June 10, 2010 at 1:17 am

Scott Burgess

Mustang cleanly adds kick

Fuel-efficient performance sets '11 pony apart

There are only three little words that can redline a Mustang enthusiast's engine: Five, Point, Oh.

Say it again: 5-point-0.

Listen closely to the fluttering hearts around the nation.

Yes, the hoopla and hullabaloo are true. The 2011 Ford Mustang GT features a new and improved, and totally awesome, all-aluminum 5-liter V-8. But don't use the approved Associated Press Style Guide to write out this engine's name; 5.0 works just fine.

But really, this engine has very little in common with the 5.0 engine found in Mustangs 15 years ago or the nearly bulletproof 4.6-liter V-8 pulled out of last year's Mustang GT.

First of all, the new GT powerplant boasts 412 horsepower -- a jump of nearly 100 horsepower over the 2010 Mustang GT. It's an epic leap in power.

Then there is the crazy cool technology added to this small-block V-8: Twin Independent Variable Cam Shaft Timing -- known as Ti-VCT. This ingenious system can adjust both the intake and exhaust valves separately on the engine.

Enthusiasts can talk about this kind of stuff until the average person's eyes glaze over. But there's a point to all of that chatter. The benefits include better fuel economy (up to 4.5 percent), reduced NOx and hydrocarbon emissions, as well as more hair-raising power. If this engine was a person, it would be a muscle-bound accountant who planted trees on weekends: powerful, efficient and green.

Even with 412 horsepower, the Mustang GT manages 26 miles per gallon on the highway and 17 mpg in the city, the same as the 2010 Mustang GT.

Thanks to Ford's engineers, the 5.0 just breathes better -- with four-valves per cylinder head and a number of other advances to allow for long days of high revs. And it sounds so magnificent it will give you goose bumps every time you start it.

Extra gear eases ride

A car's engine is only as good as its transmission and the GT comes with either a six-speed manual or automatic. The additional gear certainly helps fuel economy, but more importantly, it adds performance.

One of the drawbacks of the 2010 Mustang GT is the gear ratios. Ford has created a transmission that came with severely tall -- meaning efficient -- fourth and fifth gears. Every carmaker does this to try to improve gas mileage numbers. But when you hit the accelerator at 70 mph and you're in the top gear, nothing happens -- literally. The car coughs and wheezes as it tries to gain speed, until, you frustratingly drop it into third gear just to push the revs up and find the engine's power.

The new transmission feels much smoother. And while sixth gear remains a fuel-sipping overdrive cog, the others are well placed.

Drop the GT into fifth and zoom past that annoying truck on the right. Kick it down to fourth and you might do a wheelie as 390 pound-feet of torque surge through the rear axle.

And from traffic lights, look out. First gear, which winds out too quickly, is OK, but second gear feels like it was designed by NASA because the car blasts off.

The automatic transmission includes a hill mode that can help the transmission find the right gear during mountain-carving rides. The system monitors speed, brakes, pedal position and acceleration to select the correct gear on an incline or decline. It will block out sixth gear and let the other gears wind out more so you can drive more aggressively and use the engine to its full potential.

While the automatic transmission on the GT seems to work fine, drivers should get the manual. I realize they won't, because so many Americans enjoy steering instead of driving. But this car is worthy of a clutch. The short throws click through every gear, and every stop light becomes a drag strip Christmas tree, ready to test your reaction time.

Smoother steering

Among the new features of this Mustang GT is its electric power-assist steering.

Ford used to catch grief for numb steering. It shouldn't anymore. The steering is well-weighted, providing excellent feedback and resistance through big corners. And when you're trying to park, it's easy to back into a move with this wheel.

With this electric power steering, the car has the ability to compensate for different conditions. The drift-pull compensation element in the steering will automatically adjust the steering if there are constant annoyances, such as a steady cross wind or a severe crown on the road. Instead of holding the wheel off center, the steering adapts to the condition and remains centered. It will also cut out those annoying little tugs on the wheel at high speeds that make a driver's hand look like it's keeping time to "Ride the Lightning" with its Active Nibble Control.

Ford also beefed up the GT's suspension to give it a solid but compliant ride. It stiffened up the car's body with high-strength steel to help it handle all of the additional power and cut back on body roll. It doesn't rattle your fillings loose but sticks nicely to road. There's an optional Brembo brake package that includes the GT 500's 14-inch ventilated rotors and special 19-inch performance summer tires for those hardcore enthusiasts.

Now, a word on tires. Nothing impacts a car's performance more than where its rubber meets the road. The Mustang GT could easily become a car for all seasons if the owner would invest a few dollars into some winter wheels. A lot of people see the Mustang as a three-season coupe in Michigan, but that's only because they haven't taken the time to put some top treads on it. Ford dealers should offer a "winter package" for Mustang owners -- and include storing the other tires at the dealership. It would foster a good dealer relationship with the customer and make Mustangs even better year round.

Improvements inside

The new Mustang GT is more than just performance. Ford has added a few interior features that will please the driver and its three passengers; though this coupe doesn't cater too much to people in the cramped second row. Last year, when Ford introduced the new body style and interior to the Mustang, it finally matched the car's interior with its classic exterior.

Now, it's even better. The single piece dash is soft to the touch and the real aluminum trim just adds to the car's good looks. More importantly, the interior feels well crafted and put together. There are no chunks of shining plastic or inappropriate gaps.

The instrument panel has a retro feel without looking dated and if you don't like the look, you can always change the color of the lighting around it. (Enthusiasts will point out the new speedometer now goes to 160 mph and the tachometer now redlines at 7,000 rpm.)

Also new are exterior mirrors that include a blind-spot mirror. These work very well, but if you're driving the GT, rarely will someone be in your blind for long.

There are a plethora of features inside the cabin such as Ford's Sync system. This voice-operated infotainment continues to improve every year and remains the most thorough and complete system available built by any carmaker. It can operate your phone (through Bluetooth), your music player, your navigation system, your dual climate controls and just about everything else.

Ford also features an exclusive MyKey, which allows you to program limits to the car in case you're foolish enough to let a teenager drive it. (The settings can include top speed setting, stereo volume controls and a traction-control system that cannot be deactivated -- meaning no youthful burnouts to impress friends.)

But why let your kids have all the fun in this 5.0?

It doesn't take very long behind the wheel of this classic modern car to come up with three words of your own concerning the 2011 Mustang GT: I want one.

sburgess@detnews.com">sburgess@detnews.com (313) 223-3217

2011 Ford Mustang GT

Type: Four-passenger, rear-wheel-drive sports coupe
Price: $30,495
Engine: 5-liter V-8
Power: 412 horsepower
Transmission: Six-speed manual
or automatic
EPA gas mileage : 17 mpg city /
26 mpg highway

The instrument panel has a retro feel without looking dated and feels well ... (Ford)
The engine ratchets up horsepower to 412 -- an epic leap from the 2010 ... (Ford)
The single-piece dash is soft to the touch and the real aluminum trim just ... (Ford)
Ford's interior improvements will please, but the coupe doesn't ... (Ford)
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