Mark Houlahan
Brand Manager, Mustang Monthly
April 1, 2009
Photos By: Drew Phillips

If there's one constant in life it is change. As much as you might like that favorite sandwich at the corner deli, there will come a day when you walk in and sit at your usual spot, and when you go to order you'll get "I'm sorry, we took that off the menu last week." Sound familiar? Naturally, some people embrace change and others fear it. The same can be said about Mustang owners. Some love a certain generation and think Ford can never make a better car, while others look forward to what Ford does with each new redesign.

We'll be the first to admit that some years hold a great place in our hearts and others we look at and think, What was Ford thinking? By now you've most likely seen some online images and comments on the new 2010 Mustang. We've read them all as well. Some people think Ford went too far with the whole retro thing and others think Ford didn't do enough to the new car.

The original S197, when it arrived in 2005, was a hit straight out of the park and deep into the parking lot. The 2010 is more than a reskin. The new car has so much more technology and quality and fit and finish to it that it feels like a completely new car to us. The jump from the '05-'09 to the 2010 is akin to the '94-'98 to the '99-'04 changes. It's essentially the same car, but the progression of improvements is what makes the car ride, handle, and feel so much better.

This past December Ford invited Mustang scribes like us to California to get to know the new Mustang on several levels: From the basic walk around and technology pony show, to a day trip through the tight, winding roads of the Los Padres National Forest ending in a second day of on-track testing at Streets of Willow at Willow Springs Raceway. We've gone over every inch of the car, driven it in heavy California traffic as well as at speed, enjoyed every minute of the car's great new interior, learning about it's improved performance and handling capabilities (and the limits of our own driving), all so we could share our thoughts here in this first look. Is the 2010 Mustang all it's been hyped up to be? Keep reading to see what we found.

A Fresh Face
Upon first blush it would seem that Ford's stylists did a little tweak here and a pinch there to the Mustang's sheetmetal. In reality, the 2010 Mustang has a completely new skin. Every panel is new, designed with the Mustang's heritage in mind, except for the roof panel. The roof is the same as the current car, mainly to allow the '09 glass roof option to be available at Job 1 for the 2010. More muscle was given to the 2010 design by Chief Designer Doug Gaffka and Design Manager George Saridakis by referencing classic Mustang design. Classic Mustang fans will certainly see styling cues from several different Mustang model years: From the '69-'70 upper quarter styling to the sharper '67-'68 fender lines and hockey stick body side styling, to the new grille and headlamps. Even the Pony emblem got a redesign for 2010, with a leaner-looking horse in a dark chrome finish. "Everything we tried to do with this car's new exterior design is represented in the new Pony," said Gaffka. "It tells the whole story. It's athletic, aggressive and modern."

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Up front, the new headlights feature inboard turn signals, moved up from the corners of the fascia. GT models feature a dark chrome trim around the lights, whereas the base model V-6 has a traditional chrome appearance. The leading edge of the hood still hangs over the grille, but not nearly as much as the earlier S197 models, and we noticed a lot less hood flutter as a result (actually, it was non-existent in our testdriving). The GT still utilizes grille-mounted foglamps, which look much more proportioned to the headlamps now. The V-6 Pony Package cars will get their foglamps in the lower fascia (like previous generation Cobras and the GT500). The front of the new Mustang is lower and appears wider (due to the splitter), leading into sharply sculpted wheel arches pushing out of the fenders. The front splitter not only adds to the car's muscular overtone, but also aids in stability and fuel economy. Finally, the new hood features a domed power bulge that is aggressive looking and quite sharp, but is not so cumbersome that we noticed it from the driver's seat.

Moving down the flanks, the 2010 utilizes the same door glass, but the door structure is modified from the S197 with a new outer skin and some minor changes inside to facilitate the sexy new door panels (more on the interior a bit later). The side mirrors are all new (Yes, finally!) and while they still have great visibility, engineers spent many hours in the wind tunnel making the mirror's profile more subdued while making it quieter at speed as well. Best of all, the main mirror body is now painted body color from the factory (sorry Mr. Aftermarket).

Out back, the rear-wheel arches carry the same muscular tone from the front of the car. The rear of the Mustang has a wraparound feel to it now with chamfered corners and a tapered rear fascia, all in the name of making the Mustang look more compact. The new two-piece rear fascia, body-colored upper half and black lower, enhance the Mustang's width and stance by reducing the car's overall height visually. The Mustang's decklid spoiler has had its pedestals simplified, while the trunk lid loses the age-old trunk lock keyhole and the antenna finds its way to the right-rear quarter-panel (though we'd much rather see it gone altogether in favor of an in-glass antenna).

Probably the most exciting part of the new Mustang's hind quarters has to be the full LED taillamps. The new taillamps possess the must-have tri-bar element design, each red chamber individually lit by a Luxion LED and separated by two vertical backup lamp segments to ensure the tri-bar design is recognized day or night. Unlike previous tri-bar designs, the {{{2010 Mustang}}} utilizes all three chambers for brake light illumination, and the turn signal activation is sequential from the factory (once again, sorry, Mr. Aftermarket).

Meat And Potatoes
It's not just another pretty face for the Mustang--not at all. While the main driveline hardware remains unchanged in 2010 (4.6L Three-Valve in the GT and 4.0L SOHC V-6 in the base), the Mustang powertrain engineers did see fit to up the ante a bit on the GT with a new cold-air induction system that breathes through the main frontal area behind the left headlamp and not the inner fender. The true ram-air box is exclusive to the Mustang and extensive tuning and sealing of the box was done to make it all work. The cold-air system actually outflows the '08 Bullitt cold-air system, thanks to some engineering help from the boys in red over at Ford Racing Performance Parts. Along with the cold-air system, some ECM calibration tweaks, and a new adaptive strategy system that allows the computer to tailor performance to the octane of the fuel used, give the Three-Valve 15 more horsepower (315 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque). The redline has been raised 250 rpm to 6,500 rpm to better use the new power found underhood.

The Bullitt program, as well as Ford Racing's foray into the Miller Cup FR500S Mustangs, lent its expertise to the new 2010s with further powertrain improvements such as larger exhaust tips (3-inch on the V-6 and 3-inch on the V-8), a short-throw performance shifter (topped with a polished aluminum shift knob on Premium models), and induction and exhaust sound tuning. We have to admit the exhaust does sound good, even for Ford having to stay within drive-by sound limits and manufacturing hurdles. The 2010 is so much quieter now with all of its newly added insulation and wind tunnel tuning that Ford saw fit to add an induction noise transfer system to the engine. It's essentially a small hose and diaphragm affair that pipes the engine's induction noise into the cabin. Hokey? Maybe, but it does give the casual owner the sound he or she paid for. On the other hand, we see this as another Fox Mustang air silencer type of part that'll get yanked off by the true performance owner in the first week of ownership or as soon as the twin-screw gets installed.

Ford kept its five-speed automatic and five-speed manual setups the same into the 2010 model, but we're willing to bet there will be six-speed autos on the horizon (along with rumored new powertrains in 2011 or 2012). We'll just have to wait and see if our hunches are correct. Ford also saw fit to install its industry-leading capless fuel fill system, which debuted on the Ford GT supercar and is slowly making its way across the entire Ford product line.

Better Handling, Too
While more power is nice, you need a chassis and suspension that can handle it. To that end, Ford's engineers started with the enhanced Bullitt chassis as the basis for the new Mustang GT. "We adjusted the springs, stabilizer bars, and shocks to better balance the ride, steering, and handling for all models, which results in a more engaging driving experience," said Vehicle Engineering Manager Tom Barnes. "The 2010 Mustangs feel more controlled for steering and handling, yet retain a good ride balance."

For the first time Ford has included its AdvanceTrac stability control package in the Mustang. The AdvanceTrac system works with the antilock brake and traction control systems to keep the Mustang on the road in the most adverse situations by constantly examining steering rate, vehicle yaw, road speed, and more. But don't worry--you can still turn it off for those nice smoky burnouts (as we did in our Red Candy Metallic Track Pack GT--p. 67), and the GT package offers a Sport mode to make you look like a hero on those track days.

The Mustang's wheel and tire packages are extensive for the 2010 with no less than seven offerings. The base wheel is upsized to a 17-inch wheel and the GT wheel is now an 18-inch, while all wheel offerings now ride on Pirelli tires. P-Zero Nero all-season tires are used for most packages, with a 19-inch Pirelli dry traction summer tire available later on in the year. 19-inch wheel packages also get a strut tower brace, as the 19-inch wheel puts that much more cornering force through the chassis. "You're getting the best-handling, best-balanced Mustang ever as the base GT," said Chief Nameplate Engineer Paul Randle.

Performance options include a 3.73 axle package that includes the aforementioned gears, recalibrated AdvanceTrac, and performance front brake pads (from the Bullitt) for only $495. Even better is the Track Pack, which has a whole grocery list of goodies, including upgraded front and rear brake pads, GT500 sourced front and rear sway bars, GT500 lower rear control arms, retuned struts and shocks, 19-inch Pirelli summer tires, 3.73 gears, carbon-fiber friction plates in the Traction Lok differential, and recalibrated AdvanceTrac, ABS, and traction control. The Track Pack even includes 19-inch wheels exclusive to the option group, all for $1,445.

Comfort And Style Inside
Once you get over the jaw-dropping new looks on the outside, listen to the great exhaust note, and hear how well it handles, you'll move on to the interior. That's when you realize that Ford listened to all of us and our gripes about the Mustang's cheap feeling interior. The new interior looks like it came straight out of a concept car, except in this case everything works. Upon ingress, the first thing you'll notice is the dash. The dash is now formed into one piece using Thermoplastic Olefin (TPO) skin over a foam base. The new one-piece dash wraps around the center stack and down the sides, giving the driver comfort not felt in the previous interior (your right knee will thank you).

Situated in the new dash is a revised instrument cluster with flush gauge rings, revised heritage graphics behind heritage conical lenses, and flush A/C registers. The two center registers are now rectangular instead of circular, just like a '67-'68 with in-dash A/C. The dash aluminum and steering wheel spokes on Premium models are now fashioned from real aluminum, as is the freshly stylized running horse emblem in the center of the steering wheel, which now contains audio controls for easy fingertip audio changes. "Gaps between parts--the chrome-ringed air registers, for example--are accurate to within fractions of millimeters," said Robert Gelardi, interior design manager. "This attention to detail is the bedrock of the new interior and what sets Mustang miles apart from the competition. Our goal was a product that goes above and beyond perceived quality to offer premium experience. We were absolute maniacs about the selection of materials and executing every detail."

The center stack contains all-new HVAC controls and audio system for 2010. The base audio uses a two-line display, while the optional electronics package utilizes an easy to read 8-inch display, which also houses the navigation, HVAC controls, Sirius Travel Link, outside temperature, compass, and more. Ford's Sync with 911-assist and Vehicle Health Report is standard in Premium models. Dual-zone electronic HVAC controls, voice activated nav, and six-way power-heated seats are options through various packages (Electronics Package and Comfort Package, respectively). The 2010 Mustang also features another first for the Mustang--a rearview camera system--available as an option on Premium models that also have the Electronics Package. The Shaker audio systems remain with 500 and 1000-watt systems available.

The center stack moves easily into the new flush console. The console features a locking storage bin, covered drink holders, and a flow-through design. Even the traction control and trunk-release button (a first for the S197 Mustang) are fashioned after the 2010 Mustang's appearance versus some standard ISO symbol. Just like your favorite recliner at home, the center console's slope matches that of the door panels so that your left and right arms are resting at the same angles for comfort behind the wheel on those long trips.

Speaking of those door panels, all-new materials here, too, give the Mustang a much more refined look, including a running horse medallion on Premium interiors, bright trim around the door speaker grille (instead of the previous blocky industrial look), and color-coordinated stitching that matches the new seat sew styling. The door panel's map pockets are now illuminated. On Premium models with My Color and ambient lighting, the illumination of the map pockets, as well as the cup holders, foot wells, and even the Mustang script door sill plates, can be adjusted via My Color to over 120 different colors.

Other upgrades to the 2010 interior include a Premium Trim with Color Accent Package that has Brick Red/Cashmere accent, Charcoal Black/Grabber Blue accent, or Charcoal Black/Cashmere accent. While we'd wish the "skunk stripe" was offered in more colors to coordinate with the exterior paint options (because the Grabber Blue accent stripe and stitching looks positively bitchin' in the Grabber Blue GT we drove), the Team Mustang people we spoke with said the logistics of it all with their materials providers would be a nightmare. But hey, we did ask.

To The Test
The press info given to us about the new car is one thing, but talking to the engineers and designers firsthand and seeing the pride and satisfaction they've experienced working on the 2010 program is another. These people may have come from various other projects within Ford, but when they were honored with being placed on Team Mustang they knew how important their jobs were and how countless Mustang enthusiasts would be putting them under a microscope. After spending two days behind the wheel of the 2010 in all sorts of driving environments, we can emphatically say they've succeeded at their jobs.

Starting off in a '09 Mustang GT to refresh our memory of the current product, we drove up PCH through Malibu, where we stopped for a technical overview with Vehicle Engineering Manager Tom Barnes and to pick up our 2010 Mustang. Of the cars available, there were several highly optioned GT coupes. We were lucky enough to grab a Grabber Blue GT Premium with 3.73 gears, a manual trans (natch), the new 19-inch wheel package, and the Shaker 500 audio system. It was perfect for our drive through the Los Padres forest and its tightly winding roads.

Heading out of Malibu, we enjoyed a bit more of PCH until we picked up the 33 (that's how they say it in Cali--no "I" before the interstate number) and wound our way north toward Ojai, where we'd stop for the night. The route took us through the mountains, where we experienced many elevation changes and tight, winding roads. The GT's revised suspension and 19-inch Pirelli's kept the car glued to the road, and we could maintain a nice conversation at regular room level while stirring the shifter to whatever gear required by the 3.73s to keep the car around 3,500 rpm for a blast through the twisties. It was a great road and a great ride that really taxed the new car's suspension, and it handled the road with aplomb.

On day two it was more of the same as we headed out of Ojai toward Willow Springs, though we did have a bit more open road to really stretch the Mustang's legs. We had our GoPro video camera mounted on the rear quarter of our GT during this part of our drive (be sure to check out our website for videos of our driving route), and even at triple-digit speeds our video was smooth and stable, a testament to the ride quality the engineers tuned into the GT.

After a nice lunch at Willow Springs, another technical presentation was given to us on the new Track Pack option. Ford had a small sample of Track Pack-equipped GTs for us to track with at Streets of Willow. We were able to try the Track Pack option with the Advance track in Normal, Sport, and Off modes, and if you had the courage and the driving skill to put the GT at its limits, you could really tell the difference. This was yet another testament to the time the engineers put into the product. More than once I could feel the Advance Track reel me in from the edge while navigating the course. Putting the GT through its paces at the same rate with the AdvanceTrac off put the car sideways through several of the turns, but the Mustang was still very controllable. Just a light lift of the throttle and some counter steer brought the steed right back in line.

All in all, we have to say the 2010 is going to be another grand slam hit for Ford, just like the '05. Right now Ford needs every time at bat to be an out-of-the-park hit. Pricing for the 2010 Mustang will start at $20,995 for the V-6 coupe and heads north to $35,995 for the Convertible GT Premium. Our Grabber Blue GT Premium Coupe with Comfort Group, Shaker 500, 3.73 Axle Package, and 19-inch wheels was priced at just under $35K. Tick off the Glass Roof and Electronics Package and you'll be a sneeze away from $40K. That's getting up there, but it's nice to know you can finally have your Mustang optioned with many of the goodies your neighbor's import has had for years.

2010 Mustang

  • On sale Spring 2009
  • $20K-$45K
  • 4.0L SOHC V-6 or 4.6L Three-Valve V-8
  • Coupe or Convertible/Base and Premium offerings
  • Five-speed automatic or five-speed manual
  • 3.31/3.55/3.73 gear ratio packages (3.55/3.73 with manual only)
  • 17-, 18-, and 19-inch wheel and tire packages (seven total)
  • Four interior colors (Stone, Charcoal Black, Saddle, Brick Red)
  • Two accent colors (Cashmere, Grabber Blue)
  • Nine exterior colors (Red Candy Metallic, Kona Blue, Grabber Blue, Sunset Gold, Sterling Gray, Brilliant Silver, Black, Performance White, and Torch Red)

Major Options:

  • Glass roof
  • HID headlamps
  • Comfort Group
  • Electronics package
  • Shaker 1000
  • Rear video camera

Pros:

  • Great new styling
  • Upscale interior
  • Plenty of options
  • Best handling Mustang GT yet

Cons:

  • Some options only available in Premium Package
  • Jury still out on rear styling
  • Some of us still want more power