Yes, there's a Chevrolet Camaro on the way, and a Dodge Challenger, but let's face it: The keeper of the pony-car flame has been the Ford Mustang, and this current Mustang, which has been on the market since 2005, is the best all-around version yet.
One central reason for the Mustang's success is its dual personality: Sure, there's a sporty, V-8-powered GT, but if you can't afford that version, or don't want the power, the V-6 version looks and handles enough like its beefier sibling to make it cool to own, too.
That has never been more true than now. The Mustang GT has a 300-horsepower, 4.6-liter V-8 engine, but it starts at $25,695. The base Deluxe V-6 Mustang starts at $19,250, and even it has air conditioning, a decent stereo, keyless entry and power windows.
The test Mustang was the Premium V-6, which adds a few more standard features to the Deluxe and has a base price of $20,175. Add in the five-speed automatic transmission ($995), the "pony package" ($750) that gets you upgraded 17-inch tires and wheels, a low-key rear spoiler, fog lamps and a beefier suspension, an "interior upgrade package" ($460), Sirius satellite radio ($195) and leather upholstery (usually $695), which, on this car, was thrown in for free, and with shipping, the bottom line is $23,320. That's a lot of car for the money.
Ford is moving about 12,000 Mustangs per month, which is down from last year, but the car carries a relatively modest rebate ($1,000 at present, compared with, say, $2,500 for the Focus), and there have been no substantial changes to it since 2005. Most significant enhancements for 2007: a couple of new colors, and the stereo gets an auxiliary input jack. But then, Ford got this Mustang pretty much right from the start.
On the road, this Mustang V-6 benefits from the larger tires and the "pony package" suspension enhancement, mostly GT-type front and rear stabilizer bars. The ride is compliant, but handling is still crisp. The 4.0-liter V-6 will never be mistaken for the V-8, but acceleration is more than adequate, and it's a nice match to the automatic transmission. The manual would save you almost $1,000, but I prefer the automatic.
Inside, the leather-clad bucket seats are some of the best ever in a Mustang, but they would have to be better than the seats in the last-generation Mustang. Rear-seat room is minimal, but anyone who buys a Mustang expecting to put adults in the rear seat regularly is an optimist.
By the time the Camaro and Challenger arrive in a year or two, Ford had better have some upgrades ready for the Mustang. For now, though, it's the only game in town -- but it's still plenty better than it has to be.
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