Autoplay
Show Thumbnails
Show Captions
LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

We all make mistakes. The 1970s had an epidemic of them. Watergate. Stagflation. Leisure suits. And the 1974 Ford Mustang II.

You remember, the pony car built on a Pinto platform.

Mustang's Edsel. In a decade of bitter war, national division and White House scandal, Americans were unsteady. Untrusting of their leaders. Unsure of their institutions. The '74 'Stang was the last straw. The sickly, four-cylinder stallion was a harbinger of decades of Detroit auto decline as the industry suffered from quality issues and a regulatory assault from Washington. The 'Stang was built to satisfy onerous federal regulations, not customer demands. Not until 2005 did the proud pony get its mojo back.

It's 2014 and history is repeating itself. Iraq. IRSgate. Stagnant growth. Men's skinny slacks. And, oh lord, Ford is remaking the Mustang to, in part, satisfy federal mpg diktats. The proverbial Casey steps to the plate. Will the Blue Oval strike out again?

You can exhale, dear friends. Ford has hit it out of the park.

The 2015 Mustang is a thoroughly modern, affordable sports coupe that doesn't sacrifice its muscle car heritage. It's sleek yet muscular. Affordable yet loaded with gadgetry. Powerful yet fuel efficient. Where the 1974 car rebelled against its past, the '15 updates it.

Consider ...

In 1974 the Mustang II introduced Mustang's first 4-cylinder engine in response to rising gas prices. But it also ditched its V-8 and downsized the car to pint-sized, Pinto proportions. I mean, the thing practically needed training wheels. Sure, the little pony still sold, but it had lost its enthusiast base. And as any pol will tell you, when you lose your base, you're toast.

By contrast the 2015 model trumpets the 4-cylinder required to meet mpg regs as a performance advance. This is no entry-level four, but a swaggering turbo with higher output than the base six and enough torque to pull up Chris Christie on water skis. Ford doesn't even call it a four. It calls it Ecoboost. High tech. 21st century.

But Mustang doesn't shy from its meal ticket, the V-8.

Indeed, while the Ecoboost is California avocado, the V-8 is Midwest sirloin for the regular customers. Fuel economy takes a dip — from 18/25 to 16/25 for the automatic — as Ford turns up the stove from 412 horsepower to a boiling 435. How's that for a menu?

While U.S. foreign policy has pulled back from the world, Ford foreign policy is expansive. Invasive. Genghis Khan on four wheels. The Ford Visigoths aim to conquer Europe and China with an army of Mustangs.

No Mustang deuces here. This brute is all stallion. Its exterior maintains T-bone-sized sides and a gun-turret-narrow greenhouse while delivering a sports car's swept fascia and fast back. That fascia has proved controversial among purists as Ford translates muscle car with more international design language. While the Challenger Hellcat doubles down on the U.S. youth market, the movie-star Mustang wants big international box office.

"It's a gorgeous car," says Hal Sperlich, product manager of the original '65 pony — a car that overnight changed Ford's stodgy image. "It fits Ford's strategy as brand headliner around the world. People will like it overseas."

As the international face of the Ford family it gets family design cues. A more Fusion-like grille. Swept headlights (goodbye brooding cowl) and elegantly sculpted, Mercedes-like nostrils at the front corners. Me? I'm a hips guy. And the Mustang's lower, wider rear proportions make the car much more athletic — hinting at the transformation within.

But for the die-hards who still resist, I invite them behind the wheel.

The 2005 retro-design restored 'Stang's iconic status after 30 years in the wilderness. But an icon need not be an anachronism. The Mustang's solid rear axle was a relic of the Stone Age. It belonged in the Smithsonian, not on a Flat Rock production line. To compete against the Camaro — much less European performance sedans — the Mustang had to evolve. The result is an independent rear suspension and reworked, dual-link front McPherson struts that transforms Clark Kent into a caped sports car.

Owning a Mustang used to mean suffering though corners to get to V-8-devouring straightaways. No more. The new car is a revelation. Toggle the car into sports-plus mode — one of five available modes that come standard — and the beautifully-weighted steering rotates the car into corners with aplomb.

CLOSE

Detroit News auto critic reviews the newest version of the pony car.

On California's State Route 2 I chased a Porsche 911 for miles, shadowing his every move through esses, switchbacks, straightaways. This is a muscle car? With its high center of gravity and porky curb weight of 3,725 ponds, the big V-8 won't be mistaken for a Porsche or Bimmer M4 — but at half the price, it'll make them sweat.

Inside, the Mustang retains its familiar portions while dialing up the technology. Sure, the backseat feels like a Barcalounger compared to Delta coach class, but it is still tight by modern auto standards. You want headroom for four or a fast back for your date? I thought so. In the cockpit the seats are comfortable and heavily bolstered — for all those increased G-loads you'll be pulling. The dash bears familiar touches like twin gauges while the console gets a glorious slab of aluminum from port to starboard. The instrument interface is intuitive — even though the interior boys undercooked the aluminum accents with tin foil-like material.

Oh, and did I mention "line lock"?

Dive deep into the instrument panel menu and you will find it in the track apps. It will change the Dream Cruise forever. It's Burnouts for Dummies. Disable traction control. Prep the system with brake. Then stomp the accelerator and thrill as the rear tires spin like turbines — churning more gases than a Mount St. Helens eruption.

It's a blast — and a reminder that, for all the change, Mustang has not forgotten what it stands for: affordable, coed-toting, All-American fun. That's why Bill Clinton bought a '65 'Stang. That's why Europeans are lining up for their first ponies.

That's why 2014 is not 1974. Have no fear, America. Mustang is here.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

2015 Ford Mustang

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, four-passenger sports coupe

Price: $24,425 base ($46,075 V-8 as tested)

Power plant: 5.0-liter 8-cylinder; 2.3-liter Ecoboost turbocharged 4-cylinder; 3.7-liter V-6

Power: 435 horsepower, 400 pound-feet of torque (V-8); 310 horsepower, 320 pound-feet of torque (4-cyl); 300 horsepower, 280 pound-feet of torque (V-6)

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph: 4.4 seconds (Motor Trend). Top speed: 155 mph

Weight: 3,729 pounds (V-8); 3,524 (4-cyl)

Fuel economy: EPA 16 mpg city/25 mpg highway (V-8); 21 mpg city/32 mpg highway (4-cyl)

Report card

Highs: Sports car handling; seats fit like a glove

Lows: Cheap control dials; cramped rear seat

Overall: ★★★

Grading scale

Excellent ★★★★

Good ★★★

Fair ★★

Poor ★

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: http://detne.ws/1srZRGE