First Drive: 2011 Ford Mustang V-6

March 28, 2010
Starting at less than $23,000, the new 2011 Ford Mustang V-6 is, surprisingly, one of the best bang-for-the-buck performance coupes.

We're surprised here, because the Mustang V-6 has never been a very pulse-raising drive, rather the option for those who want the look but don't care much about the performance. Baby Boomers far and wide are going to first think “secretary’s car” with respect to a base-model Mustang. To others, it's known as one of the cruiser-convertible standbys at rental-car outlets.

But especially with the standard six-speed manual gearbox the 2011 Ford Mustang V-6 is truly satisfying to drive—and exciting. When you nail the accelerator, there's enough thrust to really pin you back in your seat in any of the lower gears, and the rear wheels really want to break loose in first or second gear.

The Mustang V-6's 305 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque are cause to rejoice. That's an astonishing 95 hp more than last year's V-6 (and 40 lb-ft more). Yet the new engine gets considerably better fuel economy to boot—19 mpg city, 31 highway with the six-speed automatic transmission, 19/29 with the six-speed manual.

In a weeklong drive of the 2010 Ford Mustang V-6 last summer, this editor found the well-past-its-prime SOHC Cologne V-6 (the same engine that's in the Explorer and Ranger) to be the weak link in the base Mustang package. The old engine was adequately torquey provided you were very leisurely cruising around, but as soon as you put your right foot into it the V-6 didn’t feel particularly strong, smooth, or refined.

Horsepower up 95...and up to 31 mpg highway

While its 305 hp is an astonishing 95 hp higher than last year's engine, the Mustang's peak torque is only 40 lb-ft higher than before—achieved at 4250 rpm rather than 3500 rpm—but it feels stronger than that. The new engine feels like it has a fatter torque curve, and stick it out in any gear and it builds to a frenzy as it nears its 7,000-rpm redline—in a way that would have been unheard of in the past for a six-cylinder pony car. And in real-world driving, the engine seems quite efficient; in some very spirited driving on two-lane canyon roads with a manual transmission, we averaged a very respectable 23 mpg according to the trip computer.

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