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Motoring: Mustang still has muscle

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | October 11th, 2010

There are few constants in the auto industry. New models come and go, while the names and characters of cars get completely overturned. Case in point: the Chevrolet Impala's current model has nothing in common with the Impala models from my dad's generation.

However, Ford has been true with the Mustang. First of all, the Mustang never went away, it has stayed in production since 1964. It has always been a two-door, coupe or convertible, with a few different engine options, and it has always been rear-wheel drive.

While the Mustang has had some roller-coaster years, the current cars are better than ever, and all this goodness is even better for the 2011 model year. There is a potent new V6 engine, but the big news is that there is an even more potent V8 under the hood, not to mention the new supercharged V8.

To see how good these new Mustangs are, I spent some time with the new 5.0 GT and the GT500.

The 5.0 GT is the big story this year, because 5.0 and Mustang are two badges that have quite a history together. For the past 15 years, Ford has been using a 4.6- litre engine, but for 2011 a new 5.0-litre motor has arrived.

This new V8 motor produces 412 hp and 390 lb/ft of torque. Couple that with its excellent new six-speed manual gearbox (a six-speed automatic is also available) and you have one rocket of a car. Zero to 100 km/h takes about 4.6 seconds and top speed is above 260 km/h. That is really fast for a car that still has a livebeam axle in the rear (most sports cars have independently sprung suspension all around).

The speed is one thing, but it's the way this new motor revs up that is most impressive. No matter what the speed or gear, it catapults forward at a rate that may cause some people a heart attack. The new 5.0 motor has to be the best normally aspirated V8 motor of any American car.

As fast as the new 5.0 GT Mustang is, it has an even faster sibling to excite you. It's called the GT500 and this version has a 5.4-litre, supercharged V8 that is 100 lbs lighter than the motor it replaces, plus it produces an extra 10 hp for a total of 550 hp. With 510 lb/ft of torque available, this muscle car can evaporate any straight it is pointed at. Zero to 100 km/h is dealt within 3.9 seconds and the top speed approaches 300 km/h.

Like the 5.0 GT, the GT500 also has a six-speed manual gearbox, but no automatic is available. Also, while the gearbox in the GT500 is good, the one in the 5.0 GT feels even better.

Handling and braking is another matter. While the 5.0 GT does a fine job at both, the GT500 is a much sharper and a better car for any performance driving. I did wish, though, that the steering wheel were smaller. Its huge wheel does not suit this car's sporty demeanor.

The interior is almost identical between the two (though the 5.0 GT has nicer instrument dials), while the seats are slightly different between the two models, their comfort levels feel the same.

Sadly, these two models also share the same discomfort level. The Mustang is fine on a nicely paved road, but hit a bump and the car gets unsettled much more than I'd like. Even just driving on the highway, the car keeps hopping and shaking. The blame for this discomfort is the livebeam rear axle, which cannot cope with undulations like a fully independently sprung car would.

But niggles aside, the 2011 Mustangs are great, fun cars. They perform as good as they look.

Of the two models mentioned, the GT500 is a more complete performance car. Not only can it run with just about any Ferrari, it also managed to return 10 litres/100 km on a highway trip, which is amazing.

If buying, my money would go to the 5.0 GT. At $38,499, the 5.0 GT is $20,000 cheaper than the GT500 and it delivers almost the same amount of fun. Plus the 5.0 GT has a nicer-sounding motor and a nicer gearbox.

Is the new Mustang the best all-around sports car for the money? Probably not, but it's one of the most fun muscle cars I have ever driven. Long live the Mustang.
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