KJ Jones Senior Technical Editor
November 1, 2008
Photos By: KJ Jones

Horse Sense: If a survey was taken among all of our associates and colleagues in the Mustang media, many of whom share same passion for late-model Ponies that we have, poll results would probably show that maintaining a high level of objectivity about many of the parts and rides we evaluate can sometimes be the most difficult part of the gig.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, regardless of its nature. As members of the Mustang media, our job is to gather current 'Stang-related information that we think is interesting and communicate the results of our research in a compelling and objective manner.

Sure, there are times when stronger, more personal feelings are incorporated in a report, such as in your tech editor's recent feature story on Vinny Changet's twin-turbo'd Fox ("Mission Accomplished," June '08, p. 172), or during evaluations of cool, new 'Stang technology that just flat-out rocks.

Here's a stock S197 five-speed shifter assembly. Be sure to take a close look at the product images in this story. While this report is driven by the opinions of Mustang enthusiasts and the thoughts vary, one unanimous sentiment among our test group is that this flimsy unit should be replaced immediately.

However, unlike a 'Stang-focused message forum on the Web, the details found in our magazine as a norm are void of an author's personal sentiments about the product or manufacturer being discussed. The story is presented to you in an unbiased manner.

One thing to keep in mind is that despite our findings or feelings about new 'Stang gear, we understand our information isn't always interpreted the same way or taken as the end-all, be-all bottom line. There are occasions when enthusiasts' varying opinions on parts can have a stronger impact than anything we say, especially when they're the opinions of 'Stangbangers who actually own and drive Ponies equipped with parts that we review.

The OEM shifters in five-speed S197s have received unanimously poor ratings from the media and enthusiasts for as long as the latest-generation 'Stangs have been around-at least until the shifter was updated in the '08 model. The stock stick's design and function weaknesses are definitely more fact than opinion-a point supported by the abundance of aftermarket short-throw shifters available for '05-and-newer Ponies.

Each test participant was asked to complete this evaluation form once he had driven every Mustang other than his own.

Although we've reviewed almost all of the current bolt-on S197 shifters individually, we thought it would be cool-and manufacturers participating in this project agreed-to conduct an informal head-to-head, shootout-style survey on several popular upgrade shifters for five-speed Mustangs. A group of SoCal '05-'08 Mustang owners and their rides served as our control set for the evaluation.

On a sunny Saturday morning in April 2008, we convened four enthusiasts (Paul Gemellaro, 48; Jeremy Grossman, 33; Jeff Must, 59; and Steve Perry, 47) and their aftermarket-shifter-equipped 'Stangs at B&D Racing in Canoga Park, California, for a ride-and-drive test around a pre-established, 3.5-mile loop. The idea was to have participants take turns completing the course driving every Mustang except their own, and then give us their impressions of the different shifters.

While we acknowledge our test is not as scientific as one of those independent laboratory deals we often hear about, we did develop a simple-but-thorough evaluation sheet for our study that includes three pre-drive and four post-drive questions with a rating scale from 1 to 10 (1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest). Participants completed and submitted a questionnaire after driving each Mustang and building impressions on the shifters. As we often say when it comes to choosing parts with a subjective feel (shifters, mufflers, and so on), it's best to ask around and, if possible, drive a so-equipped 'Stang to get an idea before making a purchase.

We asked testers for pre-drive and drive impressions; we also asked for their overall rating of each shifter (from 1 to 10, with 10 being the best).

Our test 'Stangs pack shifters by B&M Racing and Performance, Hurst, MGW, and Pro-5.0. These gear selectors represent what we believe is a diverse group of the most popular shifters available for S197s, and they're all competitively priced between $244 and $299. Unfortunately, we couldn't secure a Steeda Tri Ax- or Ford Racing-equipped S197 in time for our test.

The following sidebars contain photos and the all-important responses to our questions on the testers' impression of each shifter before and after driving the test Ponies. We also provide the cumulative averages of our participants' 1-to-10 ratings for the gear selectors used in our study.

While the opinions of our four volunteers certainly don't represent the feelings of the entire 'Stang Nation, the variances in comments-some are elaborate and some are not so elaborate-are interesting. We hope they leave you with a good idea of what your peers feel are the pros and cons associated with each shifter.

B&M's Mustang GT shifter (PN 45042; $243.47) is the least expensive shifter in our test group. The solid billet selector features an isolated, billet upper stick to reduce vibration and ensure that gear changes are smooth and grind-free throughout for all upshifts and downshifts.

Pre-Drive
1) How does the shifter's pre-drive operation feel (smooth, notchy, firm, loose, short or long throws, and so on), and do you anticipate there being any changes when you actually drive the Mustang?

Paul: "It's a little notchy but it feels tight, and the 4-5 shift is good."
Jeff: "Smooth and firm, with medium throws."
Steve: "Very tight. Nice feel."

2) Is there anything specific that you like or dislike about the shifter's appearance in the center console, or do you feel that they all look the same so there's nothing to note in this area?

Paul: "It looks good."
Jeff: "It looks stock."
Steve: n/a

3) Is the shifter handle's installed position and height good or bad? How does the knob feel? Explain why you feel this way. Do you anticipate your thoughts about this will change when you actually drive the Mustang?

Paul: "The positions and angle are fine."
Jeff: "The position is good for my body type (6'2" and long arms). The stock knob was retained."
Steve: "Very good."

B&M's handle also accepts the stock knob for a clean OEM look.

Drive
1) After driving the Mustang and going through the gears, in what ways do the shifter's operations (smooth, notchy, noisy, quiet, firm, loose, short or long throws, and so on) differ from the points you noted before actually driving the car?

Paul: "The B&M piece is a solid shifter, but it's a little notchy. I didn't have any problem finding the gears."
Jeff: "It's precise and easy to use. All shifts required the same minimal effort."
Steve: n/a

2) What is the single most noticeable difference (good or bad) between this shifter and the shifter currently installed in your Mustang?

Paul: "The (Hurst) shifter in my 'Stang is not as notchy."
Jeff: "There's no isolation to this shifter. The shifter has a direct, mechanical feel to it, with no isolation from the drivetrain."
Steve: "It's the only shifter I would trade my (Pro-5.0) for."

3) After driving Mustangs equipped with other shifters, are you more satisfied overall with the shifter in your 'Stang? Less satisfied? Do you have the same feelings that you had before the test?

Paul: "I still like my (Hurst) better."
Jeff: "I'm more satisfied with my (MGW) shifter. No change in feelings."
Steve: "This shifter is very good, but my feelings are the same."

4) On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest rating and 10 being the highest, and based on impressions made in the pre-drive and drive portions of this test, what rating do you give the shifter in this Mustang?

Cumulative Average: 8

Hurst boasts race-proven design and reliability for its Competition Plus unit (PN 3910201; $244.55).

Pre-Drive
1) How does the shifter's pre-drive operation feel (smooth, notchy, firm, loose, short or long throws, and so on), and do you anticipate there being any changes when you actually drive the Mustang?

Jeff: "Firm, medium throws. This shifter has a very direct feel."
Jeremy: "Nice and firm. Short throws."
Steve: "Very smooth. This shifter feels good."

2) Is there anything specific that you like or dislike about the shifter's appearance in the center console, or do you feel that they all look the same so there's nothing to note in this area?

Jeff: "The retro Hurst look with the white ball-style knob is in step with the overall S197 design."
Jeremy: "It definitely has a different look. It's good, not bad."
Steve: "It's got a cool look."

3) Is the shifter handle's installed position and height good or bad? How does the knob feel? Explain why you feel this way. Do you anticipate your thoughts about this will change when you actually drive the Mustang?

Jeff: "It felt very natural for my size. The shift knob fit my large hands very well."
Jeremy: "The height and feel of this shifter is great. I think it's perfect."
Steve: "Everything is good, thus far, with this shifter."

Drive
1) After driving the Mustang and going through the gears, in what ways do the shifter's operations (smooth, notchy, noisy, quiet, firm, loose, short or long throws, and so on) differ from the points you noted before actually driving the car?

The shifter features heat-treated linkage rods and arms for added strength and durability, as well as adjustable gear stops that all but eliminate missed shifts.

Jeff: "It's a bit notchy compared to my (MGW) and very mechanical. However, there was no noise or excessive vibration. The throw is perfect."
Jeremy: "What more can you ask for? The Hurst shifter is smooth, yet very firm."
Steve: n/a

2) What is the single most noticeable difference (good or bad) between this shifter and the shifter currently installed in your Mustang?

Jeff: "As with the (B&M) shifter, there is no isolation. The (MGW) that I'm used to has more material between it and the trans, so it's a bit isolated."
Jeremy: "When you put it in gear, it feels like it's in gear. Very solid."
Steve: "The Hurst shifter is not as exacting as my (Pro-5.0), but it does have a nice feel."

3) After driving Mustangs equipped with other shifters, are you more satisfied overall with the shifter in your 'Stang? Less satisfied? Do you have the same feelings that you had before the test?

Jeff: "This shifter tested much better than I anticipated, but on the whole, I'm still more satisfied with the (MGW)."
Jeremy: "I like my shifter, but I love the feel of the Hurst."
Steve: "My feelings are pretty much the same."

4) On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest rating and 10 being the highest, and based on impressions made in the pre-drive and drive portions of this test, what rating do you give the shifter in this Mustang?

Cumulative Average: 8.3

MGW's short-throw shifter for '05-'09 Mustangs ($295) includes many of the features that are included in the company's shifters for earlier Mustangs, but it's built with a groundbreaking new feature for short-throw 'Stang shifters: variable shift throw. It allows an enthusiast to adjust the handle's throw from slightly shorter than stock to nearly 50 percent shorter.

Pre-Drive
1) How does the shifter's pre-drive operation feel (smooth, notchy, firm, loose, short or long throws, and so on), and do you anticipate there being any changes when you actually drive the Mustang?

Jeremy: "The MGW shifter is smooth as butter."
Paul: "The throw is a little long, but it's definitely smooth. The 4-5 shift is good."
Steve: "Very nice. A bit more rubbery than the others."

2) Is there anything specific that you like or dislike about the shifter's appearance in the center console, or do you feel that they all look the same so there's nothing to note in this area?

Jeremy: "It looks good, but I really didn't like the knob that was on this MGW."
Paul: "I like the look. It has a good-looking handle."
Steve: "I don't like the feel of the knob. I'd use a stock knob over this one."

3) Is the shifter handle's installed position and height good or bad? How does the knob feel? Explain why you feel this way. Do you anticipate your thoughts about this will change when you actually drive the Mustang?

Jeremy: "Again, I didn't like the feel of the shift knob."
Paul: "The MGW had good handle height, and the knob feels more comfortable."
Steve: n/a

The shifter also has a strong lateral spring load that eliminates Third-gear lockout and eases power shifting into Third gear.

Drive
1) After driving the Mustang and going through the gears, in what ways do the shifter's operations (smooth, notchy, noisy, quiet, firm, loose, short or long throws, and so on) differ from the points you noted before actually driving the car?

Jeremy: "I love it! The MGW is smooth, quiet, and has a nice throw to it."
Paul: "The throws are a little long, but this shifter is definitely smooth and quiet. It has good shift action. I'd be comfortable with this as my daily shifter."
Steve: n/a

2) What is the single most noticeable difference (good or bad) between this shifter and the shifter currently installed in your Mustang?

Jeremy: "My shifter feels good, but this one is like a hot knife cutting through butter."
Paul: "This shifter has a longer throw than the (Hurst)."
Steve: "I like the feel, but the gear engagement doesn't seem as exact as a (Pro-5.0)."

3) After driving Mustangs equipped with other shifters, are you more satisfied overall with the shifter in your 'Stang? Less satisfied? Do you have the same feelings that you had before the test?

Jeremy: "Nice and firm. Short throws. If someone combined the MGW's butter-smooth feel and added (Hurst's) firmness and preciseness, they would have the perfect shifter. I'm happy with the (B&M), but I might switch to an MGW shifter."
Paul: "I like my (Hurst) better, but the MGW is probably more comfortable for a daily driver."
Steve: n/a

4) On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest rating and 10 being the highest, and based on impressions made in the pre-drive and drive portions of this test, what rating do you give the shifter in this Mustang?

Cumulative Average: 7.6

With a price tag of $299.99, Pro-5.0's Super Shifter (PN A20052007) is the highest priced shifter in our test group.

Pre-Drive
1) How does the shifter's pre-drive operation feel (smooth, notchy, firm, loose, short or long throws, and so on), and do you anticipate there being any changes when you actually drive the Mustang?

Jeff: "Pro-5.0 was smooth with medium-to-long throws."
Jeremy: "It seemed notchy in the pre-drive checkout."
Paul: "Notchy but firm. The throw felt good, but shifting from Fourth to Fifth took quite a lot of effort."

2) Is there anything specific that you like or dislike about the shifter's appearance in the center console, or do you feel that they all look the same so there's nothing to note in this area?

Jeff: "With the OEM knob screwed on, the shifter looks bone stock."
Jeremy: "There's not much change to it. It looks stock."
Paul: "It looks OK."

3) Is the shifter handle's installed position and height good or bad? How does the knob feel? Explain why you feel this way. Do you anticipate your thoughts about this will change when you actually drive the Mustang?

Jeff: "The Pro-5.0 shifter feels stock."
Jeremy: "The feel of the handle was good. The knob fit my hand well."
Paul: "The handle seems to be in the proper position. The knob was comfortable."

Pro-5.0 custom builds its stout, adjustable, billet S197 shifters, which means quantities are sometimes limited.

Drive
1) After driving the Mustang and going through the gears, in what ways do the shifter's operations (smooth, notchy, noisy, quiet, firm, loose, short or long throws, and so on) differ from the points you noted before actually driving the car?

Jeff: "The Pro-5.0 was a bit notchy. The throw to Fifth gear was long and required more effort than any of the other gears."
Jeremy: "It's a little notchy. The throws seem to be the same as a factory shifter."
Paul: This one seems a little noisier and notchy. The shift from Fourth to Fifth took some effort. I missed the First to Second shift once, but that's probably due to inexperience with the shifter.

2) What is the single most noticeable difference (good or bad) between this shifter and the shifter currently installed in your Mustang?

Jeff: "This shifter required a lot more effort to shift than the others."
Jeremy: "The Pro-5.0 is not quite as firm as any of the others that I tested."
Paul: "It feels notchy."

3) After driving Mustangs equipped with other shifters, are you more satisfied overall with the shifter in your 'Stang? Less satisfied? Do you have the same feelings that you had before the test?

Jeff: "I'm still more satisfied with the (MGW), and after driving with it, I'm definitely less satisfied with the Pro-5.0."
Jeremy: "I like my shifter, but it's the (MGW) that might change my mind."
Paul: "I like the (Hurst) better."

4) On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest rating and 10 being the highest, and based on impressions made in the pre-drive and drive portions of this test, what rating do you give the shifter in this Mustang?

Cumulative Average: 7

Many thanks go out to Jeremy Grossman, Paul Gemellaro, Jeff Must, and Steve Perry-the four enthusiasts who gave us their time and Mustangs for our informal shifter test. Since we know that they all left B&D Racing with hopes that they'll get to see their rides in our magazine, these photos are for them. Thanks again!

These taillights are probably the only things that challengers see when Paul Gemellaro drops the hammer on them. Although the black, Vortech-supercharged '05 GT is one of a fleet of Mustangs in Paul's driveway, this Hurst Competition Plus-equipped ride is the 'Stang that carries him around SoCal on a daily basis. Paul says Hurst's reputation is one of the reasons why he chose a Competition Plus shifter for his Pony. Why? A solid rep and "because it's the best-looking," says Paul.

This is Jeff Must's 'Stang. No, really, Jeff's last name is Must, and his silver, daily driven '05 Mustang has our test's MGW short-throw shifter representative. An MGW unit in a previous 'Stang ('02 GT) is why Jeff selected the short-throw shifter for his new whip.

Jeremy Grossman's red '05 GT is street-driven regularly; it's also driven hard on the road course. While the drivetrain mechanicals are stock (with the exception of B&M's Mustang GT shifter that Mase Rowland installed just before our test), the low-slung Pony is loaded with a complete Griggs Racing suspension system that keeps it glued in the turns whenever Jeremy goes to play at the track.

Steve Perry owns the newest Mustang in our control group. His GT is an '06 model that's set up with canyon-carving suspension upgrades from Maximum Motorsports, as well as the Pro-5.0 Super Shifter that B&D's owner Brian Schapiro recommended for engaging the gears.

Finding a Steeda-shifted S197 in California proved more difficult than we had anticipated, but given that Steeda is one of the major players in the industry, we couldn't let it go by without including our own impressions. Fortunately, I have driven numerous Steeda Tri-Ax-equipped 'Stangs, from five-speed Foxes to six-speed Shelbys.

The Steeda units offer a smooth engagement and positive feel, almost a thunk when they're banged into gear. For some this might feel bemechanical, but I actually enjoy the more visceral feel of the solid-billet Tri-Ax. Steeda also offers a low-cost conversion for stock shifters that shortens the throws and adds stop bolts but retains factory-style isolation and damping. If you want a stealthy feel, the Tri-Ax might not be ideal, but if you prefer a more visceral driving experience like I do, the Steeda Tri-Ax is the one for you. -Steve Turner