If you've been bad and you're stuck in the six-cylinder lane, take solace in a base price below $20,000 and a 202-horsepower, 4.0-liter engine with roots back to Ford's original 60-degree iron-block "Cologne" V-6. Those who qualify for the GT edition, which is expected to start at about $25,000, get the latest version of Ford's long-running modular V-8. This one mates the nearly equal bore and stroke 4.6-liter aluminum block (living here placidly since 1996) to a set of aluminum heads pirated from the truck side of the house. Since these SOHC three-valve-per-cylinder heads were engineered to feed 5.4 liters, no alterations were necessary to persuade them to handle the fluids ingested and exhausted by the Mustang's smaller pistons. Thanks to variable valve timing, special spark plugs tapered to fit in the minimal space left between the three valves, and a dual-mode intake manifold, the 2005 V-8 revs to 6000 rpm (with a 250-rpm reserve before fuel delivery ceases) and pumps out 300 horsepower at the redline. The lively torque curve reaches its 320-pound-foot crescendo at 4500 rpm.
Key this V-8 to life, and you'd swear flaming bowling balls were rumbling down the exhaust pipes. The boom is big and barely restrained. This is one V-8 that doesn't mince or mumble.
For the first driving leg from Ann Arbor to GingerMan Raceway, rented by Ford for press indulgence, we drew a GT equipped with an automatic transmission. We were initially bummed by our fate, but frustration morphed to fulfillment within fifteen miles. With five ratios to offer, the slushbox does a remarkable job keeping the new V-8 happy at its work. When you nail the throttle, a lower gear is yours without hesitation. If you keep the gas pedal buried, the revs drop only a few hundred rpm below peak torque after each upshift. This is an automatic with masterful moves.
Our hosts offered us precisely two laps at GingerMan, which was just enough to erase any residual live-axle reservations. Exiting the tight third turn, the tail was perfectly behaved and quite capable of handling a full right boot's worth of power. There's ample damping when you need it and sufficient roll stiffness to keep the body on an even keel. During the drive to terminal understeer, the steering wheel keeps you well advised of the grip left in reserve. Mission accomplished for the F for fun.
The second opportunity to study the behavior of both axles and everything in between came later in the day when we gathered a few performance statistics. Thai-Tang's engineering team is well aware of those who melt rear tires off Mustangs one quarter-mile at a time. To give such abusers (you know who you are!) the opportunity to think twice before instinctively switching off traction control, that system was given four, instead of the usual two, channels of wheel-speed information and programming to accommodate smoky burnouts.
As long as the car is running straight and true on a dry surface, enough tire slippage to sustain a rambunctious launch is permitted. When the four wheel-speed signals fall out of sync, indicating a sideways condition or slippery pavement, electronic traction control steps in to save the day. In fact, while driving to the track on wet roads, we found that the Mustang's new traction control works nearly as effectively as a full stability system.
We also learned that the new Mustang knows how to kick hooves. Fling the tach needle to 2800 rpm, step smartly off the clutch while adding throttle, and you're gone. There is no sideways bobble or axle tramp to spoil the escape. The shifter clicks through five gears like Lance Armstrong on a downhill blast. Sixty arrives at the top of second in 5.6 seconds, and you'll dust the quarter-mile goal posts just after shifting into fourth at 14.2 seconds and a galloping 102 mph. With this much torque, sixth is not missed. The Mustang's pace matches some quick cars on the road today, such as Nissan's 350Z, and at least one golden oldie: the bold Boss 302 built in limited numbers thirty-five years ago. Enter another checkmark next to the F for fun.