Ford launched the pony-car phenomenon 37 years ago with its 1964 Mustang. Since then, the compact sporty coupe and convertible have gone through a series of generations, most recently redesigned in 1999.
Mustangs again come in base or GT form, as a coupe or convertible, along with a SVT Mustang Cobra thats been revised this year. Changes for 2001 are modest, including a new console with a repositioned front, bigger rear cupholders, a new parking-brake boot, tissue holder and power point for connecting accessories. A new hood and side scoops for the GT model give it greater differentiation from the V-6 version. A new in-dash six-CD player is available with the Mach 460 sound system.
A new value leader V-6 coupe model has been introduced. To simplify dealer inventories, only about 50-model-order combinations are available in 2001, in contrast to 2,600 possibilities last year. A rear defroster is now standard, and rear spoilers have been restyled. GT coupes and convertibles have moved from 16- to 17-inch tires on alloy wheels.
The foremost rival to the rear-drive Mustang is the Chevrolet Camaro and its GM cousin, the Pontiac Firebird. Mustang convertibles also go against the front-drive Chrysler Sebring soft-top.
A special-edition Mustang debuts during 2001, dubbed the Bullitt GT. A modern-day performance derivative of the legendary 1968 Mustang Fastback GT 390 driven by Steve McQueen in the movie, Bullitt, the new version features a lowered suspension, 17-inch Bullitt-style aluminum wheels, unique side scoops and a performance/handling suspension. Powered by a 4.6-liter V-8 that produces at least 270 horsepower, the new Bullitt GT is available in three colors, including black. Its actually a $3,695 option package.
Ford intends to issue a redesigned Mustang during 2002, but details have not been released yet. A total of 173,676 Mustangs, including Cobras, were sold during 2000, according to Automotive News.
Even in a tamer trim with a V-6 engine, Mustangs display a sporty appearance, centered on their long-hood and short-deck profile. Some of its current styling cues are evolutions of Mustang appearance from more than three decades ago, including the hood scoop, side scoop and pony emblem in a chrome corral. Vertical taillights are tri-bar style, and the single-wing spoiler on the back of a GT enhances its performance image. Measuring 183 inches stem to stern, the Mustang is about a foot shorter than the Chevrolet Camaro.
Convertibles have a glass back window and a power-operated top that stows beneath a hard boot. Tires are 205/65R15 on base coupes and 16-inchers on convertibles, but the GT Mustangs get 245/45ZR17 rubber on aluminum wheels.
Four occupants fit into a Mustang, with bucket seats up front and a split, folding rear seat. But being realistic, the backseat is better for children than adults. Because the Mustang sits a few inches taller than the Camaro, seating is more upright and the car is easier to enter and exit. Similar to the Camaro, the doors demand considerable room alongside to open fully. Cargo volumes are a modest 11 cubic feet in the coupe and less than 8 cubic feet in the convertible.
A dual-cockpit dashboard shape is reminiscent of early Mustangs. Standard equipment includes air conditioning, a tilt steering wheel, remote keyless entry, a cassette/CD stereo system, tachometer, rear defogger, intermittent wipers, a theft-deterrent system, and power windows, locks and mirrors.
Convertibles add a six-way power drivers seat, lighted visor mirrors and cruise control, and substitute fixed rear seatbacks for the coupes split, folding backseat. Drive home a GT coupe and you get a Traction-Lok limited-slip differential, leather-wrapped steering wheel, fog lights, antilock brakes, a rear spoiler and special suspension.
Under the Hood
Base Mustangs carry a 3.8-liter V-6 engine that produces 190 hp, while the GT gets a 4.6-liter overhead cam V-8 with 260 hp. Either engine can be teamed with a five-speed-manual transmission or an optional four-speed automatic. Traction control is a GT standard. All-disc antilock brakes are standard on the GT; the antilock feature comes as an option on base Mustangs. Side-impact airbags are not available.
Whether its packing a V-6 or V-8 engine, the Mustang is a strong performer. But its acceleration with either engine cannot match that of GMs twin pony-cars, the Chevy Camaro and Pontiac Firebird. On the whole, a Mustang is easier to live with for everyday driving because of its relatively smooth ride and quiet operation. Interiors also are accommodating in the Mustang due to its taller stance, which also eases entry and exit.
Handling is a plus, especially when driving a GT. Steering demands moderate effort, but you get a firm and secure response on all pavement surfaces. The GT also maintains its grip tenaciously, through swift curves. Seats are firm but sufficiently cushioned for comfort.
The GTs V-8 engine delivers a lushly satisfying exhaust sound, though Mustangs otherwise are pretty quiet. Fords five-speed-manual gearbox isnt always the easiest to shift. Some units have proved to be clanky and notchy. If all-out performance is what youre seeking, try out an SVT Mustang Cobra.