It's hard to believe, but just six years ago, I had to pinch myself the first time I drove the '05 Mustang GT. Refined handling, 300 hp from an all-aluminum V-8, looks that kill, and a price that anybody could afford. Forget the fact that Chevy wasn't even on the horizon with anything-the '05 Mustang GT was the best ponycar ever produced by anybody up to that time. That car was a watershed for performance, styling, and value. It was also arguably the catalyst for bringing back the Chevy Camaro and Dodge Challenger, so even if you don't care for Ford's Mustang, you've got to give them their props for bringing back everything that's near and dear to us hot rodders.

In those intervening six years, a lot has happened, much of it not good. Besides a monster recession, there was the tightening last year of fuel economy regulations, and increasing social awareness of environmental and safety issues. And in the ultimate irony, the tax money that Ford and the rest of us pay has been funneled for massive bailouts, including to GM and Chrysler. Nevertheless, in those six years, Ford's crack Mustang team has drawn strength from adversity to produce an all-new 2011 Ford Mustang GT that seemingly defies all odds.

For starters, there's the styling, which debuted with the 2010 model. A more aggressive, chiseled nose, a more sculpted bodyside reminiscent of the '69 Fastback, and a revised rear fascia with sequential turn signals is a logical styling evolution that references the Mustang's earlier history. The exterior manages to be sexy in a universally appealing way, and that's reflected in the interior as well. Excellent visibility, plenty of headroom, and loads of creature comforts-like Ford's Sync system-make you forget you're in a "muscle car." This will broaden the Mustang's appeal relative to its Chevy competition we think. The materials are also better than you'd expect from a factory hot rod, though not quite at the "luxury" level Ford is inferring.

Then there's the 412hp 5.0L V-8. Simply put, Ford is outright lying. Preliminary chassis dyno testing puts rear wheel output at closer to 395 hp, which means this sweet mill is cranking out closer to 460 at the flywheel. Mat the throttle at any rpm in any gear, and the '11 Mustang GT flat runs away and hides. Based on the Ford Modular engine family, most of the 5.0L V-8 is new, and has been covered extensively in other publications. The big bump in output comes not so much from the extra .6 liter of displacement, but from the Twin Independent Variable Cam Timing technology (Ti-VCT for short). The 5.0-liter's dual overhead cams operate completely independent of each other, allowing engineers to optimize power and emissions at low rpm, while uncorking those new high-flowing four-valve cylinder heads at full song. As a result, the 5.0L V-8-code named Coyote-feels and performs like an engine that's far larger-larger, it so happens, than 6.2 liters. The new 5.0-liter is powerful, but it's also fuel efficient, turning in a guilt-free 26 mpg on the highway. In light of the engine's true output, all we can do is shake our heads in disbelief.

As much as we'd like to continue salivating over the Coyote 5.0L V-8, there are other important parts to this equation. Take for instance the dynamic duo of six-speed transmissions available for the first time in the GT. Both keep the snotty 5.0-liter in its power range when the loud pedal is down, while delivering great fuel economy. The manual six-speed-an evolution of the proven Tremec T-56-should be able to handle quite a bit more abuse down the line as these cars get modded with blowers and nitrous. We'll have to play a waiting game with the new six-speed automatic, but it looks promising.