Although all new from the tires up, the current car is unmistakably a Mustang, adopting design elements, silhouette, and spirit from 40 years of legendary predecessors. True to form, the car comes in two body styles, coupe and convertible. There are two series, the six-cylinder base model and the V-8-powered GT, each offered in Deluxe and Premium trim levels. While the real magic lies in the GT, the more affordable base car regularly outsells that car. Changes are minor for 2006, with special-edition “Bullitt” and Mach 1 variants looming on the horizon.
There’s no mistaking the Mustang for any other car, with its long-hood/short-deck layout, 1967-inspired front clip, galloping-horse badge, ’60s-style side scoops, and three-element taillamps. The car has an aggressive stance, made stronger by wheels pushed to the corners in a six-inch wheelbase increase over the previous model’s. The GT has a bit more exterior eye candy, but buyers of the base car who check the right option boxes can get most of those same items-and they can even get one the GT doesn’t offer: a stripe along the lower body with “Mustang” spelled out in it, just like on the 1960s cars.
Like the exterior, the Mustang’s interior has touches of neo-1960s styling, particularly the angular, twin-cove dashboard, the large, three-spoke steering wheel, and the chrome-rimmed gauges, with their long, thin numerals. But the cabin also has modern elements as well, with lots of available brushed metal trim. The interior is stylish overall, but hard, cheap-feeling plastic is plentiful. One unique feature is the optional instrument-panel lighting, which can be changed from the typical green to any one of a whole rainbow of colors. Although unusual, this is hardly a life-altering innovation, and it doesn’t change the color of the center-stack lighting. The multi-color lighting and much of the bright metal trim is part of the Interior Upgrade Package. Unlike previous Mustangs, the new car provides a good driving position and genuinely comfortable front seats, despite buckets that look transported from the Lyndon Johnson era. The modestly improved two-person backseat, however, hews to Mustang tradition by being very cramped and hard to get to; it’s suitable only for children, or for short trips. At least the rear seatbacks fold down to accommodate extra cargo-good news, because the trunk is functionally smaller than its 13.1-cubic-foot rating indicates.
The main safety story here is an all-new unibody construction that’s better able to absorb and redirect energy than the ’04 model. Safety features are rather limited, with anti-lock brakes and all-speed traction control being optional on V-6 cars, standard on GT models. Front-seat side-mounted airbags are optional on all Mustangs. These features are all worth considering, especially on car likely to inspire performance-oriented driving. Stability control would have been a welcomed feature, given the propensity of the live-axle rear suspension and eight-cylinder power to cause oversteer. Without this extra protection, judicious throttle application is required in the rain. The new Mustang has earned high marks from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, with five stars for the driver and passenger front crash test, four stars for side impact, and five stars for rollover.
The base car’s 4.0-liter/210-horse SOHC V-6 is a major improvement over the older model’s six-cylinder engine, touting 23 more horsepower. Even with those gains, though, the Mustang really comes to life in GT form, with an all-aluminum, 4.6-liter/300-horse V-8-tremendous output for a car at this price and more than double the power of the 289-cubic-inch V-8 found in the classic 1964 model. Both modern engines can be mated either to a five-speed manual transmission or a five-speed automatic. While we wish there was an available six-speed manual, credit is due to the automatic transmission for matching the manual’s performance.
Behind the Wheel
As you might expect, the GT is extremely quick, capable of running 0-60 mph in the low-five-second range, and it has all the right musclecar sounds, from both the engine and the throaty rear exhaust. On the road, however, this crowd-pleasing rumble radiates into the interior and can become tiresome. In contrast to past models, the base car’s six-cylinder now provides reasonably brisk acceleration, even when matched up with the automatic transmission. Sourced from the truck side of the Ford family, where this powerplant motivates the Explorer and Ranger, the relatively coarse base engine doesn’t replicate the free-revving smoothness of most Japanese V-6s.
The Mustang’s manual gearbox is an all-new unit, with short, precise throws. The clutch is also new, with a less travel than before. Together, the new clutch and shift linkage make do-it-yourself gear changing vastly more pleasant than in the previous model. Like many sporty cars, the Mustang does not provide the smoothest ride, and the car sometimes hops a bit over bumpy pavement, due to its live-axle rear configuration. The base model’s 16-inch wheels do a better job of blunting sharp impacts than do the 17-inch wheels and lower-profile tires on the GT. The downside to the base car’s more comfortable ride, however, is greater understeer (a tendency to plow straight ahead rather than turn when cornering) in hard turns. While the Mustang’s steering is neither as quick nor communicative as that of the best sports cars, the car handles predictably for the breed and exhibits very little lean in corners.
For those who are attracted by the rich history and retro-themed exterior but are wondering about the overall package, we can confirm that new Mustang is not just a show pony-there’s real substance behind the style. Unlike Mustangs past, the six-cylinder base car is now a pleasant driver, even if it is more of a cruiser than a hard-charging sports car. The GT is truly fast, but it isn’t a finesse machine. The convertible-which is available in either series-is a great way to go topless. Cost of Ownership varies widely depending on model and trim level, so it’s crucial to check the latest IntelliChoice ratings before you buy.
Ford has successfully captured the magic that is “Mustang” in the all-new model, improving performance and refinement, yet retaining an attainable purchase price. The modern incarnation of the original pony car, the new Ford Mustang is pure American muscle, and it begs to be flexed.
- What’s Hot Bargain priceRetro good looksStrong performance What’s Not GT noise intrusionTight rear seat and trunkStiff ride over bad roads
The only change of any significance for 2006 is the addition of a Pony package for the base car. The package goes a long way toward making the base car look like the more expensive GT, adding foglamps in the front grille, 17-inch wheels (though not the same ones as on the GT), a rear spoiler, and a stripe along the lower body, as well as anti-lock brakes, traction control, and pony-logo floormats. The GT rolls into 2006 with new optional 18-inch wheels, in two different styles.
Buyers of the base car should consider ABS and traction control, and all buyers should look at side airbags. The interior is pretty grim without the Interior Upgrade Package, which costs extra on all models. Fans of loud music may want the Shaker 1000 audio system, even though its subwoofer takes up a fair bit of the limited trunk space.