People complain about a recent loss of civility in American life, but the truth is, folks, there ain't nothing recent about it. We live in a land where just about everything has always been worth fighting over, as the 2004 presidential election demonstrated.Always on the lookout for emergent trends in societal discord and bad vibes in the vehicular realm, we here at Automobile Magazine predict that in coming months, the nation can square off on another crucial question: the issue of exactly which qualities make for the ideal affordable, high-performance car.
By way of putting this debate of great national importance into better focus, the editors of this magazine dispatched its New York bureau to the center of American disharmony, our nation's capital, Washington, D.C. Our mission: to compare two prime exemplars of what President Bush might refer to as "different philosophies of government."
We speak, of course, of the new Ford Mustang GT and the Subaru Impreza WRX. Although it takes about the same amount of dough to buy them ($27,395 for the Ford, as tested; $26,970 for the Subaru), these candidates couldn't be farther apart on the issues. One's a stalwart of American muscledom, born again forty years on and just hitting the stump after having undergone its first truly comprehensive make-over since 1979. The challenger from Asia is better known as the poster child for the increasingly popular practice of granting homely econoboxes liberal amounts of horsepower and grip at the factory. Two fine automobiles in the mid-$20,000s range, both with abundant horsepower and the avowed intention of going fast, yet two cars whose constituencies couldn't agree less on what makes for a winning combination of power and road smarts.
On this side of the aisle, the all-American Ford, a coupe with a muscular 300-hp V-8 and the old school's solid-axle, rear-wheel-drive setup; across the way, the brainiac Subaru sedan with its idiosyncratic, 227 hp of righteous turbo boxer four with smarty-pants all-wheel-drive system.
The Ford may have had a major midlife makeover, but in concept, it stands in line with enough muscle cars of yore to fill a large VFW hall's parking lot. The other candidate was born in Japan, which many voters these days will excuse, but in its technical and stylistic expressions, it might as well be the representative from Mars. Either one of these road burners will get you to the maximum national mandatory retirement speed of 60 mph in a jiffy, but, we wanted to know, which one will make you a prouder, happier American?
There are two types of patriots in this country: those who want to do it the way they've always done it and those who vote for progress in all things. Obviously, the Mustang falls in with the former camp.
Ford puts the best spin possible on going the solid-axle route, an anachronism in a world now fully acquainted with the many practical and theoretical benefits of an independent suspension. Fordsters insist that most of their customers don't care much for suspension talk and that those who do want a solid axle out back. One suspects it didn't hurt that the cost accountants wanted it, too.
Mustang hearties, particularly drag racers, prefer the live rear, Ford spin masters assured us, because it's the best thing for putting their car's prodigious horsepower to the ground. Right, we thought. Better phone up BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Ferrari, and all the other high-performance adherents of independent rear suspensions to point out the error of their ways. And give the boys at Ford's SVT department a ring; they're planning to put IRS in the upcoming Cobra.