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Expert Reviews 1 of 8
By Jim Flammang
March 26, 2003
Vehicle Overview Ford introduced the Mach 1 Mustang back in 1969, and its back for 2003. The new version has a functional shaker scoop on its hood and an air-dam extension and low-gloss black striping above the rocker moldings. Not only has the Mach 1s body been lowered by half an inch, but its 4.6-liter V-8 engine is good for more than 300 horsepower.
Moving down the performance scale, a new V-6 Pony Package gives the appearance of a GT and features a GT hood, Pony tape striping and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Now that General Motors has dropped its long-lived Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird, Fords Mustang is now the last of the traditional rear-wheel-drive pony cars. Most recently redesigned in 1999, the Mustang still comes in base and GT forms and as a coupe and convertible.
Ford rolled out the newest member of the SVT family at the Chicago Auto Show in February 2002. Revived for 2003, the SVT Mustang Cobra dishes out more power than any of its predecessors 390 horsepower and 390 pounds-feet of torque, compared to 320 hp and 317 pounds-feet of torque for the 2001 SVT Mustang Cobra (a 2002 model was not produced). The extra horses on the 2003 version are the result of an Eaton Roots-type supercharger, which features a water-to-air intercooler that has been added to the cars 4.6-liter V-8 engine.
Ford promotes the fact that the Cobra is easy to drive and its comfortable, but its also prepared to unleash a torrent of power when called upon. You open the throttle and get gratification on demand, Coletti said. It just goes!
New aluminum-alloy cylinder heads promise increased flow capability, and the forged pistons are similar to those used for the engine in the SVT F-150 Lightning pickup truck. A new 3.55-1 axle ratio also helps acceleration. A six-speed-manual transmission is mounted behind an aluminum engine flywheel, and it sends all the Cobras vigor to the back wheels.
Styling alterations are subtle but noticeable and are primarily intended to give the SVT Cobra a unique look compared to an ordinary Mustang GT. The front and rear fascias, hood, rocker moldings and side scoops have been revised. The rocker panels have been reshaped, and the side scoops have new horizontal fins.
Higher-rate springs are installed in the independent rear suspension, which also gets upgraded bushings and an additional tubular cross-brace. Coupe and convertible body styles are available, but the soft-top Cobra now has its own suspension tuning. Gas-charged Bilstein monotube shock absorbers are used in the front and rear. On sale since the summer of 2002, the SVT Mustang Cobra is capable of accelerating from zero to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds.
Even in a tamer trim level with a V-6 engine, the Mustang flaunts a sporty appearance that is focused on its long-hood and short-deck profile. Several of the current styling cues are evolutions of the Mustangs appearance from more than three decades ago. The characteristics include the hood scoop, side scoop and a grille that contains a pony emblem in a chrome corral. The vertical taillights resemble a tri-bar style, and the single-wing spoiler on the back of the GT model enhances its performance image. Convertible models have a glass back window and a power-operated top that stows beneath a hard boot.
The Cobra retains its SVT-signature round fog lamps, but the front fascia exhibits a more aggressive look than before. The hood now has flow-through scoops that help vent hot air from the engine compartment. Both the hood and rear deck are made of lightweight composite material. Unique color-keyed foldaway mirrors are installed. An integrated spoiler is installed at the rear, and the Cobra name is spelled out on the back fascia. Special touches include wipers that have aero wings to keep them planted at high speeds.
Mustangs seat four occupants on front bucket seats and a split, folding rear seat. Realistically, the backseat is better suited for children than adults. Seating is reasonably upright for easy entry and exit, but the doors demand considerable room to the sides in order to fully open them. Cargo volumes are a modest 10.9 cubic feet in the coupe and 7.7 cubic feet in the convertible, which substitutes fixed rear seatbacks for the coupes split, folding backseat.
New multiadjustable front bucket seats are trimmed in Nudo leather and Preferred suede. The six-way power drivers seat has new power-adjustable thigh and side bolsters, along with power lumbar support.
Electroluminescent, titanium-colored gauge faces have been redesigned to include a boost gauge that keeps the driver informed of supercharger behavior. New metal-trimmed pedals and a dead pedal are installed. Standard equipment includes a tilt steering wheel, remote keyless entry, a Mach 460 audio system with an in-dash six-CD player, and power windows, door locks and mirrors.
Under the Hood
Base-model Mustangs carry a 3.8-liter V-6 engine that produces 193 hp, while the GT gets a 4.6-liter single-overhead-cam V-8 rated at 260 hp. Either engine can team with a five-speed-manual transmission or an optional four-speed automatic. The Mach 1 V-8 generates 305 hp at 5,800 rpm and 320 pounds-feet of torque at 4,200 rpm. A Traction-Lok limited-slip rear axle is standard on GT models.
Breathing with the assistance of a supercharger, Ford SVTs 4.6-liter dual-overhead-cam V-8 engine produces 390 hp at 6,000 rpm and 390 pounds-feet of torque at 3,500 rpm. A six-speed-manual is the sole transmission available.
In all Mustang models, antilock brakes are standard, but side-impact airbags are not available. In the Cobra, Fords BeltMinder system gives a visual and audible warning when it senses that the driver is not wearing a seat belt.
Whether its packing a V-6 or V-8 engine, the Mustang is a strong performer yet its easy enough to live with for everyday driving due to its relatively smooth ride and quiet operation.
Handling is another bonus, especially when driving a GT. Steering demands moderate effort, but you get firm, secure responses and a tenacious grip through curves. The GTs V-8 delivers a lushly satisfying exhaust sound. Fords five-speed-manual gearbox isnt always the easiest to shift, and some manual gearboxes have proven to make a clanking sound and not shift smoothly to the next gear.