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Expert Reviews 1 of 14
By Joe Wiesenfelder
December 30, 2004
The 2005 Mustang is completely redesigned and on its first new platform in 20 years. Introduced in October 1964, the Mustang certainly has a rich history, starting with its name, which Ford Executive Stylist John Najjar took from the P-51 Mustang fighter plane that saved the Allies from German Messerschmitts and Focke Wulfs in World War II. (Good thing we won, or I'd be reviewing the Focke GT.) Ironically, the P-51 was known as the Cadillac of the Sky.
That's just enough history to make my point. I'm too practical a reviewer to let nostalgia get in the way of a car evaluation. My first cars were Oldsmobiles. When General Motors killed the Oldsmobile brand, was I upset? No. Why? Because the modern Olds models were weak. There are too many brands and too many models in the market, and I'd like to see more of them go away. Seriously. So no storied brand or car gets a pass from me because of its history. If it stinks, it stinks. In my opinion, some of the Mustang generations have stunk in one or more important ways. It is with this established that I say the 2005 Mustang GT as an American icon, as the last of the affordable muscle cars and as a modern car irrespective of those historical considerations is a triumph. I drove the V-8-powered GT both with manual and automatic transmissions, as well as the automatic Mustang V6. All were the higher, Premium trim level. The base trim level is called Deluxe. Exterior & Styling There's no better proof of my point than the Mustang's styling. Young people who know nothing of the second-generation, late-1960s Mustang styling on which the new model is based are just as likely to swoon as the people who drove, saw or lusted after Mustangs in 1964. We know styling is important, but sometimes it's difficult to judge how much so. The Mustang gives a pretty good idea, because I've met innumerable Americans who don't consider themselves "Mustang people," or ever saw themselves driving a muscle car, who are considering buying the new one just for its looks.
The goofy fake hood scoop is gone, and the car is much better for it. The V6 trim level is a complete Mustang, but one can dress it up a bit. The rear spoiler, standard on the GT, is optional in a Sport Appearance Package. The GT's standard accessory lights, which protrude from the grille and appear for all intents as a second pair of headlights, aren't offered on the V6. GT buyers can delete the spoiler for no cost and no discount, but they're stuck with the accessory lights. I think this is unfortunate. They give the GT a tough look, based on the classic 1969 model, but they also detract from the Mustang's lines. To my eye, the V6's broad, uncluttered grille looks even better.
The V6 has 16-inch painted alloy wheels in the Deluxe version. Bright 16-inch alloys are optional here and standard on the Premium version. The upgrade wheels have three-wing "spinners" at the center. These aren't the modern spinners that keep rotating when the wheel stops. They're meant to emulate the big, threaded nut that used to hold on "knock-off" wheels back in the day. I've seen these accessories before, and I still think the illusion would be more effective if the lug nuts, which actually hold the wheel on, weren't clearly visible.
The Mustang GT has 17-inch wheels. Standard is a painted, five-spoke design with five rounded spokes that recall the "mag" wheels of my youth. (OK, I'm a little nostalgic.) If you prefer a more modern look, machined, cast-aluminum rims are optional. Ride & Handling To understand the improvement, it helps to know that the Mustang's previous platform, called Fox, was 25 years old and borrowed from the not-very-cool Ford Fairmont. Ford's ability to squeeze the most out of this architecture for so long is remarkable, but even at its most modern, the Fox-based Mustang was something of a noodle. It shuddered and jiggled, which is one of the many sources of the 2004 model's wildness and unpredictability. To be clear, the 2004 was still a rip-snorting good time. But there's raw and then there's too raw, and the old pony was too raw for the 21st century.
The new platform is an upgrade of the one that underpins the Lincoln LS. Torsional rigidity is up 35 percent over the 2004, and the structure is also 39 percent stiffer in bending. The greater rigidity improves handling and gives the car a more solid and confident feel. To spare you non-gearheads, I'm going to stick to the driving experience and features. But if you're interested in the Mustang's compelling engineering changes, I detailed them in my original coverage of its introduction. Included are some words from Hau Thai-Tang, the Vietnam-born chief engineer (whom Ford has since promoted to the honcho role of director of advanced product creation for the whole company). The feature information is out of date, but the tech stuff holds true. (See the article.)
Overall, the Mustang's ride and handling are exponentially improved. With its wheelbase 6 inches longer and the front wheels farther forward, the weight distribution is 53/47 (front/rear) versus 57/43 in the 2004, resulting in just enough understeer to be safe but not so much that it's dull. The car's turning diameter is down 3 feet to 34.1 feet. The steering turns-in rather sharply and is precise enough, but I'd like more feedback through the steering wheel. The 2005 inspires much more confidence, enough to throw it hard into a corner knowing how it will react.
Most of my experience is with the GT, the Pirelli Pzero Nero tires of which are impressive and an excellent match for the car. Measuring P235/55ZR17 (see tire codes to decipher the spec), these standard tires are considered ultra-high-performance all-season models. Their treadwear rating, 400, is generous given their performance, and replacements, as of the model year's inception, cost $119 per tire according to Tirerack.com. The Mustang V6's standard tires are more modest: BFGoodrich Traction T/A all-season rubber sized P215/65R16. They list for $68 apiece, but their remarkable 620 treadwear rating means they should last more than 50 percent longer than the GT's tires. The suspension bits are the same, though the V6 has a single, 28.6-mm front stabilizer bar where the GT's is 34 mm and complemented by a 22-mm rear bar.
As always a rear-wheel-drive car, the Mustang features a solid, non-independent rear axle. Some have already complained that the rear end hops when cornering on bumpy pavement, and that Ford should have gone with independent. I simply disagree. Ford retained this design to maximize straight-line acceleration. I, too, experienced a little hop in rare circumstances, but the overall handling is both so much better than the previous model's and so composed given the GT's raw power, I don't think I'd change a thing. The Mustang isn't supposed to compete with the Porsche 911. You can make a car handle too well. Staying perfectly glued to the road isn't fun, and it's definitely not Mustang. Going & Stopping The standard 4.0-liter V-6 engine is new to the Mustang, and the 4.6-liter V-8 might as well be, thanks to the numerous upgrades.
210 @ 5,300 rpm
300 @ 5,750 rpm
240 @ 3,500 rpm
320 @ 4,500 rpm
regular unleaded (87 octane)
regular unleaded (87 octane)
As shown, both engines have higher output than ever before, with the high torque ratings that Mustang buyers demand. Modern technology makes their torque bands much broader and more gradual, so there's oomph across the engine-speed range. Note that the V-8's torque peak is at 4,500 rpm, another 500 rpm up the range compared to the 2004 engine. Because of this and the grippy tires, it's not easy to spin the wheels upon launch, and not very wise either, unless your uncle is a clutch distributor. If you're the type to do burnouts, you're better off with the five-speed automatic.
The standard transmission for both engines is a five-speed manual. Unfortunately, I didn't drive the manual V-6. I drove the V-6 automatic and was very disappointed. There was a lot more drama in the form of engine noise than there was in acceleration. According to Ford specs, the 2005 is only about 10 pounds heavier than the 2004. With the more powerful engine, I expected more. The automatic doesn't seem to be getting the power to the road. It should kick down much more readily than it currently does. To me it seemed that the tranny had two states: not delivering enough power, or finally downshifting and delivering too much odd for a five-speed. You'll want to test this for yourself, but I don't think I can recommend this drivetrain combination.
The Mustang GT is what it's all about. The manual's shifter is characteristically meaty, with shorter throws than in previous years. Diehards will find the clutch pedal too soft, but it's not so forgiving that newbies won't kill the engine repeatedly. The gear ratios are well chosen, and there's simply no experience like the fury of a large-displacement V-8 pressing you into your seat. And the sound! Maybe it's because I grew up with big-blocks, but the sound of a high-revving four-banger at full boil has always made my teeth hurt. (And I don't see how it's improved any by those sewer-sized aftermarket tailpipes that give the car a case of perpetual flatulence.) Nothing sounds like a Mustang, and when the dual exhausts start singing, the reaction is visceral. Shift a little higher up the rpm range and you get to hear it whenever you want.
This is one of the things you sacrifice with the automatic transmission. It shifts conservatively for higher fuel economy, so you really only hear the roar when you're standing on it. Big engines make automatic transmissions look good, and that's the case with the V-8. This five-speed still isn't as responsive as I think one should be in 2005, but I suspect a 20-year-old three-speed could do the job well with this much power behind it. With the automatic you lose the fine control you get from a manual, and with it the ability to power out of a turn just right every time. Buy an automatic GT if you must, but the manual is the way to go. What's that? You can't drive a stick? Well, it's time to learn. You'll thank me.
EPA-Estimated Fuel Economy
Mustang V6 (city/highway, mpg)
Mustang GT (city/highway, mpg)
Being a practical guy, I must cite the fuel economy considerations. Note that the GT with automatic is estimated to be 1 mpg more efficient in city driving, though the manual is 2 mpg better on the highway. Being a muscle car, the Mustang is certain to raise the ire of conservationists. I consider myself one, and I have a hard time coming down on the Mustang when for the past decade millions of people have been driving sport utility vehicles more-wasteful, ugly vehicles that have the handling performance of dishes spinning atop sticks.
ABS and traction control are standard on the GT and a stand-alone option on the V6 for $775 suggested retail. I liked the brakes overall, but a driving partner who really flogged the heck out of a manual GT induced some brake fade after a few successive panic stops. (The panic stops were simulated; my panic was not.) The Inside Let me put a very fine point on this: The previous-generation Mustang's interior was an ergonomics nightmare. I'm not talking about button location or something namby-pamby like that. I'm talking about a driver's seat that I've spent more time adjusting than any, in every other vehicle I've ever driven combined and without ever approaching actual comfort. I'm talking about a gearshift lever that was bent toward the driver because it would otherwise be too far to reach. The 2005 is much better in most ways, but there's still one ergonomics boner that, in my opinion, needs to be fixed. (More on that in a moment.)
The seat isn't a pinnacle of comfort or anything, but I adjusted it once and drove the car for a week. Miracle. The modest side bolsters are comfortable, but aggressive driving calls for something more substantial or more texture than my car's slippery leather provided. To that end, the protruding speaker grille does a good job of emulating the snap-on speaker grilles of yore, but it also does an efficient job of digging into your leg if you brace against it. Club racers will want to pad this thing. Or their leg. Or something.
The snap-strap that holds the seat belt within the driver's reach is an inelegant solution, but it does the job if you remember to refasten it after letting someone into the backseat. The gearshift, despite being shorter, is now within reach. Compared to the 2004, the 2005 Mustang's front-seat headroom is up 0.5 inch, while backseat headroom is down 0.5 inch. Legroom is more or less identical by the numbers. Shoulder room is up an inch or so, as is front-seat hip room. The backseat accommodates 0.7 inch less hip. The cabin volume is up 3 cubic feet to 85 cubic feet.
Throughout are hints, if not direct lifts, from the classic Mustang era: the steering wheel, the automatic transmission's T-handle gear selector, the shape of the dashboard and the recessed gauges. More important than all of this is the fact that Ford made a commitment a few years back to improve its interior design and materials quality, and largely has delivered. The high point here is the use of real aluminum, and plenty of it, in the optional Interior Upgrade Package offered for every trim level. Recently introduced and redesigned vehicles have led me to believe that every automaker has a laboratory full of scientists attempting to make plastic look like aluminum and failing. I've always believed they would be better off to send the scientists home and put the money toward the real thing. Ford has proven me right though it comes in a package with other items you might not want.
One of these is the color-configurable instrument backlighting the ergonomics problem I mentioned. It allows one to choose among 125 backlight shades, which come from red, green and blue LEDs, each of which can be set to five different intensities (5x5x5). If you've read any other critiques about this feature, you're expecting me to say it's too difficult to adjust. Not so. Well, yes, it's too difficult to adjust using the nearby buttons. But I think people will tire of this gimmick so quickly and leave it at one color that it won't matter. The greater ergonomics problem is that the gauges are recessed far more than the classic Mustangs', and they wash out easily in bright sunlight. It appears that the instruments can turn 125 colors but they can't turn bright enough to be seen deep in their shadowed wells. I haven't experienced the standard gauges, which might be better. (Send me an email if you have.)
The two-position backseat is workable but not exactly comfortable for adults. After settling a bit, being 6 feet tall, I found that my head cleared the ceiling by about an inch. There's not much foot room, though, and my knees were pressed into the front backrest. The seats' contoured sides are also very snug. There are some other disappointments back here, which I'll address below under Features.
Aside from the welcome exhaust rumble, the Mustang is certainly not a quiet car, but it is livable and none of the noise in my test vehicle came in the form of squeaks or rattles. Safety As of this writing, the Mustang has not yet been crash tested. Dual-stage frontal airbags are standard, and side-impact airbags for the front seats are a $370 stand-alone option on any Mustang. Unfortunately, the Mustang doesn't offer side curtain-type airbags, a disappointment in such a new model.
The front passenger seat has an Occupant Classification Sensor that turns off the front airbag if a child or small adult is in the seat. Still, the best place for children and child seats is the backseat, where the tight quarters and contoured seats make installation difficult. Overall, the Mustang isn't the best car for ferrying kids. Cargo & Towing The Mustang's cargo capacity is fair, with a 13-cubic-foot trunk (up from 11 cubic feet in the prior generation). The trunk opening is a bit restrictive, though. The standard 50/50-split backseat extends the cargo area into the cabin. The seats are easy to fold and the opening is nice and wide.
Ford cites the Mustang's maximum towing capacity as 1,000 pounds. Given the large engines and rear-wheel drive, I'd hoped for a higher spec, but many other factors come into play when towing, and the manufacturer truly does know best. Features The Mustang has a decent number of standard features where it matters most, but there's some evidence of cost cutting, perhaps to keep the sticker price roughly where it was before the redesign. Some examples: black side mirrors that don't fold, front seats that don't slide forward automatically when their backrests are tilted forward, no grab handles above the doors, and, in the backseat, a lack of storage provisions, cupholders and a much-needed light.
As always, all standard and optional features and their prices are available by clicking on the buttons on the upper left corner of this page. A couple are notable, though. An AM/FM/CD stereo is standard. Optional on the Deluxe and standard on the Premium trim level is an upgraded Shaker 500 stereo with 500 peak watts, an in-dash six-CD changer and MP3 playback capability. Optional on all models is the Shaker 1000 stereo, which adds to the 500 version another 500 peak watts and two subwoofers. This one's significant because it is much, much smaller than the Mach 1000 stereo option in the 2004 model, which ate up about half of the trunk with its twin subwoofers and amplifier rack.
Another interesting feature is the Active Anti Theft option, which goes beyond the typical "alarm" to include a separate siren and anti-tow, interior and perimeter sensors. This option, an attempt to keep insurance companies at bay, is far cheaper than having a similar system installed by an aftermarket shop. Mustang in the Market Oftentimes when a new model creates as much buzz as this one does, it's tied to limited production. (Think Mini Cooper.) Even though the average Mustang spends about three hours (as of this writing) on a dealer lot before being driven away by a new owner, Ford has every intention of cranking out as many cars as it can, welcoming longtime fans and new ones alike. Until supply comes closer to demand, buyers can expect to pay sticker price or higher and to wait at least a little bit.