Since time immemorial-well, since being introduced halfway through the 1964 model year-the automatic Mustang has comprised the largest chunk of sales, so the all-new 2005 V-6 would undoubtedly have sold well had Ford done nothing more than alter the styling. But with major improvements in every area, all those red-blooded Americans who sign on the dotted line will be getting a lot more car for the money.
The V-6 Mustang starts just shy of twenty grand, while the example we drove can be had for a value-packed $22,890. Nudging the price upwards were the autobox ($995), an anti-theft system ($255), wheel locks ($50), side air bags ($370), ABS ($775), and the Premium package ($450) consisting of 16-inch wheels with chrome spinners, an MP3 audio system with six-disc CD changer, leather upholstery, and a power driver's seat. Add all of that to the inherent goodness of the all-new platform and you've got yourself one hell of a car.
While the 4.0-liter, 202-hp V-6 can't compare to the delicious 4.6-liter, 300-hp V-8 from the Mustang GT, the pick-up-and-go will be plenty for most folks, and the sound is as purely American as can be had from six cylinders. (We can't help but feel that those with a lust for more thrust would likely look at the GT first, anyway.)
The five-speed automatic is (mostly) fabulous. During upshifts, power delivery is baby-skin smooth and gear-selection unobtrusive and confident. Punch the throttle, however, and the car takes a confused pause before slipping into a lower gear. There's no confusion, though, in the steering; it's direct, linear, and puts the car exactly where you want it with minimal input. The ride is decent, too. One niggle: maneuvering through traffic, the Mustang felt every bit as big as advertised, a perception not helped by the large steering wheel and high hood. Piloting the 187-plus-inch car into tiny openings was adrenalizing, to say the least.
Another pulse-raising experience is finding yourself in a bumpy corner. The solid rear axle makes this car extremely lively, a problem that also afflicts the GT. Hit a bump, and the rear-end can get very light and squirrely, a condition that only gets worse in the wet.
But who cares as long as you look cool, right? We were stopped numerous times to chat about this car, including by a cop, who asked not for our license and registration, but instead wanted to know "how we got to be so lucky." There's been some grumbling that the styling is too derivative and too retro, but we say it's spot on.
So, the car looks great and drives sweetly enough. Inside, you can immediately spot where costs were trimmed-the glovebox cover, chintzy Jeep-boombox-esque speakers, and grained dash and door plastics look and feel every bit as inexpensive as they surely are. The rear seats were comfortable, but only those suffering from a height deficiency (think 5'3" and shorter) will have any headroom. The steering wheel felt a little too big in diameter and the seats lacked thigh support. We would be remiss, however, if we didn't say how cool MyColor is. Even though the novelty wore off fairly quickly, altering the instrument panel lighting color never failed to impress. All buttons and knobs were well-placed and much more solid than most GM products.
All minor complaints (and praises) aside, anyone would be hard-pressed to find a better combination of performance, price, and style than the Mustang. The only competitors in the sub-$20,000 price range are small, import sports cars like the Hyundai Tiburon, Acura RSX, Toyota Celica, and Mitsubishi Eclipse. While some of those rides are mighty fine (RSX), their smallish dimensions and four-cylinder engines put them in a different niche.
In the past, the V-6 Mustang has been the sort of car you would likely find parked in close proximity to a Tupperware party or bake sale. The latest iteration, however, makes a strong case for the enthusiast on a budget, and some may even prefer its better-balanced chassis over the extra grunt of the GT.