and buy my favorite truck, an F-150 Ecoboost Platinum. The Platinum may be a truck for someone who comes to the job site for an hour and then heads to the golf course, but it’s far more useful for me to have a cushy, leather-lined SuperCrew than a dune-bashing brotruck considering that the nearest desert is halfway across the country. Up here, the Platinum, generously equipped, is $62,000, while a loaded Raptor is about $65,000. Even a Lariat, at about $49,000, would be fine. The truly rapid acceleration of the Ecoboost combined with the reduced heft and additional creature comforts are right up my alley. The silly posturing and off-road pretensions that go along with the Raptor are not – I’m the kind of person who calls an electrician to change a light bulb. But the F-150, to me, is a Ford product where having the lesser model with a V6 is actually a benefit. But I still want to see a new Mustang SVO, with the 3.5L Ecoboost, so I can do awesome burnouts full of whistling turbos and fluttering wastegates. Maybe I’m still as immature as Davey G suggests?