Things change so rapidly these days that a little continuity can be a welcome thing.
Ford's Mustang is not the newest and latest thing by any stretch — but it's no sway-backed nag, either. After 37 years on the market and the only pony car from the 1960s still solidly on its feet (the soon-to-be-discontinued Chevy Camaro/Pontiac Firebird twins being on life support), the Mustang is basically the same, conceptually, as the very first car to bear the name.
It is also still compelling — like an old friend whose good qualities and easy familiarity maintain and even strengthen his appeal.
It is a study in well-roundedness, if not absolute perfection. As a traditional, American-style sporty 2+2, the Mustang feels heavier and less nimble than true sports cars such as the Honda S2000, BMW Z3 or Mazda Miata. It's not the quickest or fastest sporty coupe, either. A Camaro Z28 (or Pontiac Firebird) will brain smash it in a drag race.
Life in the fast lane
But we don't live life a quarter-mile at a time. And GM's wonder twins are afflicted with horrible blind spots, terrible interior design (among other things, a huge lump in the floorpan on the passenger's side; it's there to make room for the catalytic converter underneath), and Judge Dredd styling that narrows their appeal to guys under 25 — and guys over 45 who think they're still 25.
And handling-wise, true sports cars like the Miata and Z3 are also of limited practical use, having two very small seats only — and less trunk space than some women's purses.
For most drivers on public roads, what matters a whole lot more than how quickly a car can dart around an autocross circuit, or how hard a car presses you into the seat when you mash the gas pedal, is how the thing feels to drive when you're just noodling around; whether the interior is comfortable and stylish; the bodywork not cartoonish or suggestive of switchblades hidden in tube socks.
2001 Ford Mustang
The Mustang burdens its owner with no such baggage. It is not so much the result of compromise as of good basic design; well-laid-out and pleasing to the eye. The seats are just right and the view is not obstructed. The "dual cockpit" theme still works well, too.
Crossing the gender gulf
It is a car that has wide appeal across the entire age/sex spectrum. Kids like it. Teens think it's cool. Men can drive it without fearing the "chick car" stigma (or looking like the aforesaid 45-year-old 25-year-old). Women — young and old — likewise fit the Mustang image just fine. All of this is reflected in the car's continuing popularity among all sections of the buying public. Even though it's been six years since the car was last significantly redesigned, the Mustang still outsells its main rivals, the Camaro and Firebird, by a ratio of 3 to 1. Its popularity shows no signs as yet of fading.
Ford has seen fit to not "fix" what clearly isn't broken — and thus changes to the 2001 models are as minimal as the dinner portions at a fashion model's banquet. V-8 powered GT coupes and convertibles come with a new hood scoop (not functional) and side scoops (ditto) intended to differentiate them from the less powerful, V-6 coupes and convertibles. 17-inch rims are now standard on all GTs, with 16-inch rims for the convertible V-6. A six-disc CD changer is available with the upgrade Mach 460 audio system — and it really kicks.
2001 Ford Mustang GT interior
2001 Ford Mustang
The pushrod V-6's only real flaw is that it's fairly noisy and even a bit clunky when compared with the more sophisticated overhead cam sixes found in other sporty cars. But then, 190 hp is nothing to complain about when you think of it. Not so very long ago, only a few V-8s were putting out that kind of power. The simple pushrod six is also likely to run for a long time without demanding much attention.
The 260-hp 4.6-liter engine in the GT, meanwhile, is a nice, grunty muscle car V-8, its overhead cam technology notwithstanding — replete with the appropriate rumbly exhaust note at idle. Though not as brutal as the 305-hp 5.7-liter Camaro/Firebird, the GT is nonetheless a very credible performer — and those who demand more beans can get them readily via aftermarket bolt-on parts that make the GT every bit the equal of its arch-nemesis from General Motors.
A five speed stick or four-speed automatic may be teamed with either engine, though you must pay an extra $815 for the automatic. Ford automatics are not as good in performance use as GM's excellent 4L80-E automatics (used in Camaros and Firebirds). They feel slushy, and don't shift as crisply as they ought to. Performance enthusiasts should stick with the stick in either application. It makes the car immensely more gratifying. (You also get, as a side benefit, a more performance-oriented rear axle ratio with the five-speed manual gearbox in GT models.)
All 2001 Mustangs, including base coupes, come standard with air conditioning, power door locks and single disc CD-changer audio system. Traction control is offered and can be turned off by flicking a console-mounted switch.
Like the Camaro and Firebird, the Mustang's suspension remains very basic — with a "solid" (i.e, non-independent) rear axle of the kind found mostly on pickup trucks and SUVs, and a strut-type front end. But this set-up works surprisingly well and only betrays its lack of sophistication on irregular pavement, which causes the rear end to bump around a bit. Still, Ford engineers have "damped" the solid axle car's handling characteristics sufficiently well that it's far more comfortable, day-to-day, than the more aggressively tuned GM F-cars.
Don't be scared off by effete critics who malign the Mustang (or the Camaro, for that matter) as representing "outdated" or "old-fashioned" technology. If it works, if it's simple, if it doesn't cost a fortune, I'd say that's smart engineering.
2001 Ford Mustang/Mustang GT
Base price range: $16,805-26,695
Engine: 3.8-liter V-6, 190 hp (base); 4.9-liter V-8, 260 hp (GT)
Transmission: Five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 101.3 in
Length: 183.2 in
Width: 73.1 in
Height: 53.1 in
Curb Weight: 3064 lb
EPA (cty/hwy): 19/29 mpg (V-6/manual); 19/27 mpg (V-6/auto); 18/25 mpg (V-8; manual and automatic)
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags
Major standard features: V-6 engine, air conditioning, power steering, AM/FM stereo w/single in-dash CD player, power door locks
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles