EXPERT REVIEW

IndyStar.com's view

There have been any number of automotive legends since the American automobile industry first took root in the latter part of the 19th Century.

But none had more of an impact than the one that began 30 years ago.

The car was the Ford Mustang. And with its introduction, the Ford Motor Co. introduced a motoring concept that influenced the auto industry.

For 1994, Ford introduces a new Mustang. And as an automobile designed to combine nostalgia with modern styling and engineering, it’s predicated on capturing America’s fancy, as did the original pony car 30 years ago.

The new car is roughly about the same size as the model it replaces. The wheelbase and the overall length of the 1994 are a little longer, the styling more aerodynamic.

And it seems to be the consensus that the new Mustang is a better-looking automobile than its predecessors.

Other major changes are V-6 power, a new platform, a wider track, new front suspension geometry, a body structure that is noticeably free of twisting and shake, far better handling and braking, more precise steering and an improved ride.

All these contribute to a better vehicle. The Mustang can more than hold its own against its competitors in those areas, and offers the added advantage of a quite moderate price in entry-level form.

The gains in structural stiffness virtually are phenomenal. The coupe’s body is some 56 percent stiffer in bending and 44 percent stiffer in torsional twisting. The convertible is even more improved, with bending stiffness 65 percent greater and torsional stiffness 80 percent greater.

All these engineering developments contributed to the driving characteristics of the Mustang coupe that Ford’s Michael C. Vaughn provided for a test car.

Most noticeable was the lack of bounce over rippling pavement.

Many moderately light, short-wheelbase cars exhibit a tendency to leap from peak to peak on uneven pavement. But the suspension on the 1994 Mustang soaked up the bumps with minimum vibration transferred to the driver’s compartment.

Of course if you drive it over a chuckhole big enough to swallow man and car, you’ll get a reaction. But over most uneven road surfaces, the coupe maintained a pretty good ride.

The car is very light on its feet. There was no plodding feel to the vehicle, whether going fast or slow.

The front suspension has been modified, with the front cross member moved forward and the control arms slightly longer to improve steering and suspension geometries. The result is much-improved directional stability, with a wider front track sharpening the coupe’s steering response.

You could change lanes with a minimal turn of the wheel. Movement in any direction was always precise.

And if you wanted to play “Mario, the flying Italiano” through the corners, you could stick the front end onto a given line and it would stay there.

Being rear-wheel drive, the Mustang imparts a little better feel of balance between the front end and the back. However, it d oesn’t go quite as good in the snow as a front-drive because of less weight on the driving wheels.

Ford finally has gone upstream in engine for the base Mustang by replacing last year’s four-cylinder with a 3.8-liter V-6. The 4 was grossly underpowered for this car.

The 3.8 is good for 145 horsepower, and puts some life into the coupe. It doesn’t make the car a barn-burner among the drag-racing set — you’ll need the optional 215-horsepower V-8 for that — but the V-6 provided quite satisfactory acceleration and speed guaranteed to attract the attention of the man with the red light on his roof.

In keeping with the sporting tradition, there’s a full complement of instruments as well as bucket seats that give good lateral support in fast turns. About the only thing missing that I would have liked was a night light for the power-window and door-lock controls.

The original Mustang was a new symbol of America on the move, and none of that has been lost in this latest ed ition. The sporty pony is going to be on the automotive scene for a long time to come, and it quite possibly will create a legend of its own.

1994 Ford Mustang Base price: $13,365.As tested: $16,990.Type: Front engine, rear drive, four-passenger sport coupe.Engine: 3.8-liter V-6, 12 valves, fuel- injected, 145 horsepower, 215 foot-pounds of torque.Transmission: Four- speed automatic.Mileage: 19 mpg city/29 mpg highway.Acceleration: 0-60 mph in 9.0 seconds.Wheelbase: 101.3 inches.Length: 181.5 inches.Width: 71.8 inches.Height: 52.9 inches.Curb weight: 3,065 pounds.Options: Automatic transmission, Mach 460 stereo, cruise control, power group, rear defogger, keyless entry system.

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