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Second Drive: 2010 Ford Mustang V-6

September 4, 2009

When shoppers think about the Ford Mustang—or other pony cars like the Dodge Challenger or Chevy Camaro—they often forget about the V-6 models.

That’s a shame, because in each of these cases less than $25k—well under the price of today’s average new vehicle—can get you tremendous head-turning potential.

The 2010 Ford Mustang V-6, which just drove for a week, is a case in point; it’s a vehicle that elicits admiring stares, grins, and even some thumbs-up. Though we have to admit the most enthusiastic responses are from those who are close to retirement age.

Take one quick look at the Mustang—in person, as the newly tweaked design tends to ‘pop’ better than it does in pictures—and you’ll see why it has such strong appeal. The nipped-and-tucked Mustang just looks more voluptuous than before, and a little more sophisticated. Though the Torch Red exterior of the test car at first seemed a little garish, it grew on us, too, and was a great combination with the Char Black interior and nice matte-finish mag-style wheels. Overall, the Mustang is a little retro without being sickening-sweet retro; it builds on styling cues of the past, without focusing too much on any particular year.

Most likely, those people you casually pass by have no idea that there isn’t a V-8 in this 2010 Mustang; unlike in some past years, the V-6 model isn’t saddled with penalty-box wheels or silly trim.

2010 Ford Mustang

2010 Ford Mustang

2010 Ford Mustang

2010 Ford Mustang

Our car came with an unusual combination—the base, 210-horsepower V-6 and five-speed manual transmission. According to Ford, most V-6 buyers opt for the automatic, and although the take rate is low for the stick on V-8 models as well, the typical V-8 buyer is much more likely to get a manual.

The Tremec five-speed in our test car made lots of gear noise, with plenty of clutch graunching, and you could hear the nuances of each shift; in that respect it’s inexcusable if you miss a shift, but at the same time it’s an ever-present reminder that you’re not in a car for which refinement was a priority.

The same goes for the engine. The V-6—which is the updated SOHC version of the Cologne V-6, dating back decades and currently used otherwise in the Ranger and Explorer and their ilk—lopes along at idle quite smoothly, and is definitely present on acceleration but not too obtrusive. But ask it to deliver full throttle a little too early—say from 2,000 rpm on up, and it vibrates through the floorpan and exhaust until the revs increase and things smooth out. Surprisingly, the V-6 doesn’t begin to feel like it’s running out of breath until you approach 5,000 rpm and beyond. The V-6 never feels downright fast, but it’s satisfying.

Part of what makes this engine enjoyable in the 2010 Ford Mustang, despite the lackluster power ratings, is the accessibility of the torque. You can be lugging along just over 2,000 rpm at 70 mph in fifth gear, and a stomp on the gas pedal is met with prompt and surprisingly urgent acceleration; yeah, you can downshift, but you don’t need to.

This spring, drove the Mustang V-6 and said that the suspension “capably absorbs some of Detroit’s worst roads.” West Coast roads are a whole different ball game, though. I took the Mustang out on a favorite curvy road that esses up and down a ridge—and through a fault zone with lots of heaves and patched areas. Overall, the Mustang held its own, but coming out of the tightest corners the tail would predictably step way out; going uphill, even slight heaves would upset the tail and set it bouncing slightly, bringing out a disconcerting fore-aft body motion. But when the surface was reliably smooth, we liked the neutrality in the Mustang’s handling, along with how nice and progressive the grip was through the standard tires and their higher sidewalls; stability control is there, but it doesn’t make its presence known unless you really drive provocatively. .

The base suspension and tire combination in the 2010 Ford Mustang also does really well in soaking up minor bumps and road coarseness, and the cabin is remarkably free of the road noise that plagues some sporty coupes.

There are still some ergonomic hurdles in the Mustang’s cabin that some drivers will have trouble getting past. The shifter doesn’t feel as close at hand as it should be, and although the linkage is precise, throws are long. As a coupe or a convertible, the Mustang is strictly a 2+2, meaning that there’s a small backseat, never suitable for adults but okay for little ones if you don’t plan to slide the front seats back all the way. For this tall driver, another inch or two of legroom in front would have been appreciated; and shifting from third to fourth repeatedly brought my elbow against the edge of the rearward center-console bin, while getting in and out of the Mustang was made tougher by the narrow gap between the steering wheel rim and parking brake handle. On the other hand, the redone center stack, where audio and climate controls are, is much improved and trunk space is surprisingly abundant and useful.

With the V-6 and five-speed, the Mustang’s EPA ratings are 18 mpg city, 26 highway. But we did much better; in just over a hundred miles of driving, mostly around town, we averaged an impressive 22 mpg in the V-6 ‘Stang. That includes plenty of aggressive starts and the run up the ridge.

Our Premium test coupe included all sorts of features that are usually reserved for top trims, such as leather seats, leather trim, and a bassy Shaker 500 audio system. A full range of airbags, and other essentials like air conditioning and Ford’s Sync interface are also included. With just heated seats and the destination fee, our Mustang stickered at $25,440.

Right now the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro V-6 has a huge competitive advantage over the Mustang, as the Chevy has 304 horsepower. Although Ford hasn’t made anything official yet, the automaker is, according to the rumor mill, going to up the ante next year, with a new 315-horsepower, 3.7-liter EcoBoost V-6 and a 5.0-liter V-8 making around 400 hp.

2010 Ford Mustang

2010 Ford Mustang

Even if you do wait for next year’s model, it’s likely that prices will go up. But based on our experience with the 2010 Ford Mustang—visit our full review and Bottom Line for more on this and the GT—we’d recommend you decide based on a test drive, not strictly by the numbers.

The manufacturer provided this vehicle to High Gear Media for the purposes of evaluation.

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