Ford's got a sweet machine on its hands with the 2011 Ford Mustang, both with the V-6 and V-8 engines. I first drove the 2011 Ford Mustang V-6 at the car's launch in Los Angeles and, like Phil, came away underwhelmed by the engine. The heavy breathing, scruffy top-end, and hesitance to rev give this 3.7-liter the feel of a truck engine. Of course, that could be because it IS a truck engine, as it's borrowed from the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX. However, that early disappointment gave way to forgiveness and eventually excitement as I spent the weekend with a six-cylinder Mustang. If you're willing to always accelerate at 70 percent throttle or above, the Mustang's quickness dupes you into ignoring its unrefined traits. The tight, heavy shifter begs you to flick it from gear to gear as fast as you can. Handling is far better than what you get with a Camaro.
Still, Ford has missed a few details before they can claim the Mustang as a world-class car. Here's what needs fixing:
-No telescoping steering wheel: Tall guys are cursed to enjoy the Mustang from a full arm's length away as the steering wheel only tilts. If you want the typical bend in your arms for comfort and the best driving position, you'll have to deal with your right knee pressed to the dash. It would also be nice if the seat could be lowered further.
-Poor trim fits: Ford claims that it's shooting to build interiors that can compete with the Audi A5. They're not too far off with the ergonomics and materials, but the interior trim has several uneven gaps that you wouldn't have found in an Audi ten years ago, let alone today's A5. If you're gonna make such a bold claim (this is a car that starts at $23,000, after all), you'd better be able to back it up.
-Bizarre trunk lid: Something's not right about the vertical surface of the trunk lid. Ford has given it a concave curve that makes the gap between sheet metal and the taillights look extremely cheap and unfinished. It's clear that this is a result of the stylistic shape rather than poor tolerances, but it makes you wonder if Ford knew they'd be unable to produce a properly fitting panel.
-Steering assist: Ford is relatively good at tuning electric power steering, but the V-6 Mustang isn't perfect and the Mustang GT's steering offers slightly better feel than that in the V-6. It would be nice for the weight to build as the wheel was turned, rather than the constant resistance of the current tune. Also, the feedback is absent as you unwind the wheel.
-Engine refinement: No complaints in the power department, but the 3.7-liter V-6 feels like it was merely plucked from the parts bin without the necessary tweaks and massaging needed before you can bolt it into a sports car. A good, smooth-running V-6 is happiest at the top of the tach, but that's not the case here. Lighten up the flywheel and put the NVH team back to work, Ford.
It's important to note that Ford did get several details right. For starters, I really appreciate the flip-down headrests on the rear seats, which make rearward visibility significantly better. Ford also has some unique offerings with the customizable ambient lighting, blind-spot mirrors, and Sync. If the Blue Oval can complete the package and clean up the forgotten details, they'll have a hero. Despite these complaints, Ford still has the best pony car on the market, without question. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this car to anyone, but that doesn't mean Ford can rest. Fortunately, the Mustang team has a recent history of make incremental changes every year. Here's to hoping that, for the 2012 model year, they put the final polish on the Mustang.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor