Although all new from the tires up, the current car is unmistakably a Mustang, adopting design elements, silhouette, and spirit from 40 years of legendary predecessors. True to form, the car comes in two body styles, coupe and convertible. There are two series, the six-cylinder base model and the V-8-powered GT, each offered in Deluxe and Premium trim levels. While the real magic lies in the GT, the more affordable base car regularly outsells that car. Changes are minor for 2006, with special-edition "Bullitt" and Mach 1 variants looming on the horizon.
There's no mistaking the Mustang for any other car, with its long-hood/short-deck layout, 1967-inspired front clip, galloping-horse badge, '60s-style side scoops, and three-element taillamps. The car has an aggressive stance, made stronger by wheels pushed to the corners in a six-inch wheelbase increase over the previous model's. The GT has a bit more exterior eye candy, but buyers of the base car who check the right option boxes can get most of those same items-and they can even get one the GT doesn't offer: a stripe along the lower body with "Mustang" spelled out in it, just like on the 1960s cars.
Like the exterior, the Mustang's interior has touches of neo-1960s styling, particularly the angular, twin-cove dashboard, the large, three-spoke steering wheel, and the chrome-rimmed gauges, with their long, thin numerals. But the cabin also has modern elements as well, with lots of available brushed metal trim. The interior is stylish overall, but hard, cheap-feeling plastic is plentiful. One unique feature is the optional instrument-panel lighting, which can be changed from the typical green to any one of a whole rainbow of colors. Although unusual, this is hardly a life-altering innovation, and it doesn't change the color of the center-stack lighting. The multi-color lighting and much of the bright metal trim is part of the Interior Upgrade Package. Unlike previous Mustangs, the new car provides a good driving position and genuinely comfortable front seats, despite buckets that look transported from the Lyndon Johnson era. The modestly improved two-person backseat, however, hews to Mustang tradition by being very cramped and hard to get to; it's suitable only for children, or for short trips. At least the rear seatbacks fold down to accommodate extra cargo-good news, because the trunk is functionally smaller than its 13.1-cubic-foot rating indicates.
The main safety story here is an all-new unibody construction that's better able to absorb and redirect energy than the '04 model. Safety features are rather limited, with anti-lock brakes and all-speed traction control being optional on V-6 cars, standard on GT models. Front-seat side-mounted airbags are optional on all Mustangs. These features are all worth considering, especially on car likely to inspire performance-oriented driving. Stability control would have been a welcomed feature, given the propensity of the live-axle rear suspension and eight-cylinder power to cause oversteer. Without this extra protection, judicious throttle application is required in the rain. The new Mustang has earned high marks from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, with five stars for the driver and passenger front crash test, four stars for side impact, and five stars for rollover.