Steve Turner
Former Editor, 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords
July 9, 2010
Photos By: Dale Amy

It's hard to imagine, but driving the 2011 was almost anti-climactic. I've been reading, writing, and dreaming about this fabled automobile for so long that it's been real in my head. When living up to a legend, it's key to exceed expectations. This is especially true when it's a legend that, as most do, has grown bigger and bolder than its reality over the years. Yes, the original 5.0s in Fox Mustangs were cool, but cool because they were so easy to modify and make faster. They made hay because their 225 hp was housed in a light, flexible chassis with barely adequate brakes.

Ignore the awkward SN-95 5.0 phase-fast-forward 17 years, and there is little in common between the '11 Mustang GT and a '93 5.0 Mustang save the name Mustang, the rear-wheel drive/solid-axle platform, and the 5.0 badge. Today's 5.0 Mustang is an ultra-modern automobile with a solid platform, great brakes, and a highly optimized, dual-overhead-cam V-8. Moreover, the '11 Mustang GT picks up where the stellar '10 GT left off and takes it into the stratosphere with numerous details improvements, headlined by the now-famous Coyote 5.0.

After spending a day getting to know the V-6 Mustang (which in some ways is just a remarkable as the V-8 car, but more on that elsewhere) my anticipation had become a sort of nervous energy. I had been waiting for this day for so long, I began to wonder if-much like a Star Wars prequel or a new Apple gadget-the real thing could live up to the hype.

As the big morning arrived, I walked to breakfast. I rounded the corner and a smile beamed across my face as I saw a line of 15 or so '11 5.0 Mustangs rumbling in a row. They eagerly awaited the abuse from the jaded press with a robust symphony of burbling dual exhaust.

OK, despite my concerns, I knew it was going to be love at first drive. The exhaust note was just the first note of the love song. To ensure a great first date, I rolled down the line and found my ideal car in a magazine-friendly Grabber Blue. This GT featured the SVT Performance Pack, Glass Roof, Navigation, 3.73s and more. Other than the color choice, it was my ideal '11. Such luxury does come at a price, as this car clocked in at just over $41,000 MSRP with all the toys. That's not too far off what my '08 GT500 cost, but don't fret-a base GT is around $30,000, and according to Ford, these cars have $1,200 in upgraded content at no additional cost to you.

Finally behind the wheel, I turned the key. That one-touch start is pretty sweet. Just turn the key and the Coyote gives a growl. That burbling is more subdued inside, but the exhaust does present itself in the way Mustang fans appreciate. It won't be loud enough for most of the 5.0&SF nation, but the engineers did push the dBs right up to the legal limit, backing up those storied Tri-Ys with its highest-flow cats, 2.75-inch pipes, resonators, and large-volume mufflers to give the Coyote a respectable howl.

Pulling away, the car was obviously familiar, yet polished. As I pulled out and immediately hammered on the car, banging through the gears was effortless. The new six-speed manual is buttery smooth, the clutch engagement is light, and-boy, oh, boy-that powerband.

Sure, the 3.73s had to help, but the Ti-VCT gets up on the pipe early and doesn't leave the party until the Copperhead cops turn out the lights at 7,000 rpm. This sort of torquey elasticity is intoxicating. It's not quite the rush of a positive-displacement blower, but a sinewy, always-there power that is too tempting to unleash.

The path Ford set us on for a test ride was a mixture of city streets, mountain twists, and rural open roads. The only thing holding me back was a fear of losing my license and the occasional traffic backup. With the SVT Performance Pack (like last year's Track Pack but with big Brembo brakes), the '11 GT ate up the turns like a big fella at a buffet. The car tracked flat, and I wasn't driving her hard enough on the street to bring on understeer. It's there, but you have to push a lot harder than you did in the bad old days of plush Mustang suspensions.

Tuned more to the aggressive side of things, the SVT Performance Pack transmits a bit more road feel in exchange for its precision. Much like last year's Track Pack, this version of a stock Mustang feels like it's already visited the aftermarket for tuning. You'd likely still want to adjust the ride height for styling or pop in more aggressive pads for the track, but this is minor stuff compared to the old days. Though I never called on the big Brembos in a panic, I know they'll be handy for the track heroes.

Along those lines, all the NVH and chassis stiffening have joined together to give the latest car a quiet confidence. It's hard to believe the car is yet again 12 percent stiffer than its predecessor, which was said to be as stiff as a Fox Mustang with a rollcage welded in. These improvements over the '10 GT are credited to the addition of a strut-tower brace, a gusseted V-brace, stiffening foam in the A-pillars, and most importantly, a new Z-brace, which ties together the radiator support and K-member.

A strong, silent type, the chassis does its work in obscurity. That's just how the Electronic Power Assist Steering gets down. Implementing this bit of technology freed up some power and fuel economy, but its execution was clean and seamless, far moreso than the addition of electronic throttle back in '05. Moreover, the EPAS can be programmed to actually improve the ride by combating crosswinds, road crown, and even minor wheel vibrations. It helps without hindering, so count me as a fan.

Lest you think I'm a total fanboy, I'm still not feeling the rear of the car. There were no real changes to the looks of the car, save the new special editions and the obvious 5.0 badge. Well,there is the still-ugly triangular mounting for the rear-view camera atop the quirky unchanged rear. While team 5.0&SF was standing around the car discussing its backside, one of the Mustang team members did come over to us and say, "I know, I know." So hope springs eternal for some sort of styling refresh.

Depsite those minor qualms, it would be easy to walk away pleased with a top of the line Mustang with all the gadgets and goodies, but I had the opportunity to drive a number of different configurations, including an automatic convertible. Now there were times in the not-too-distant past that I might have felt pretty emasculated driving such a car. Automatic plus convertible used to equal slug. Not so anymore. Sure, there was a slight drop off in handling and performance, but the car is so good now, it's not a cliff. The car rolls a bit more in turns and dives a bit more on the brakes, but it's still quite capable.

Moreover, the new six-speed auto keeps the car in the powerband and provides crisp shifting. I'm no fan of automatics, but this one gets the job done. It was fun to mat the pedal, and feel the tranny downshift and click through the gears while keeping the power in its happy place. When the SoCal traffic brought everything to a crawl, it was easy to forget all about the transmission and enjoy the ride.

And enjoy the ride I did. If you haven't gathered by now, the '11 Mustang GT is a hit. It's a winner on nearly every level, and if you've been waiting for the right time to buy a new Mustang, the time is now. The only real question is how the aftermarket will embrace this highly optimized Mustang. Unlike the last 5.0 that was crying out for a host of improvements, the latest naturally aspirated is already demon-tweaked to produce more power than the supercharged Terminator Cobra. The gains will be harder to come by, but we're going to have fun trying.

The new 5.0 era is off to a heck of a start. 5.0

Handle It
Mustang power improvements tend to be non-existent, then dramatic, as witnessed by the fabulous new V-6 and V-8 engines this year. But increases in Mustang handling are more incremental, thanks to a steady dribble of a chassis brace one year and better shocks the next.

Still, occasionally Mustang handling improves perceptibly some years, and this is definitely one of those years. Ford highlighted this at the press lead by setting up a slalom course for us to play on with some V-6 Mustangs fitted with the Performance Package. We know most of you aren't salivating over a V-6 'Stang when the Coyote V-8 sits alongside it, but the bent-six is a real corner-carver, and it was eye-opening to whip it around the cones.

What's immediately noticeable about it is the overall chassis precision, the reduction in understeer, and its ability to jink left-right-left in the esses, the whole time being impressed by the ability to carefully balance the car with the throttle. You sure didn't admire that with the 4.0-liter. A little later you'll note the reduction in brake dive.

This all comes together in how impressively deep the V-6 Mustang can be bent into the corner. Waiting later to brake, the front end just keeps sticking, while the steering remains responsive and communicative all the way down to the apex. Trail braking is wonderfully more useful right down into the heart of the corner, where you can instantly pick up the front end with the throttle and even rotate the rear end out if you keep the rpm up.

We immediately realized two things. One, the Mustang had absolutely stepped over the line to a "handling" car. No more excuses, no more relying on power to make up the difference-the '11 chassis has the right stuff. The second was the incredible driving skill of the Ford chassis engineers giving the orientation laps. They are among the best drivers we've ever ridden with, and after 20 years of world champion F1, Indy, NASCAR and SCORE drivers, that's saying something. As long as management allows these guys to tune the Mustang chassis, we're in great hands.

Ford also had V-6 Camaros for us to sample, a car we've previously found exciting on twisty back roads. The two V-6 Pony cars are similar beasts, but the lighter Mustang is distinctly more agile.

Of course, the wet sock on Mustang handling is its large size and immense weight. (Yes, the Camaro is notably heavier.) And the GT simply has more weight than the V-6, and so no matter how stiff you make the suspension, it simply can't corner with the same alacrity as the V-6. But it comes darn close, and with the easy torque of the 5.0, the GT can carve and rotate with grin-inducing precision, too.

One of Ford's goals is reducing vehicle weight, and that will pay off handsomely in the future. But for now, the '11 Mustang has taken the big leap made by the '10 car and polished it to a genuine sports-car luster.-Tom Wilson

Six Sense
Believe it or not, the anxious trepidation with which I approached the 5.0-liter V-8 was matched by an unfamiliar curiosity about the new V-6 Mustang. The instant I heard about the 305hp V-6, I stopped in my tracks and traveled back to my love affair with the '96-'98 Mustang Cobra. That car carried me through the rocky modular start, and it too had 305 hp. Twelve years later, the sixer now rocks three hundie. That's a sobering concept.

In practice, the V-6 Mustang will impress even the most jaded V-8 junkies. Not only did the car get rubber in Second and Third in a short street blast, it actually puts you back in the seat a bit-though it obviously doesn't pack the bottom end of a V-8, but TiVCT does help. As a matter of fact, the new V-6 kinda reminded me of the '05-'09 GT's 300hp 4.6, despite giving up about 40 lb-ft of torque.

Perhaps better yet, Ford recognizes that the new engine offers something special, so they are finally offering a Performance Package for the base Mustang. Team Mustang actually asked media members for ideas back around the introduction of the '05 Mustang, and many of us suggested just such a package. Apparently they wanted to wait until the engine was able to hold up its end of the bargain.

The aforementioned package essentially puts a Mustang GT suspension and brakes under your base Mustang. It also bumps up the axle ratio to 3.31:1, tacks on a strut-tower brace, and gains a unique stability control programming with Sport mode. People will know you've gotten the good V-6 thanks to some special badges and those sweet machined-face 19-inch wheels.

Couple some new power with "only" 3,500 pounds and the Performance Pack, and you get a really cool driving experience. Having lots of time in front-heavy GT500s, my impression was the latest V-6 Mustang felt so light that it seemed there was no engine underhood. Obviously that's not the case, but the car is light and responsive, and with the PP suspension, it does really well in the turns. Autocrossers will love this car.

In fact, the performance driving aspect of the Mustang intro for the V-6 was autocrossing six-cylinder Mustangs and Camaros. I'm never one to push too hard at the press launches. I don't want to be the guy that wrecks the preproduction Mustang. However, even at 7/10s I could tell the V-6 'Stang was a blast. Moreover, in my recon lap with an engineer, he proved the V-6 has the power to drift around the autocross if you have the talent to rein it in.

It may never be as cool to say you have the six instead of the eight, but the '11 Mustang is a justifiable real car that would make a fine daily driver and occasional track toy. It may also see the rebirth of a legitimate V-6 Mustang aftermarket. As impressive a feat as the creation of the new 5.0 Mustang is, this might be even more surprising. -Steve Turner

Parts Pipeline
The aftermarket is sure to attack the modern 5.0 Mustang with a fervor we haven't seen in some time. Of course, most aftermarket entities are waiting to get their hands on cars, and by the time you read this they are probably busily measuring and disassembling the first cars arriving at dealers. Naturally, Ford Racing has the inside track on developing gear for its performance parts catalog, and one of the headlining parts for the Coyote lineup is a new twin-screw supercharger configuration.

Included in the kit are the blower, intake with air-to-water intercooler, a cold-air intake, a drive system, and a ProCal tool with performance calibration. "The supercharger has been optimized to work with the new engines increased compression ratio, new fuel system, variable cam timing, and Copperhead Electronic Engine Controller," says FRPP. "The supercharger delivers substantial horsepower improvements without sacrificing engine durability, and will be 50-state legal with a CARB certification."

Along with the supercharger kit, FRPP is also developing a host of bolt-ons, including an intake, a Power Pack, a Handling Pack, and an exhaust. On the more aggressive end of the spectrum, FRPP will have a trans swap kit, a more robust short-block, CNC-ported heads, and a long-block.-Steve Turner

Track Attack
While I'm not spending much time on it here, Ford was extremely confident in its new Mustang, having comparable Camaros on hand for comparison testing. It goes without saying that we prefer the Mustang, but part of that testing were some impromptu eighth-mile drag passes on a repurposed airstrip.

The cars on hand were automatics. Burnouts weren't part of the program and it wasn't exactly a prepped surface, so I stuck with Sport mode and just stood on it from an idle. My best pass of three was an 8.64 at 83 and change. I managed a 9.00 in the Camaro in my only pass. Clearly it could go a bit faster too, but the Mustang feels quicker and is quicker.

I stayed around after the program to get a chance at a manual-trans car and managed an 8.63 at 84 with a 2,300-rpm launch. Now the only thing worse than my writing is my driving, so lead development engineer Shawn Carney promptly showed me the car could do better, running a 8.55 right after me. Shawn said he'd run a best of an 8.40 at 89 on that surface, and projected 12.60s from a stock '11 GT on a prepped track. With slicks and a real driver, I'd be willing to bet that 11-second '11 GTs will be the talk of the Internet. -Steve Turner

5.0 versus 5.0
As my '91 hatchback is my daily driver, I was the only journalist to drive an original Fox 5.0 to the 2011 Mustang press introduction. It provided, as you might imagine, some strong contrasts with the new car.

Obviously, the new car is far quieter and refined than the "beer can on wheels," as the Fox Mustang was once famously described by our Canadian correspondent, Dale Amy. But an unexpected attribute-the Foxes' compactness-was dramatically apparent when the valet pulled our ride up next to one of the new cars. We've always been aware the latest Mustangs were, well, substantial, but alongside our Fox, the new car is elephantine. Taller, longer, wider-with huge wheels and a small greenhouse, the current Mustang seems more like a Brinks truck when compared to the original.

Also unexpected upon motoring away in our '91 was how light and torquey the old 5.0 feels. The Coyote-powered '11 certainly makes more peak torque, but at a higher rpm than the 302. Plus, the new car is around 500 pounds heavier. The result is our Fox tractored away from stoplights and grunted around surface streets in Third and Fourth gears without any revving. The new car needs more rpm to do the same thing, leaving the old 5.0 feeling distinctly lighter and snappier-at least at first.

Turn the steering wheel and the old Fox continues to feel light-and clumsy-on it's tires. There's an inherent responsiveness in the older, less-massive car, but it's near-instantly overcome by its goose-loose chassis and hopeless rear suspension geometry. Pushed harder, the new car rewards. Driven the same, the Fox doesn't so much give up as disassemble itself from a handling standpoint. Absolutely no contest there.

And quiet ... the new car is a library to the Foxes' cacophony of thunks, rattles, and tornado-in-a-tin-shed acoustics. Nearly as painful is the Foxes' cramped seating. "People were smaller then" goes the saying, and we hope that's true as the Fox offers larger drivers iron-maiden-tight comfort compared to the plush newcomer.

A toss-up is the exhaust note. The new car elicits a glorious V-8 tear when provoked; our aftermarket piped Fox is more like a high school garage band, making up in volume what it lacks in science lab refinement. We like elements of both exhausts.

Ultimately the Fox 5.0 is far more direct-dare we say, more honest-than the new car. Modern Mustang pilots go fast, corner as if in a centrifuge, and brake hard enough to dislocate an eyeball, but are more disconnected and aloof from the experience. And wouldn't I love to have one!-Tom Wilson

On The Dyno
The Internet was abuzz with the first reports of dyno numbers from '11 5.0 Mustangs, but there was some controversy about the gear choice. Some ran it in the traditional Fourth gear, while others opted for Fifth as it's the more ideal 1:1 ratio for the chassis dyno. To see if there is much difference, we bolted the car to Extreme Automotive's Dynapack chassis dyno and tested it in both gears. As you can see, the new 5.0 Mustang impresses in any gear, but the numbers are obviously a bit higher if you test it in Fourth.

4th Gear5th GearDifference

5.0 Tech Specs

Engine and Drivetrain
  • Aluminum modular V-8
  • 92.2mm (3.63-in)
  • 92.7mm (3.65-in)
  • 4,957cc (302ci)
  • Forged steel, fully counterweighted, induction-hardened
  • Forged steel
  • Cast aluminum
Compression Ratio
  • 11.0:1
  • Duration: 260 degrees intake, 263 degrees exhaust
  • Lift: 12mm (0.472-in) intake, 11mm (0.432-inch) exhaust
  • TiVCT Range: 50 degrees for both intake and exhaust
  • Four-Valve aluminum
  • Composite shell-welded with runner pack
Throttle Body
  • 80mm
Mass Air
  • 86mm digital
Fuel System
  • Sequential mechanical returnless with 32.8-lb/hr injectors
  • Short-tube S44100 stainless steel Tri-Y tubular headers w/2.75-inch stainless pipes, resonators, and reduced-backpressure mufflers
  • MT82 six-speed manual or 6R80 six-speed automatic
  • 8.8 w/limited-slip differential and 3.31 gears (3.15 automatic)
  • Optional: 3.55 and 3.73 gears

Engine Management

  • Copperhead
  • Coil-on plug

Chassis and Suspension

Front Suspension
  • Reverse-L independent MacPherson strut, 34.6mm tubular stabilizer bar
  • 336 (13.2-in) x 36mm vented discs, twin-piston 43mm floating aluminum calipers
  • Optional: 14-inch Brembo vented rotors with Brembo four-piston calipers
  • Standard: 18x8.0-inch wide-spoke painted-aluminum wheels
  • Optional:
    • 19x8.5-inch machined-face with painted-spoke aluminum wheels
    • 18x8.0-inch Sterling Gray Metallic painted-aluminum wheels (MCA Edition)
    • 19x8.5-inch machined-face with Argent painted-aluminum wheels (GT/CS)
    • 19x9.0-inch dark-stainless Premium painted-aluminum wheels (Brembo)
  • P235/50ZR18 A/S Pirelli PZero Nero
  • Optional:
    • P245/45ZR19 A/S Pirelli PZero Nero
    • P255/40R19 Pirelli PZero Summer-Only (coupe)
    • P255/40ZR19 Goodyear F1 Supercar (convertible)

Rear Suspension

  • Three-link solid (limited-slip) axle with coil springs, Panhard rod, 24mm solid stabilizer bar
  • 300 (11.8-in) x 19mm vented discs, single-piston 43mm floating iron calipers
  • Optional: 11.8-inch vented rotors with two-piston calipers
  • Standard: 18x8.0-inch wide-spoke painted-aluminum wheels
  • Optional:
    • 19x8.5-inch machined-face with painted-spoke aluminum wheels
    • 18x8.0-inch Sterling Gray Metallic painted-aluminum wheels (MCA Edition)
    • 19x8.5-inch machined-face with Argent painted-aluminum wheels (GT/CS)
    • 19x9.0-inch dark-stainless Premium painted-aluminum wheels (Brembo)
  • P235/50ZR18 A/S Pirelli PZero Nero
  • Optional:
    • P245/45ZR19 A/S Pirelli PZero Nero
    • P255/40R19 Pirelli PZero Summer-Only (coupe)
    • P255/40ZR19 Goodyear F1 Supercar (convertible)