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

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.