First Drive: 2011 Ford Mustang GT

March 28, 2010
Let's cut to the chase: The new 2011 Mustang GT is about as badass as you can get in a normal production car.

In this case, one with a bargain bottom-line price tag as low as $30,495.

The first time you see—or hear—a new Mustang GT open up the throttle, you'll understand why we call it badass. Floor it, and the V-8 develops a deep authoritative bellow that turns heads and sounds way better—especially from the outside—than the more resonated sound from the bigger V-8 in the Camaro SS. And it has the capability to pin you back in your seat with almost supercar thrust, no matter what the gear. Or commit seemingly unlimited acts involving smoky burnouts

We've told you about this new V-8 in detail, but what counts is that Ford didn't just make the old engine a little larger to bring back the '5.0' badge. It's an all-new engine, with Ford's latest TI-VCT variable valve timing for deep breathing throughout the rev range for good performance and fuel economy, and a completely redesigned deep-sump oil system that's designed for hard use (or a 10,000-mile oil-change interval). Yet with rather tall gearing, it achieves EPA ratings of 17 mpg city, 25 highway.

The new engine starts up with the low rumble of an old big-block muscle car, yet it settles almost immediately into a smooth purr of an idle that's completely different than the lopey, rough idle we've come to expect in some higher-horsepower Mustangs of the past.

This V-8's 412 horsepower easily slams the 390 hp that the Shelby Cobra produced a few years back, and in some real-world driving it can produce a level of thrust that's awfully close to what you'd get from the GT500. It feels happy pounding out the torque as low as 1500 rpm yet roars up to 7,000 rpm. There's no recognizable torque plateau; power simply builds all the way. Our only complaint is that the revs come back down surprisingly gradually after blipping the throttle—likely the price of emissions control.

With 0-60 times expected in the low four-second range, the GT now delivers the straight-line acceleration of exotics just a few years ago.

There's so much torque on command, even just above idle, that you have to roll into the throttle carefully out of tight turns. An abrupt change in pavement surface during a full-throttle pass didn't provide the shock that we anticipated, but overall this is definitely a car that begs to be driven hard yet rewards for some level of finesse and restraint.

The 2011 Ford Mustang GT really didn't feel differently sprung than the V-6, and it steered and handled just as well—provided you're careful with the power. In fact, a new V-6 Performance Package will add the GT suspension plus summer performance tires, a strut tower brace, and more to the V-6. In both cars, the new EPAS electric power steering system tracked well while the suspension held on through rough sections of pavement better than we would have ever hoped for a design that still relies on a solid axle in back.

2011 Ford Mustang GT 5.0

2011 Ford Mustang GT 5.0

Enthusiasts will definitely want to opt for the Coupe, as we noticed a decrease in stiffness in convertibles. Our favorite was a Coupe with the available glass roof, which lets the light in like a Convertible but maintains the Coupe's stiffness. The six-speed manual is the way to go, as the clutch in the V-8 takes up just as easily as in the V-6, and the six-speed automatic doesn't offer any true manumatic control.

As we also mentioned in our drive of the V-6, these new Mustangs completely recalibrate your performance and value expectations in a muscle car or sports coupe.

The new 2011 Mustang GT is wildly fast and wildly fun, and Ford likely opened up the gate for an entirely new performance legend.

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