10/19/04 — We vote ’05 Mustang car of the year

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We vote ’05 Mustang car of the year

Ford Mustang GT (2005)

LOS ANGELES — We gained confidence quickly as we came down out of the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles.

The all-new 2005 Mustang GT inspired confidence as we took each winding section of road at an increasingly higher speed. The Mustang, with standard Z-rated performance tires, stayed planted on the mountain curves at a pace double the posted 35 to 40 mile per hour “recommended” speed.

Ford Mustang GT, 2005

We are not of the nature to put ourselves or oncoming motorists at risk by overextending the ability of the car or the driver. But the new Mustang sat flat into the turns. No drama. No need for sudden course adjustments.

After just 15 minutes behind the wheel we were convinced that Ford’s new pony car is not just about style — and it has style written all over it with unmistakable cues from the late ’60’s Mustangs — but also about 21st century handling and performance.

This car will not disappoint Mustang lovers, and it should pull people into showrooms who have not necessarily been Mustang fans.

Earlier this summer we were impressed with the new Ford Five Hundred sedan and the Ford Freestyle crossover vehicle. What they lack is pizzazz. Perhaps a family sedan doesn’t need pizzazz. The Mustang is equally impressive and IT HAS pizzazz.

We spent a day with the new pony car cruising some of the most famous places in the Los Angeles vicinity including Beverly Hills and Hollywood, and eventually into the mountains and back down to the Pacific Coast Highway.

Heads turned on the famous streets. The 2005 Mustang is an eye catcher.

This Mustang can’t miss. Very few times are we so sure about a new car. This is one of them. If the Mustang was an all-new coupe without its lengthy and storied history, it would still be a best seller.

The thing that has tweaked the imagination of the American motorist over the past few months is the look. Pictures of the new pony car have proliferated in magazines and newspapers, whetting the appetite of the car-hungry public.

It is striking. It evokes the best of the Mustang’s illustrious, but somewhat checkered past. It carries the look of the 1967-69 Mustangs, perhaps the most graceful, stylish and sought after Mustangs in the car’s 40-year history.

It was the look of Steve McQueen and “Bullitt.” Those were the first of the muscle years. And the 1967 Mustang — more rounded and sculpted than the original, but retaining the long-hood, short-deck look — now symbolizes V-8 power.

The 2005 Mustang captures this look with its slopping nose, round headlights — two of which are set inside the grille on the GT — and the galloping pony racing emblem. The side sculpting and taillights also recall the Mustangs of the late ’60s.

A higher beltline and narrow windows give the Mustang a solid, substantial look.

Ford Motor Company has not always got the retro theme right. A recent example is the revived Thunderbird, which looks the part of the 1950s Bird on the outside, but fails to carry the styling theme into the interior.

The Thunderbird dashboard and console came straight out of the Lincoln LS and have nothing to do with the original Bird. Ford has learned a lesson, perhaps, because it used a unique dashboard for the Mustang, very successfully carrying the ’60s theme to the interior.

There was no raiding of the parts bin this time even though the Mustang is built on a modified Lincoln LS platform.

The dashboard and console are unique to this car. And after we checked out a few vintage 1967 Mustangs, courtesy of a local Mustang club, we were astounded as to how accurately the 2005 dashboard mimics the 1967 dashboard, but in a modern and user-friendly fashion.

The designers got this car right from the three spoke steering wheel to the brushed aluminum instrument panel to the two large round instrument clusters.

One thing the 1960’s Mustangs didn’t have was a color configurable instrument cluster. With the touch of a button, 125 shades of color can be created for the instruments. That feature is a low-cost option.

Another thing the older Mustangs lacked are comfortable bucket seats. The chairs in the new Mustang are well bolstered and proved extremely comfortable for our day of driving.

Great looks are one thing, the guts of the beast are another.

Let’s get the big issue out of the way first. We have a car-loving friend who will be appalled when he learns that the new Mustang has “gone backward” reverting to a solid rear axle. And he probably will not be in the minority.

Ford gave up the independent rear suspension of the previous edition because of cost, attempting to keep the Mustang affordable.

Fear not. Ford has done a marvelous job in designing a new three-link rear suspension making the Mustang very responsive with an acceptable ride. In this sports coupe, solid rear axle is just a term, and one to forget. This is the best standard-edition handling Mustang in history.

The new powertrains are superb. The GT edition comes with a 4.6-liter V-8 rated at 300 horsepower, a jump of 40 horsepower from the previous edition. It can be mated to a surprisingly slick-shifting 5-speed manual or a 5-speed automatic.

We did most of our L.A. driving with the manual, and discovered early on that this Mustang can run and run and run. Putting down precious rubber on the asphalt is not a problem except when it comes time to replace the tires.

A major magazine estimated 0 to 60 time in just a shade under 5 seconds.

Clutch action is light and consistent. Even the most novice driver should be comfortable shifting the Mustang.

And the rumbling exhaust note emitted from the GT is enough to raise goose bumps on your arm. Can you say All-American muscle car?

More rewarding, perhaps, than even the GT is the new base Mustang which comes with a 210-horsepower 4.0-liter V-6 that offers satisfying performance with either the manual or automatic.

The Mustang may be the bargain of the 2005 model year. The V-6 edition can be purchased well equipped for a base price of $19,410 and the GT begins at $24,995.

Ford has not scrimped on standard equipment, which includes AM-FM stereo with CD player, tilt wheel, cruise control, power windows and locks, air conditioning and disc brakes.

Desirable options are affordable including antilock brakes with all-speed traction control, $775; side airbags, $375; and leather seating surfaces, $695.

Prospective buyers will discover, and perhaps be a bit amazed, at the Mustang’s fit and finish and upscale materials. Amazing because this isn’t a Honda or Toyota, it’s a Ford and a very desirable and affordable Ford, at that.

The Mustang combines the nostalgic look of the most sought-after Mustangs of the past with modern technology and excellent build quality.

Even if you’re not particularly interested in a two-door coupe, stop by a Ford store anyway. You will discover that the Japanese do not have a corner on exciting, well-made, but affordable cars.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on October 19, 2004 2:06 PM