Decades of pony car dominance (in the showroom, if not always at the track) have endowed the Ford Mustang with the type of confidence that renders garish demonstrations of machismo unnecessary. The 2010 Mustang is like the sedate old dude in the back of the bar who's kicked so much ass that he has nothing left to prove. It's so comfortable in its success that it feels no need for outlandish spoilers, pathologically oversensitive throttle calibrations, or faux carbon-fiber trim to call attention to itself. In fact, the muscular GT is so docile and easy to drive, you could use it to teach a teenager how to drive a stick.
Ford really needn't worry much about the upcoming flurry of comparisons that will be made between its pony car and the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro, because the outcome of those comparisons is irrelevant to the Mustang buyer. That person won't care that the base V-6 Camaro produces almost as much horsepower as the Mustang GT's V-8. Or that the Camaro's drop-to-your-knees styling will turn as many heads as the Mustang doesn't. And the solid rear axle? Hell, that hasn't stopped more than nine million people from buying Mustangs so far, and it won't matter now, either.
No need to change anything, then - the 2010 Mustang receives nothing more than a comprehensive face-lift in preparation for archrival Camaro's appearance. The freshly restyled outer shell makes the new Mustang look more compact and taut than last year's car, but it's actually half an inch longer. The prancing pony on the grille has grown in size, too, and is more chiseled. To complete the sinister look, the chrome emblem is tinted on GT models, which are also distinguished by a more aggressive front fascia. New, squinty headlights are vaguely reminiscent of the 2006 Mustang Giugiaro concept, and the car has grown rounded rear haunches that remind us a little of the Dodge Charger. One thing the Charger doesn't have, however, is three-segment taillights, illuminated by LEDs, that light up sequentially when doing turn-signal duty. OK, so maybe the new Mustang does have at least one garish, let's-brawl feature.
The base Mustang uses the same old 4.0-liter V-6 that produces 210 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque. GT models get the V-8 from last year's Bullitt - a 4.6-liter, 24-valve V-8 that's rated at 315 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque and has a 6500-rpm redline. Both engines bolt to a five-speed manual transmission or an optional five-speed automatic, and each breathes through a half-inch-larger exhaust (three inches in diameter on the V-6, three-and-a-half inches on the V-8). Wheel sizes, previously sixteen to eighteen inches, now measure between seventeen and nineteen inches. GTs with the largest wheels also receive a strut-tower brace, but otherwise, the only substantial changes to the chassis are revisions to the dampening for better body control and a smoother ride.
The biggest transformation happened inside the Mustang, where the quality has soared from Kmart chintzy straight to Pottery Barn chic. The soft-touch dashboard retains traditional Mustang design cues but is now a single piece - dramatically reducing squeaks and rattles - and is worlds ahead of anything previously seen in a Mustang. Premium-package Mustangs also feature Ford's MyColor, which allows the driver to choose from dozens of illumination colors for the gauges, a gauge background bezel, ambient cabin lighting, and ultracool illuminated sill plates. The gauges of lesser Mustangs are illuminated in a nonadjustable, but beautiful and highly legible, ice blue.
The new Mustang also receives the latest version of Ford's Sync infotainment system, which has an almost supernatural ability to recognize voice commands, an ultrasharp screen, and quite possibly the best iPod and Bluetooth phone integration in the business. An optional rearview camera is located in the rear spoiler, and its image is displayed on Sync's eight-inch screen (or in the rearview mirror in cars without Sync.) Most important, the camera is programmed to continue to display the image from the rear of the car for several seconds after shifting out of reverse. Why? So you can watch the tire tracks and smoke while you do a burnout, of course.
Burnouts are possible, by the way, even with the newly available electronic stability control fully active, so long as the car stays reasonably straight. Ford's engineers insisted on it. They also insisted that drivers retain the ability to fully disable ESC. We already shook their hands for you, so there's no need to send thank-you letters to Dearborn. GT models also feature a new sport mode, which allows pretty lurid oversteer before pulling the rear back in line.
The GT may cruise down the road in shocking silence - its cabin seems quieter than those of some luxury cars, and there's an eerie lack of wind noise even at triple-digit speeds - but it still honks when you put your foot down. A resonance tube carries the engine's intake snarl directly into the cabin, and two small mufflers and two catalytic converters are the only things hushing the V-8's thunder - there are no resonators or secondary mufflers to stifle the roar. But in true Mustang style, the overboosted steering stifles any feedback from the front wheels. Likewise, the suspension delivers a supple ride at the expense of insufficient body control over rough pavement.
A shorter, 3.73:1 (versus the painfully long 3.31:1) limited-slip differential is optional on the GT, but autocrossers and track rats surely will want to wait for the track pack, a $1495 option to be released later in 2009. It includes the diff, firmer dampers, more aggressive brake pads, and summer tires in place of the GT's all-season rubber, as well as antiroll bars and other suspension goodies from the 2009 GT500. The transformation is dramatic on the racetrack, where the GT is well-damped, well-balanced, and easily controllable rather than wallowy and prone to understeer.
Ford knows its Mustang customers well, whether they're track junkies, quarter-mile rockers, or just people who want a cool-looking sporty car. And by making the 2010 Mustang the same, only better, Ford is giving those customers exactly what they want. The confident Mustang doesn't have to worry. Even if the Camaro winds up being the better car - like it was through the 1990s - Mustang buyers won't care.