5.0 Mustang & Super FordsCar Reviews
Driving The 2000 Mustang Cobra R
We Take SVT's Cobra R To The Street And Live To Tell About It
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It's first thing Monday morning, and the phone rings. It's Ford Public Affairs saying the 2000 Mustang Cobra R we requested has unexpectedly popped into town for a quick visit. When will we come to pick it up?
The timing is not good--just an afternoon, one full day, a second night, and then drop it off at the airport--as we head out of town. Deadlines loom and an overseas trip firmly closes off the end of the window. Still, it's enough to put the R on the street and see how all that work the Special Vehicle Team [1-800-FORD-SVT] went through to civilize their race car paid off. Will those lucky 300 enjoy their Cobra Rs between stoplights, or is the experience just too much?
We resolved to find out.
We met up with the red rocket at the SHO Shop in Huntington Beach, California, traded in our own Taurus for service, and immediately took the R two doors down to Powertrain Dynamics and its in-ground Dynojet chassis dyno. We saw 366 hp after a cooldown--plenty enough to make us eager to hit the street.
So we did. From Huntington, we worked our way south for home and the word processor. But we took the time to drop in on some shops to get some reactions and to try out the big R in city traffic.
First, we noticed the other Mustangs. It took a couple of glances, but then we could see the gears going 'round. "Hmm, looks hot--sort of familiar. What is that thing... Oh, man! That's the new Cobra R!" Plenty of thumbs-ups and "Cool car!" from them, but there was no admiration from the masses. To them, we were just punks with a funny-looking wing.
Looking back from our perspective, the typical So Cal freeway slog was doubly frustrating, if only because we couldn't get the right pedal down any farther. Restlessly, 30 times we leaned forward for sound-system controls that weren't there. You'd think the first several attempts would stop this, but it took us nearly the entire time we had the car to drop the habit. With no sound system, the R keeps your mind more on the car and the road than a typical GT, and with the big power and tall gears, this leads to some rapid cruising.
Of course, there was symphonic music playing from underhood. Quietly behind the tire noise at cruise and awesomely dynamic when pushed, the combination of exhaust, intake, piston, and valvetrain voices became our steady companion and speed-eager coach. We knew the new Cobra R was aurally stimulating from our track time at the press introduction, but the street is a different place. There the engine and exhaust choir had us reaching for the volume pedal at the slightest chance. As to the perfectly muf-fled Trans Am car, the R exhaust is exciting.
With no radio tunes, your thoughts are also on the suspension, not to mention your bottom end. The R is definitely firm on the street but not jarring. The steamroller meats seemingly nibble at shadows, the steering is wonderfully precise and alive, and the springs and shocks are tuned right to the far edge of firm. Luckily, the big engine gives the front end enough mass to iron out some of the bumps, while the IRS soaks up the rougher stuff at its end-- still offering high spring rates for exciting, flat cornering. Call the ride busy, sometimes bouncy, and almost always buzzy from the noisy tires, but don't call it harsh.
Some of the comfort we enjoyed came from the excellent Recaro seats. We're always amazed at how a proper racing-inspired seat with minimal adjustments can be so supportive. They take just a little extra to get into but are extremely supportive and confidence building. These seats become a bit warm on longer trips because there is no real airflow to your backside, but in a car with no A/C, it seemed a small point.
Capable of stop after stop at the racetrack, the R brake pedal is high and firm as a 15-year-old gymnast and squeals about as often on the street. The clutch has some weight but is hardly a workout, which can also be said of the steering. The only disappointment was the sloppy shifter, which needs metal or hard plastic bushings installed. We missed too many gears and found the shifter too far away, even for our longer-armed staffers. If we were to keep the R in our garage permanently, we'd simply add an aftermarket shifter handle.
Speaking of warm, in the summer you'll definitely notice the lack of air conditioning. The big engine oozes heat right through the floorboards like an old musclecar, and that means you'll have the windows down most of the time. Get used to wind roar on the freeway.
Other oddities and mentionables are fuzzy dashlights at night, which is somewhat compensated for by the rear wing-blocking headlights from the rear. Unfortunately, the wing can't completely hide those annoying flashing blue-and-red lights from behind. During the day, the wing is right where you don't want it--in the rearview mirror--but it's thin enough to work around. The same holds true for the hood bulge. It blocks the right fender for short drivers, but it's not a real factor unless you look up to Danny Devito. The other body panel concern is the front splitter. Ford wisely left it off for our street drive, since it wouldn't last past the first driveway anyway. You'd want it for car-show or open-track duty, but for real-world driving, forget it.
Our second day with the car brought out a few nuances. The IRS will step out from midcorner bumps on occasion, but nothing like a live-axle car. The ride continued to impress, considering the tenacious grip. The brakes are positively death defying; and the power--well, it's why we kept inventing little errands to run. For around-town work, the 5.4 has enough displacement to offer good tractability, but revving it to 3,800 rpm gets the big-block modular smoothly singing at full song. There is simply nothing better for fun driving than a strong, naturally aspirated V-8. The 5.4 idles with a 200-rpm rhythmic rise and fall that feels like a tiger purring in your lap, pulls without any hiccups, sounds like angels singing when revved, and runs hard enough to put any sane passenger whimpering under the dash--we needn't belabor the point.
Our final shop stop was at Autosport Performance, where lucky customer John Fedak nabbed a quick drive from us. His payment was a torrent of gratefulness and amusing remarks at the suffocating urban traffic. John did get the R out on the freeway, living a lottery-car fantasy, while we had fun collecting photographic evidence for the state. His read on it? "If I get a $100 ticket, it's worth it!"
We can't recount all the bikini-string untying in our short time with SVT's centerfold model, but internal combustion combat with a youthfully piloted, willing-but-garden-variety Camaro was narrowly thwarted by the traffic--the other half of this huge mismatch being excitedly identified as "one of those ignorant Chevy kids." Meanwhile, the preening beauty in the Lexus next door engendered a "Sorry, that just won't do--he's busy with a new toy" remark from a third person-talking Fedak.
Powerful influences this car has. Someone revved an 8.0:1 compres-sion engine in semi-mock challenge, which brought on "He ain't messing with this action. This is a Cobra R." And finally, when it was all over, John allowed, "I'll have to go ride around for a half hour on my bicycle, even in the dark, to calm down."
As always with great cars, our turn to say good-bye to the R came all too soon. Our final fling was around a descending 270-degree, left-hand offramp, then directly into the drop-off parking lot. Getting out, we couldn't help but notice that the left-side tires were hot and soft enough to coat themselves in eucalyptus leaves and bits of paper from the gutter. Street car? You bet!