Ford’s built the ultimate ponycar around an engine which is seventy-five horsepower short of the competition. By Jack Baruth April 1, 2009 Many years ago, it became quite fashionable to refer to The Clash as “the only band that ever really mattered.” Chevrolet borrowed this evocative line for the introduction of the soft-top C5 Corvette, calling it “the only convertible that ever really mattered” in a two-page color-rag spread. Truth be told, though, those are both pretty tough cases to make. And you don’t have to be a Beatles-obsessed Boxster owner (as I am) to argue the contrary. It’s far easier to apply the phrase to the Mustang: the only ponycar that ever mattered. Consider the competition. Camaro, Challenger, Javelin… hell, Celica and 200SX. Some shone, some sucked, none have gone the forty-five-year distance. The Mustang was the first ponycar on the scene, the best ponycar available for much of its history, and the only one to not disappoint its fans with periodic disappearances. And now we have a new “new Mustang,” arriving just in time to spoil the Chevrolet Camaro’s tardy coming-out party. The 2010 Ford Mustang’s exterior restyle visually trims the car. The design incorporates certain elements of the Giugiaro concept while retaining the previous roof stamping. The real news is inside. Ford’s been turning out some thoroughly decent interiors… lately. The Mustang is another hit in the parade, providing a tactile experience that feels a solid class above what’s found in the Challenger or Camaro. Even Infiniti and BMW “intenders” would be well-served to at least take a seat in the ‘Stang before making their final purchases. The Mustang’s tactility borders on the European. The same is true, ironically, for the powertrain. The three-valve, 4.6-liter “mod motor” can’t match the Chevrolet or Dodge entries on displacement, torque, or power. But it has a rev-happy, broad-shouldered feel that’s immediately familiar to anyone who’s driven one of the smaller V-8s from Audi, BMW, or (whisper it) Porsche. Modern drivers raised on a diet of four-cylinder Hondas will find the light-flywheel Mustang far more to their liking than the strong but ultimately breathless HEMI or LS3 competition. What a shame all that sweet-sounding power is fed through a crummy old cart axle, eh? There’s just one problem with that analysis: it’s very close to being completely wrong. Our Hocking Hills test loop revealed the big pony to be a competent broken-pavement runner. Yeah, it steps sideways on corner entrance under ABS and it steps way sideways when you apply the power under bumps. But the steering’s linear predictability makes catching the slide utterly trivial. Here’s the drill: Get your braking done hard in a straight line. Let the tail wag its way home until it’s time to turn in, then use patience to dial the steering until you feel the outside sidewall start to slip. If you’re lined-up at this point, feed the power slowly past the clipping point. If you aren’t, boot the throttle as the clipping point appears level with the Mustang’s nose, and rotate past the midcorner for your exit. You can trust this car. It will do what you ask it to, and nothing more. The mod-motor’s broad rev range is a massive help here, allowing you to hold gears to the exit without the upshift you’d need in an old “five-point-oh.” Our test day featured temperatures well below freezing, with plenty of road salt to spoil the party. It was still possible to hustle the Mustang without reducing one’s life expectancy. Yes, you’d probably be faster in a Lancer Evolution. And it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun. The revised Mustang is so good on side roads that one eager mainstream journalist who attended the media preview wrote an entire article praising the effectiveness of the limited-slip differential and “Track Pack” upgrades… on a car which didn’t have either. In fact, it was the same car we had as a tester, and I can tell you that although it didn’t have an LSD, neither did it really need one. I’d like to give this Musang a five-star rating. It feels like a five-star car to me: solid, well-made, completely comfortable in its own skin. There’s just one problem, and it’s this: Ford’s built the ultimate ponycar around an engine which is seventy-five horsepower short of the competition. During the ninety-five percent of the car’s life in which the throttle isn’t flat to the floor, the Mustang satisfies in nearly any way one can imagine. But late in a Saturday night stoplight-drag session, when the moon is full, the streets shine with neon reflection, and that sexy, slightly slutty girl in the halter top is watching, this cultured, tasteful, character-laden ponycar will have to yield to some Bowtie-mounted moron who actually refers to his car as “Bumblebee.” And that just ain’t right. Because this right here really is the only ponycar that has ever mattered. Review Summary PERFORMANCE: It only needs a little more motor to really burn. RIDE: Ford should have told people it had IRS. They’d have believed. HANDLING: Old school. Your problem being? EXTERIOR: This is what a Mustang should look like. INTERIOR: No ponycar has ever been so inviting. FIT AND FINISH: Hard to believe this is from the same people who brought you the ’79 Mustang. PCD (Press car disclaimer.) TOYS: It really needs the full nav system, which costs one zillion dollars. DESIRABILITY: Name another $30K car which inspires this kind of passion. MILEAGE: TBA PRICE AS TESTED: $33,565 OVERALL: Ford fulfills the ponycar promise and might just snag a few 3-Series owners along the way.