December 1, 2002

Horse Sense:
Ford has quite a lineup these days. The GT runs high-13s, the '03 Cobra runs mid-12s, and the upcoming Mach 1 will fall right in the middle, running somewhere in the high-12 to low-13-second range in the quarter-mile. It's a great time to drive a Ford!

Looking at Ford's latest Mustang GT, there's no doubt what kind of car it is. The characteristics that define the Mustang brand are all present and accounted for: the familiar good looks, the striking performance-car stance, a manual transmission, a sporty interior, and a snarling V-8 under the hood. Its continuing evolution only further complements the past by offering an exciting driving experience at an affordable price.

The best thing about the newest GT is that it's one of the most well-rounded Mustangs ever offered. Its chassis is more solid than any 5.0 Mustang, and the modular engine and the drivetrain backing it up are far more refined than those before it. Well-rounded or not, this story is all about shaking it loose on the 1,320. Just how quick can a stock GT go? We're about to find out.

Our GT arrived on a hot and humid Friday night in Cincinnati, Ohio (see sidebar on how we got this car). The first thing that struck us was the beautiful Sonic Blue paint and edgy look of the latest generation of GTs produced since 1999. Car owner Pete Latham and his buddy Billy "Cake" Cole made the nine-hour trip from Syracuse, New York, in less than six hours, and they were chomping at the bit to get to the track and show us what 24,000 of Pete's dollars could do. Who were we to stop that?

With all the right lines, scoops, and angles, the venerable Mustang GT never looked better. The chassis is solid, the engine revs like crazy, the five-speed makes it fun to drive, and the aftermarket is brimming with parts and shops to customize to your favorite flavor.

Typical of Friday-night test sessions, this one was packed with import racers and American muscle. The Mustangs were out in force, and we soon found several modular brethren with which to compare this car. The ones with gears, exhaust, and cold-air kits were well in the low-13-second range. Some of them claimed to have gone 12s with the right tires and cooler temperatures. We began by making laps to get used to the car as well as the track.

The first thing you have to learn is that even with 3.27 gears, these cars need a lot of gas pedal and a slipping clutch off the line. The 4.6 modular isn't Ford's gift to torque until around 4,000 rpm, and as such you need to slip the clutch while winding up the motor to get the car moving smartly from a dead stop. You want to shift the car full throttle at 6,000 rpm, and if you're on a really good run, you should tickle the rev limiter in Third gear, right before the finish line. The track wasn't in the best condition with the hundreds of street-tired cars dragging water to the starting line and tearing the rubber up in the groove. But the GT could do a good impression of a race car if asked to do so.

The first pass, without even lifting the hood, was a 14.986 at 94.47 mph (2.237-second 60-foot). Not too good, but it was a start. Eight minutes later, the car ran a 14.557 at 97.09 mph (2.219-second 60-foot). Fifteen minutes after that, the car slowed to a 14.684 at 96.42 mph (2.213-second 60-foot). Then, a 14.45 at 97.82 mph with another 2.31-second short time. It was at this point we began thinking the car wouldn't go much quicker, but the disappointing first 100-feet of the dragstrip gave us some hope for the car. The new GT is a tough car to drive. It's heavy, under-geared, and needs a lot of momentum to really get cooking.

The '02 Mustang GT offers a tremendous performance-per-dollar-spent ratio. This Sonic Blue beauty would make anyone proud to own a Mustang.

Switching lanes and straddling the shredded groove seemed to help some. The last pass of the night was a 14.218 at 98.06 mph with a consistent 2.222-second short time. That was it for this car in bone-stock trim on this night. It wasn't going to go any faster unless we started tweaking some things.