August 11, 2007

"I'd take that over the Shelby," Associate Editor Mike Johnson says after bursting in my office to return the keys to the Steeda Q335. He was referring to the Shelby GT 500, which we had around the office immediately before the Steeda. That's high praise when comparing this car to the most powerful factory Mustang ever built. Though our optioned-out Steeda tester was in the same fiscal ballpark as the big Shelby's MSRP at $48,261 ($40,545 base with $7,716 in options), it's rated at only 350 hp. Of course, you can buy the Steeda without an insane dealer markup. What's more, the car makes excellent use of the power it has and comes off as a more balanced package. Beginning with a base Mustang GT, the crew at Steeda smiles on the car with a host of handling, power, braking, and appearance mods that transform it from a pleasant car into a grin-inducing driver's car.

Widely known for its suspension packages, the Steeda team makes the most of the Q335 with surprisingly modest modifications. Sport springs lower and tighten to a level we'd all like to see from the factory, while the company's sway bars reduce body roll in concert with robust billet mounting brackets. Meanwhile, Steeda's optional billet lower control arms lighten the unsprung weight while reducing suspension give, thanks to rugged bushings. To the already stiff S197 chassis, only a strut-tower brace and a lower g-load brace further tie the whole package together.

From such a short list of gear, the Q335 delivers the kind of supple responsiveness we've come to expect from Steeda's grippy, streetable packages. Body roll is reduced but comes on a bit as you near the limit, while the overall precision of the steering is greatly enhanced by the more responsive suspension. Ride quality is superb, though it's not quite as cushy as the stocker. Bumpy pavement reminds you there's a solid axle out back; when it's smooth, you'd never even notice.

Inside, the solid axle of our tester was equipped with a set of 3.73 gears, effectively keeping the Q335 in the heart of its powerband most of the time. The five-speed transmission kept the revs at or below 3,000 rpm during my commute, which often creeps up to 80 mph. At some rpm, the standard after-axle exhaust has a slight drone. The general consensus around the office was that it was just right, reminding you when you were on the throttle. Along with the after-axle Steeda mufflers, the Q335 gets a power boost from Steeda's cold-air kit, underdrive pulleys, performance tune, and optional charge-motion-delete plates.