The hot Ford Mustangs - SVT, Cobra or special-edition Bullitt - may be the highly desired pony cars, but here's what most of us wind up with. And it's not bad.

The base-model Ford Mustang is unadorned by scoop, wing or performance extra, and without any optional extras. This is the pure, showroom-fresh, bottom-end Mustang that costs little more than an ordinary economy car.

It's also a sharp-looking, enjoyable sports coupe, the spiritual successor to 38 years of Mustang lineage with sporty handling and a driving attitude that belies its moderate price. At about $18,000, the base coupe helps rekindle the phrase "more bang for the buck."

True muscle-car adherents may turn up their collective noses at the pushrod V-6 under the hood instead of a V-8, but this beefy engine has been kicked up to deliver 193 horsepower. The engine may lack the raw horsepower for roaring displays of testosterone, compared with the muscular V-8 in the GT version, but on the open road, the V-6 proves strong and capable.

On the notorious hill on Interstate 17 beyond Black Canyon City, the Mustang climbed easily, passing slower traffic with aplomb.

This is Ford's old 3.8-liter V-6, and in some ways, it seems pretty harsh and unsophisticated. But somehow, that matches the roughhouse nature of the Mustang itself. With its old-style front-engine/rear-wheel-drive layout, Mustang feels very much like the throwback that it is. Peering over that long hood, there's almost a vintage feel to its handling and road manners.

But this is all good. For veteran drivers, it's a welcomed blast from the past. For younger drivers, it's a piece of classic Americana that can be experienced every day.

Also for young drivers, the V-6 could help keep them out of trouble and possibly lower their insurance premiums.

The bright-yellow test coupe turned a surprising number of heads, considering that late-model Mustangs are just about everywhere you look. The current styling, with flared wheel arches, glowering headlights and fake-out scoops on hood and flanks, looks very crisp and purposeful. The sunflower hue made it look even racier.

Good-looking 16-inch alloy wheels and low-profile tires helped, too.

The tester was equipped with a five-speed manual transmission, all the better to wring power from the V-6 and enjoy the sporty sensations. This is not, however, one of the great shifters. It's stiff and notchy, with a feel that's more pickup truck than sports car.

The clutch uptake is heavy, as well, and the engine in the test car had a disconcerting habit of hanging in the upper rpm between shifts.

Handling is good, though the base model lacks the finesse of more modern sports coupes or the upgraded versions of Mustang.

The rack-and-pinion steering is quick and direct, and the Mustang will hustle smartly through tight corners.

The standard four-wheel-disc brakes were strong. An antilock braking system is optional and, therefore, was not on the test car.

The interior carries over yet another Mustang tradition. It's cramped. Tall drivers and passengers will find legroom lacking up front, and the rear seat should be offered only to your smallest friends. The dark seats and black vinyl trim were a bit stark but not terrible. The cabin styling feels like it could use some updating.

The standard stereo system, which includes a CD player, sounded just fine. Good, even.

The trunk is small, and the short-trunk opening limits how much you can load into it. But that's OK. We're not talking practicality here.

Everything on the Mustang test coupe came standard, including power windows and door locks, remote keyless entry, and those sharp wheels.

The only extra on the window sticker was the delivery charge at $625. The only option I missed was cruise control.

Mustang is a true survivor, especially now that sadly, it's greatest competitors, Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird, have gone away. Mustang, the original pony car, is the last one standing.