Evan J. Smith
June 25, 2010
Photos By: Courtesy of Ford Motor Company, Justin Cesler

The 2011 Mustang could be one of the most important Stangs ever built. Given the state of our economy and today's stiff competition, Ford must sell loads of its new Mustang-and it must do so now. In our opinion, this won't be a problem because the new Mustang packs a wicked punch. You'll be hard-pressed to find a better performer for around $30,500-$35,000. Also know that your econo-box won't run low-12s stock, and neither will a new Camaro or Challenger-but oh, by the way, the Mustang GT will!

The 412hp, ultra-modern 5.0L mill, featuring Ti-VCT (Twin Independent Variable Camshaft Timing) is a true wonder that you can read all about (if you haven't already) in the April '10 issue of MM&FF, "Return Of The 5-Liter Mustang." With more power than ever before, Mustang owners will have no trouble smoking the tires-or the competition.

But the extra power is only a small part of the good news, as the '11 Mustangs feature nearly 40 elements of enhancement (see sidebar), giving potential V-6 and V-8 buyers a multitude of reasons to purchase a new Mustang.

There's an abundance of new, exciting, useful technology, resulting in greater acceleration, better steering feel, tighter handling, improved braking, less NVH, plus improved safety and best-in-class fuel economy. Most importantly-Mustang remains a price leader.

Slip Inside
I was virtually boiling over with anticipation prior to driving the new 5.0 at a recent press launch in Los Angeles. But first, Ford offered seat time in the potent Performance Package V-6.

We slithered up California's Pacific Coast Highway through Malibu and dismantled an autocross, going head-to-head with a V-6 Camaro. It was no contest. The Mustang covered the Chevy in every aspect, including handling, braking, visibility and overall feel.

I really liked the steering weight (read: effort) designed into the new EPAS (electric power assist steering) and the overall nimble feel of the Mustang. In slow-speed corners, steering effort is reduced, but at speed, more effort is required. By comparison, the Camaro felt heavy, plowing the nose and lacking the acceleration of the Ford. I guess an extra 250 pounds will do that.

Walking up early the following day was easy-we'd be driving the 5.0 GT through canyon roads and burning tires on a make-shift dragstrip set up at an airfield. (Read on for the real drag test that came the following week.)

At first glance, only the "5.0" fender badge gives away the '11 GT (save for the California Special model, which sadly, has no external "5.0" badging), but twist the key and there's no mistaking this for a V-6. Ford's new One-Touch Start allows drivers to simply turn the key (then you can let it go), and the computer takes over to crank and start the engine. When it fires, a throaty sound crackles from the enlarged pipes, its note slightly deeper than the outgoing 315hp 4.6.

Strapped in and with the engine running, I depressed the light-feeling clutch, engaged First gear in the six-speed manual, revved the mill a few times, and got moving. The excellent, almost light clutch actuation and smoothness of the transmission, which features a deep 3.66:1 First gear ratio, is noteworthy. It's not a double-overdrive as you might expect, as Fifth is 1:1 and Sixth is overdriven to 0.65:1. A 3.31 rear gear is standard with the manual (3.55 and 3.73 are optional); final drive with the 6R80 automatic is 3.15:1.

With miles of open road ahead, I breathed into the 5.0, and felt the additional 97 hp and 65 lb-ft of torque (over the 4.6). The enhanced power is right there at tip-in during low-speed driving as the torque comes on in a smooth but amazing fashion.

The big difference, however, came once I put the throttle to the mat. About midway through the rev range (4,000 rpm), the 5.0 is a pure animal, coming alive and pulling with a snarling grunt straight to redline. At 7,000, I hurled the shifter into Second gear with the throttle "full on," and the Pirelli 245/45/19s Nero Zeros barked-hard-which kicked the tail out slightly. I proceeded to keep my right foot flat; at redline I nailed Third and then Forth. The 5.0 never stopped its march, and our speed rapidly approached the triple-digit mark. Impressive? Me thinks so.

Ford engineers tell us there's no torque reduction (read: engineered throttle closing on upshifts to prevent driveline damage) in the low gears, and we believe them-there was little-to-no lag in acceleration or throttle response. That's one noticeable improvement over the Three-Valve GT.