Ford has really upped the...
Ford has really upped the ante in the interior of the Mustang GT for 2011 with higher quality materials. The difference is more noticeable in highly optioned cars like this one with the optional leather and metal trim. Base cars are still largely plastic all around, which is OK with us knuckle draggers.
All that beefcake in the powertrain is intoxicating, but it really shines when combined with the Mustang's steering, brakes, and suspension. All these systems are better and/or bigger for 2011. Ford has also added electric steering, which eliminates the hydraulics and mechanical pump, thus improving the efficiency and simplifying the engine dress. Electronic control also means engineers are better able to fine-tune the effort and feedback (electronic nibble compensation anyone?), which can essentially be different for an unlimited number of conditions.
Detractors will note the Mustang's solid rear axle compared to its Camaro and Challenger competitors. Turns out, that's the one solitary area they can crow about. That advantage is there on paper, but drive the car hard around corners and that advantage evaporates. We dare anyone to tell the difference; the Mustang GT handles so sweetly that if feels like an independent rear suspension. The '11 GT's less expensive 8.8-inch solid axle gives up nothing to an IRS around the twisties, while bringing to the table strength that more traditional drag racing Mustang enthusiasts demand. That's what we call a win-win-win situation.
The only dissenting opinions...
The only dissenting opinions we heard about the Mustang's styling were aimed at the rear. The upward angle of the taillights tends to negatively accent the rather bulbous space between the tailpipes and the taillights. We're in that camp.
On the suspension side of things, there are a lot of little refinements that add up to one big eye-opening experience on the open road. Counted among those changes are modified strut and shock tuning, a bonded front stabilizer bar with revised rate, an added frontend Z brace for reduced compliance and improved ride and structural shake, larger 13.2-inch dual-piston front brakes, stiffer rear lower control arms, revised spring rates, larger diameter rear stabilizer bar and drop-link bushings for better steering response, and modified upper rear control arm bushing and geometry for increased anti-squat.
Add up the fine Coyote 5.0L V-8, two flexible six-speed transmissions, bigger brakes, a more refined suspension, and a driver-centric cockpit, and unleash it on the curvy mountain roads that Ford had so graciously mapped out for us, and you get affordable, guilt-free, hot rodding fun. Cutting through the switchbacks, we were impressed with the precise handling and the responsiveness of the throttle, steering, and brakes. They all work together seamlessly and predictably. Ford has made its engineering compromises here so deftly, that you'd swear there were no compromises whatsoever.
Our ride and drive was capped by one farewell raspberry to the competition. In an ultimate act of confidence, Ford set up an eighth-mile dragstrip at Camarillo Airport. In attendance was a brace of automatic '10 SS Camaros. We raced them head-to-head against automatic '11 Mustang GTs and let the cards fall where they may. And while traction conditions were far from ideal on a runway tarmac, it was equal for both camps. As we reported in our July issue sneak peak, our best eighth-mile e.t. for the Mustang was an 8.62 at 86 mph, while the SS Camaro managed only 8.82 at 83 mph. Folks, that's what more horsepower and 250 pounds less curb weight will do for performance. And for what it's worth, the rest of the automotive press corps got similar results. In the real world, we suspect the Mustang will run low 13s in stock trim, and deep into the 12s with cheater slicks.