Fast approaching its 50th anniversary, the original “pony car” remains surprisingly fresh with an engaging amalgam of retro-flavored styling and technological sophistication, with varying levels of performance that range from exhilarating to astounding.
In only its second year after its successful model-year 2010 redesign, the 2011 Mustang receives a host of improvements that included new engine and transmission choices to keep the Mustang competitive with its archrivals, the Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger. A limited production Boss 302 variant is added for 2012 (see below) that resurrects a classic model designation and backs it up with added horsepower and other tweaks to help boost its performance. As before, both coupe and convertible versions are offered in base and GT versions, with higher-performance Shelby GT500 models reviewed separately.
The Mustang’s classic profile remains, highlighted by an aggressive-looking front grille, round headlamps, a “power dome” hood, short deck and a rear-end treatment that features three-segment LED tail lamps that flash sequentially outward from the inside to indicate turns. A panoramic smoked-glass roof is optional.
As has long been the case, buyers can choose between a fuel-friendly V6 engine and a biceps-flexing V8. An all-aluminum 3.7-liter V6 utilizes modern engine technology like cold-air induction and twin independent variable camshaft timing to generate an impressive 305 horsepower, with 280 pound-feet of torque to ensure quick launches. The twin-cam 32-valve 5.0-liter V-8 included with the Mustang GT versions produces a stronger 412 horsepower, but with a similar 390 pound-feet of torque. Either engine can be mated to either a smooth-shifting short-throw six-speed manual transmission or a more-convenient six-speed automatic. The latter includes a “hill mode” that can automatically determine the correct gear ratio while on an incline or decline; it also eliminates sixth gear, holds lower gears for longer periods on uphill climbs, and contributes engine braking on declines.
While Ford stubborn-mindedly continues to fit the Mustang with an archaic solid rear axle instead of a contemporary independent rear suspension, the car nonetheless delivers tenacious handling with less harshness over uneven pavement than with previous generations. A sophisticated electric power steering eliminates the power- and fuel-economy-reducing drag of a belt-driven hydraulic steering pump and is tuned to automatically compensate for the effects of driving in crosswinds, over road crowns, and even riding on unbalanced wheels. Seventeen, 18-, and 19-inch wheels and tires are standard or optional, depending on the model.
In addition, Ford’s AdvanceTrac stability control, all-speed traction control and antilock disc brakes are standard and do a nice job of keeping all four wheels planted firmly on the pavement through the curves and in emergency handling situations. An optional V6 Performance Package for the base coupe and convertible features a higher axle ratio (3.31:1 instead of 2.73:1), the GT’s firmer suspension, special calibration for the stability control system to afford added wheel spin, and 19- inch performance tires. A Brembo-brand brake upgrade for GT models comes with 14-inch rotors and four-piston calipers up front and 11.8″ rotors and two-piston calipers at the rear, along with 19-inch high-performance tires and the more-aggressive stability control calibration.
Inside, the cockpit design pays homage to the original Mustang with its rectangular-shaped dashboard and round retro-minded instrumentation and air vents. Seat-mounted side-impact airbags are standard across the line with head-protecting side curtain airbags also included in the coupe. Unfortunately, while there is a back seat, legroom is extremely limited, and getting in and out is a chore, even for the kids, so consider the Mustang to be strictly a two-seater with added storage in the rear.
While it’s kind of a gimmick, an available “MyColor” ambient illumination array allows owners to change interior lighting hues for the gauges, foot-wells, cup holders, and door map pockets. Also featured is the latest version of Ford’s Sync system that makes it possible to operate multiple devices, from cell phones to an iPod, navigation system and audio gear, on a hands-free basis. Ford’s MyKey system is standard and can help parents set practical limits on their teenage drivers with regard to maximum speed and audio system volume, and help enforce seat-belt usage by muting the audio system if they’re not fastened.
Meanwhile, the limited edition 2012 Mustang Boss 302 coupe raises the performance levels of the GT upon which it’s based and adds its own visual flair. Here, the 5.0-liter V8 is modified with a new air intake and specific camshafts to produce an estimated 440 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque. A quad exhaust system is also included, and the car’s six-speed short-throw manual transmission comes with an upgraded race-inspired clutch. The Boss 302 also features enhanced suspension, steering, and braking systems to help maximize its performance on the street or the track. Its traction and stability control systems can be disabled to allow for tire-smoking launches and rear-wheel “drifting” through curves, or set in an intermediate mode to allow drivers to push the car harder before those systems intervene.
Cosmetically, the Boss 302 sports a unique front fascia and grille that aids the car’s aerodynamics, along with a hood that’s painted in either white or black, corresponding with the car’s side stripes; inside, there’s dark metallic trim, a black pool-cue shifter ball, and suede-like upholstery.
The 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302 is being offered in extremely limited numbers as a specifically race-modified Laguna Seca model, named for the California track where Parnelli Jones won the 1970 Trans-Am class season opener in a Boss 302.
In all, the most recent Mustang carries on with its heritage intact and its future secure, reaching out to both young and older enthusiasts with a winning combination of timeless good looks and engaging performance.
Ford Mustang Quick Facts
Engine: 3.7-liter V6, 5.0-liter V8
Horsepower: 305 @ 6,500 rpm, 412 @ 6,500 rpm 444 @ 7,400 rpm
Torque: 280 @ 4,250 rpm, 390 @ 4,250 rpm 380 @ 4,500 rpm
City/Highway: MPG 16/24-19/31
Transmission: 6-Spd Manual, 6-Spd Automatic
Wheelbase: 107.1 in
Overall Length: 188.1 in
Width: 73.9 in
Height: 55.6 in
Curb Weight: 3,401 lbs
MSRP: $22,145 - $40,145
Did You Know?
The Ford Mustang was unveiled on April 17, 1964 at the New York World’s Fair. One of the most successful new-car launches to date, over one million Mustangs were sold within 18 months after its introduction. Originally conceived by then Ford general manager Lee Iacocca as a mid-engine roadster, in production the first pony car was initially little more than a re-skinned Ford Falcon. The Mustang is best remembered for its first generation, which ran from 1964-1973. Subsequent models became progressively larger and heavier, and it’s low point was perhaps the disliked Ford Pinto-based “Mustang II” that ran from 1974-1978. Later generations brought a performance edge back to the line, though the car was nearly discontinued in the early 1990’s in favor of an import-flavored front-drive version, which was eventually released as the Ford Probe.