What is it?
This is the 2011-model of the Ford Mustang. This model-year sees a serious upgrade in power thanks to a comprehensively upgraded and re-designed all-aluminium V8 motor. As well as being lighter, the engine now also gets what Ford calls twin independent variable camshaft timing and a stainless steel tubular manifold. The upshot is a leap in output from 2010’s 315bhp to today’s 412bhp.
Also new for 2011 is the electrically-assisted power steering with three settings (comfort, standard and sport). The steering set-up also features something called ‘active nibble control’ which is designed to compensate for out-of-balance tyres and compensates for the road camber, keeping the car running in a straight line without the need for driver corrections.
The damper and spring rates have been revised (for both handling and NVH reasons) and the anti-roll bushes stiffened. The lower rear control arm has also been re-designed. There’s more high-strength steel in the body (which also means the cabrio Mustang is 12 per cent stiffer) and more sound proofing, including near door seals and rear arch liner, to kill road noise.
What’s it like?
Remarkably good. One of the most stand-out features - for the European driver, at least - is that fact that the Mustang still has a beam axle. When we’re talking about that axle having to deal with a meaty V8, it’s easy to dismiss the Mustang as a new-world crudity.
In fact, this Ford Mustang handles and rides like something of a thoroughbred. On the winding and dipping country roads above Los Angeles, the Mustang was impressively accurate and controlled.
It’s a very stable and level-riding car, with an impressive ride but the big surprise was the steering, which is very accurate indeed and makes the car very easy to place on the road, so reeling off a series of switchbacks is an undemanding, though satisfying, task. Adding to the ease of rapid progress is the excellent, closely-spaced, six-speed manual box.
The body control, steering accuracy and unflappable poise in bends provide an intriguing contrast to the sheer exuberance of the V8 engine in full-flow. This is a very quick car, but also one that delivers a classic, no-substitute-for-cubic-inches, sense of thrust. Although refined at part-throttle, the engine’s max-attack noise is now channelled directly to the cabin from the engine’s intake, and the driver gets an in-cabin soundtrack that you’d swear was sampled straight from Bullitt.
What really lifted this particular car as a driver’s device was the optional Brembo brake package (which comes as part of the Premium Package, including leather trim and a rear-view camera). These brakes were first-rate, picking up as soon as the driver touched the pedal and proving to be superbly controllable, making it easy to take the braking force right up to the point they were likely to lock. This might not strike you as immediately useful, but the sense of finely-tuned control offered by the Brembo brakes were a large part of making the Mustang such an impressive cross-country machine.
The only downsides were the crazy mix of instrument graphics (old-school, dowdy and blue dot-matrix) and the uninspired cockpit styling, It felt well-made, though.