Ford's SVT Mustang Cobra reminds me of the old adage, "Don't force it - use a bigger hammer."A supercharger blows 390 horsepower and 390 foot-pounds of torque through the 4.6-liter, DOHC V-8, more than enough to get your attention every time you trod the throttle. The beauty of a supercharger is that it adds power at both low and high rpm, creating a linear power delivery not unlike opening the nozzle of a hose. After-market companies such as Jack Roush and Saleen have been adding superchargers to Mustangs for some time, but now SVT is offering the same thing for considerably less money. SVT, or Special Vehicle Team, is FordÕs in-house, high-performance shop, and its job is to create vehicles with more power, better handling and distinct looks. SVT also builds a Focus and a Lightning pickup. Surprisingly, the Cobra is priced at $34,750 for the coupe and $38,995 for the convertible. SVT marketers say there is not another car with this much horsepower that is priced under $50,000. Chrome wheels, at $695, are the only option, and they won't be available until later in the year. Buyers can also specify that the rear spoiler be deleted at no extra cost. In many ways, the supercharged SVT Cobra reminds me of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle: It mixes classic styling and raw power. When you mash the throttle, the supercharger whines and the shift linkage buzzes. Powerful things are happening and you can feel every one of them. This powerplant is not as smooth as some naturally aspirated V-8s, but it does the job of yanking this Mustang up to highway speeds in a handful of heartbeats. No official figures have been released, but expect the Cobra to hit 60 miles per hour in less than five seconds. This much power calls for strong brakes, and the Cobra has them. The front discs are 13 inches, while those in back are 11.65. Anti-lock is standard, as is traction control. No vehicle stability program is offered. New this year is a six-speed transmission that has overdrive ratios in fifth and sixth gear for relaxed cruising. This gearbox feels bulletproof and the linkage is quite stout. I never got comfortable with the shift linkage because it was heavy and a long way for me to reach. I would like to see it moved back a couple of inches. And, speaking of heavy, holding in the clutch during rush-hour traffic was no fun. The added weight of the supercharger increases weight on the front tires, which would normally be a detriment to cornering. SVT engineers, however, have done an excellent job of retuning the suspension so the car feels balanced in turns. Stiffer springs are used both front and rear and the independent rear suspension Mustang has been beefed up with a tubular cross brace. The convertible has softer springs than the coupe because of the difference in body structure. Seventeen-inch wheels are shod with Goodyear Eagle F-1 tires that play a major role in the carÕs grip. The Cobra may look pretty much like a regular Mustang GT, but close inspection reveals massive brakes, subtle spoilers and a purposeful stance. The lower front fascia has fog lights and ducts that direct cooling air to the front brakes and a modest lip adorns the top of the trunk. Five-spoke, polished wheels that have narrow spokes for a good view of the brakes carry large tires. The hood has vents that allow hot air to escape from the engine compartment. New side sills and a trunk spoiler are smooth and understated. The Cobra name is now stamped into the rear bumper cover. Other nice touches include metal pedals, new light-faced instruments and two-tone seats. Interior changes include new instruments and new seats. The seats have deeper padding, better back support and leather covering all over, not just on the seating surfaces. The light-faced instruments are now luminescent to make them easier to read in low light conditions, such as sundown or sunrise. The SVT Cobra is sold only through a network of 600 select SVT Ford dea ers. Call 800-FORD-SVT, or check http://www.svt.ford.com, to find a dealer. Price
The base price of the coupe is $34,750, including a $1,000 gas guzzler tax. The test car's sticker price was $34,750. Warranty
Three years or 36,000 miles. Point: The SVT Cobra is one of the top performance buys of the year. Boasting 390 supercharged horsepower for less than $35,000, it packs a wallop but won't hurt your wallet. Brakes are excellent, the seats firm and the unique-to-the-Cobra body pieces are nicely understated. Counterpoint: The supercharger whines when you punch the throttle, and the shift linkage buzzes in unison. The clutch is heavy and the gearshift linkage is located too far forward for shorter drivers. The fuel mileage requires a gas-guzzler tax of $1,000. SPECIFICATIONS:
Engine: 4.6-liter, 390-hp V-8
Transmission: Six-speed Rear-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 101.3 inches
Curb weight: 3665 lbs.
Base price: $34,750
Sticker price: $34,750
Mpg rating: 16 city, 22 highway
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