The switch from hydraulic steering assist to an electromechanical setup also improves fuel economy. Ford uses five different steering calibrations for the Mustang, depending on whether the car is a coupe or convertible, V-6 or V-8, or if it's a GT with the Brembo brake package. We weren't able to sample all five flavors, but we did detect a noticeable difference between a Brembo-equipped GT and the V-6 coupe. In our GT, the steering was so good - so even, precise, and communicative - that it drummed up thoughts of BMWs. The Brembo-package calibration isn't as heavy as the Bavarians would require, but it's just as consistent. The V-6 coupe's steering is also quite good, but it feels marginally overboosted and just slightly vague off center around 30 mph.
With new engines - and the resulting weight changes - engineers had to retune the spring and damper rates. Additionally, they've stiffened the front end with a Z-brace, tweaked anti-roll-bar diameters, and mounted firmer and grippier bushings front and rear. Relocating the mounts for the upper control arms also reduces axle hop during smoky launches. Of course, the Mustang stubbornly continues with its live rear axle, and Ford's best efforts will never conquer physics. The V-6 we drove transitioned between a jarringly stiff ride at low speeds and loose control at higher velocities. The GT, however, was much more constant in its responses and was composed over all but the harshest roads. If the wheels find a calm surface, handling is exceptional, with quick turn-in and flat body control.
Last year's looks
The Mustang received a significant face-lift for the 2010 model year, so the few subtle changes for 2011 (a brighter pony emblem on the GT, for example) are trivial and difficult to spot. Ambitiously - and somewhat oddly - Ford displayed an Audi A5 as the company's chief benchmark for interior quality. The GT features a wide span of genuine aluminum on the dash and attractive leather seating options. However, the Audi bogey is still a bit of a stretch for Ford's utilitarian radio and climate controls and dash plastics. Seat time in the Mustang did reconfirm, though, that the Mustang is the most comfortable and natural of the muscle car trio, with unparalleled visibility and a sporty feeling of compactness.
Mustang prices see modest increases for 2011, but the latest pony is well worth the extra cost. A V-6 coupe now starts at $22,995 including destination. That's up $750 from last year, but still $535 cheaper than a Camaro. V-8-powered GT models start from $30,495 to the Camaro's $31,795.
The good war
The 2011 Mustang delivers quicker acceleration, sharper handling, and a better driving character, yet its best quality may be that it's an agitator. By taking such a direct shot at the Camaro, Ford has forced Chevrolet to return fire. A mild power increase that will put V-6 Camaro output ahead of the Mustang should come soon, and you can bet that's not all Chevy is working on. The war is on, and it's shaping up to be a good one.