Steve Turner
Former Editor, 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords
October 24, 2006

Sometimes the deadlines and pressure can build up. I'll be ready to throw my keyboard out the office window and escape. Then, suddenly, the clouds open and the sun comes out. My e-mail beeps and I'm offered a week in the brand-spankin' new Stage 3 Roush Mustang. Whew! That's why I got into this business-fast cars. And these days the Mustang is the most popular car for tuners and modifiers everywhere. While many newcomers are jumping on the S197 bandwagon, however, Roush has been creating tuner Mustangs since the pushrod SN-95 era.

For those who don't know, Roush has an inherent advantage over just about anyone who tinkers with Mustangs. Not only does Jack Roush stand guard over one of the more successful Ford teams in NASCAR, but his company is also a supplier to Ford at the OEM level. When Ford needs engineering of a performance nature done, the company often calls on Roush to work out the details. Roush even has experience with engine-management calibrations, which really comes in handy with the latest Mustangs. So, it should be no surprise that Roush Mustangs are well-thought-out machines. Likewise, it should be no shock that Jack himself considers this Mustang the company's best effort yet.

Fortunately for us, we do our keyboard racing not too far from Brandon Ford [(866) 743-7600; www.brandonford.com] in Brandon, Florida, which bills itself as the World's Largest Roush Dealer. After picking up the Stage 3 and loading my camera gear in the trunk, I headed out on my usual 35-mile ride home. The first thing that grabbed me about the car was the shifter. Not only did it exhibit super-short throws, but the tall retro handle also offered plenty of extra leverage for the kinds of spirited driving Associate Editor Johnson does between every stoplight. It was one of the better S197 shifters I've abused, and it provided a more visceral driving experience to a car that's almost too well behaved.

That's right-as the base Mustang keeps getting better and better and the electronics get more powerful, modern musclecars become more docile. That really isn't a bad thing in a daily driver, but I like a little rebellion with my 400-plus horsepower. Fortunately, with the combination of the shifter and robust after-cat exhaust, Roush unlocks the Mustang's dormant personality that Ford works so hard to suppress. The car sounds good and feels good-not just the shifter. When you put the billet gas pedal to the wood, the car feels like what our version of a stock Mustang would feel like. In other words, it's a well-balanced package.

The modern civility sneaks up on you at highway speeds. Of course, I wouldn't ever intentionally exceed the posted speed limits (you can't see my crossed fingers, right?), but the subtle power and compliant suspension of the Roush made it way too easy to speed without even noticing. When the Pantera is at max volume on the Shaker 500, you can't hear the engine and the car doesn't really feel as if it's ripping down the road at 90 mph-but it is. It's the feeling we used to get in hi-po luxury cars such as the Lincoln Mark VII. Now it's a Mustang trait-not something we'd have ever said about a 415hp Fox car.

Of course, you can't discount that the Roush looks great too. It certainly passed the test with my wife, who judges a car more on its appearance than its performance. With the Screaming Yellow paint, black stripes, chrome 18s, and, of course, the body kit, the car received her enthusiastic approval. But she wasn't the only one. Strangers constantly gave me the thumbs-up or asked what the car had under the hood. If you like attention, a bright-yellow Stage 3 isn't a bad way to get it.

So the car is fast and it looks great, but how does it handle? Well I certainly got a good feeling for its predictable, compliant nature on my favorite on-ramps and off-ramps, but there's really no substitute for hitting a road course to find out the real story. Fortunately, my weeklong tour in the Stage 3 was timed just right so I could attend the annual SVTOA On-Track event in Sebring, Florida. Of course, I actually had to work and take pictures of the event, so I only managed to sneak out on the legendary course for one session, but I found out the car was quite capable.

Just like the other On-Track participants, I was able to lap the full, 3.7-mile Sebring course. After getting comfortable with the lines around the track, I pushed the car a bit more. Though I'm never the fast guy on the track, I was completely impressed with how the car handled, the tires gripped, the brakes halted, and the power swelled on the straights. In short, the Stage 3 was just as at home on the road course as it was on my commute. Moreover, the suspension came off well as the larger S197 felt light on its feet and tossable-not as light as my '98 Cobra, but it felt good for a much heavier car.

Better yet, right after my track time ended I drove to the hotel, picked up my wife and son, all our luggage, and drove home with the air-conditioning on. That's the part you have to love about these modern cars. The Roush may not be the fastest Mustang on the road, but it's plenty fast, it does a lot of things well, and it still carries a three-year, 36,000-mile warranty. So if you want a lot more performance than a stock GT and something that stands out from a sea of S197 Mustangs, but you still want the dealer to back you up on the off chance something goes awry, the Stage 3 Roush Mustang is definitely worth a look.

Tales From The StripThe dumbest question you could ask a performance enthusiast is, "Hey, you want to take the [insert name of performance car here] to the dragstrip?" The answer is never a loathsome "I guess" or "If I have to" or "Can't someone else do it?" The mere thought of taking the latest performance car down the dragstrip has us clearing our calendar and checking for the soonest test-and-tune night. This time around, Editor Turner offered up the '06 Roush Stage 3, one of probably only a few available at the time. The location was Bradenton Motorsports Park on a Thursday night test-and-tune in late April, which meant the temperatures were in the high 80s here in Florida. That isn't exactly prime drag-racing weather, but it's the price we pay for living in paradise.

Speaking of paradise, the Roush is a pure joy to drive. The Hurst shifter is friggin' awesome. The chrome stick brings the handle up to a perfect height when combined with the round shifter knob. The throws are shorter than they have a right to be, and something we Mustang guys are not accustomed to. The height of the shifter also allows for much-needed leverage for bangin' gears.

Even with Roush's performance mufflers on the car, the exhaust is quiet when cruising-but hammer the throttle and the sound of muscle fills your ears. The Roush suspension upgrade package delivers a performance ride without beating you up. We even thought the speedo had to be reading slow because the car is so quiet. For that reason, you have the feeling you're doing only 55 mph at anything below 80 mph.

While getting used to the car before arriving at the track, it seemed as if the car had a wicked case of turbo lag on rapid gear changes. Once we were at the track and able to let the dogs hunt, the problem was readily apparent and frustrating. As it turns out, to keep the car's 3/36 warranty, Roush most likely kept some of the factory electronic-throttle tuning intact. That means the drive-by-wire has not been completely optimized for performance driving. The second issue we had at the track was the car's gearing. We hit the rev limiter literally feet from the finish line, and shifting to Fourth hurt e.t. and speed. We left it in Third and put our foot in the water pump.

The tale of the track gave us 13.30s at 105 mph. If the car were ours, we'd first have the drive-by-wire system optimized, which would surely result in high 12s. Then we'd add slicks, a smaller blower pulley for more boost, and a set of 4.10s to get the car into the 11s. But that's just us.-Michael Johnson

Horse Sense: In addition to its fullsize Mustangs, Roush Performance is offering a limited run of 2,500 1:18 scale die-cast Stage 3 Mustangs in red or black. So if you want a die-cast to match your real car or just want to live the dream on a smaller scale, you can score one for $52.99 at www.roushperformance.com.

Tech SpecsEngine And DrivetrainBlockAluminum 4.6Displacement281 ciRotating AssemblyStockCamsStockHeadsStock Three-ValveIntakeStockThrottle BodyStockMass AirStock sensor in Roushinlet tubeFuel SystemStock w/38-lb/hr injectorsExhaustRoush Performance after-catTransmissionStock Tremec five-speedDriveshaftStockRearendStock

ElectronicsEngine ManagementStock Spanish Oak with Roush flash tuneIgnitionStockGaugesRoush electroluminescent white-face

Suspension and ChassisFront suspensionK-memberStockControl armsStockSpringsRoush PerformanceStrutsRoush PerformanceCaster/CamberStockBrakesRoush 14-in two-piece rotors with four-piston calipersWheelsChrome Roush Performance 18-inTiresBFGoodrich G-Force KDREAR SUSPENSIONSpringsRoush PerformanceShocksRoush PerformanceControl armsStockTraction DevicesRoush Performance sway barsBrakesStockWheelsChrome Roush Performance 18-inTiresBFGoodrich G-Force KD