The Ford Motor Company has been nudged awake by the arrival of the Chevrolet Camaro (and to a lesser degree the Dodge Challenger). A year after the reincarnation of its old rival and but a year after the redesign of its own pony car, Ford is getting aggressive about its corner of the pony car market with the 2011 Ford Mustang GT, which introduces a 412-horsepower 5.0-liter V8, plus both a six-speed manual transmission and a six-speed automatic.
What we appear to have here is a good old-fashioned crosstown Detroit smackdown set amid the post-apocalyptic ruins that was once the domestic auto industry. Which, let's face it, beats the hell out of no crosstown smackdown set amid the post-apocalyptic ruins that was once the domestic auto industry.
So let us then examine the 2011 Ford Mustang GT, this newly muscled competitor.
Rollin' in My 5.0
Possibly you've heard that the 2011 Ford Mustang GT will be powered by a 5.0-liter V8. In fact, it's just about impossible that you haven't heard that the 5.0 is back, since rumors about it have been circulating for at least a year. And when Ford made it official to a slightly-too-large group of journalists on the evening of December 17, the news leaked out before Ford's press conference was even done. Such was the excitement surrounding this news that information that was supposed to be kept secret for about 10 days remained under cover for all of, what, 5 minutes? Mr. Happy Thumbs tweeted that the 5.0-liter would produce 412 hp. This caused a small Internet-based brush fire of info.
If you view the early leakage of information as an index of excitement, the return of the 5.0 to the Mustang ranks pretty high. And this 5.0-liter appears to be something quite special. And compared to the 5.0 of which Mr. Vanilla Ice extolled the virtues back in 1990, this new-generation V8 now fitted to the 2011 Mustang makes 187 hp more. Word to your mother, indeed.
Also, unlike the 5.0-liter Windsor V8 of old (introduced as Ford's small-block V8 way back in 1962), the new engine is actually a 5.0-liter and not a 4.9, and you can do the math with its 92.2mm bore and 92.7mm stroke if you like. Ford began development on the new engine some two and a half years ago, and it's simply a bored-and-stroked version of the all-aluminum, overhead-cam 4.6-liter Modular V8 first built in Ford's Romeo plant in 1991 and fitted to the Mustang in 1996. And in addition to being a nice round number and a historically significant size, the new 5.0-liter motor is also about as large in displacement as the existing block can go.
Old Number, New Tech
But it's about more than just size. Without the ability to match the displacement of Dodge's 5.7-liter Hemi and, more important, Chevy's 6.2-liter small-block, the Ford team had to work over the engine's breathing capacity and basically throw in all the tech the company has at its disposal in order to compete with the big boys.
Out went the 4.6's SOHC cylinder heads with three valves per cylinder in favor of a DOHC setup with four valves per cylinder (a setup first introduced for the 1996 Mustang SVT Cobra, actually). The Ford engineers say they tried to use the Shelby GT500 heads but couldn't make enough horsepower with them. As it turned out, new heads had to be designed to leave the valley between the cylinder banks as open as possible to maximize space for the new intake system (the alternator has been moved down in front of the engine for the same reason). The combination of a new, composite intake manifold with new tubular exhaust headers significantly improved the engine's breathing.
For improved fuel economy as well as a broader, more drivable toque curve, Ford has added variable cam timing on both the intake and exhaust valves, just as it did for the 3.7-liter V6 that will go into the 2011 Ford Mustang V6. Mike Harrison, chief engineer for the 5.0-liter engine, says the variable cam timing provides a 5 percent improvement in low-end torque, a 2 percent improvement in peak torque and a 7 percent improvement in power. The 5.0-liter V8 makes 390 pound-feet of torque to go with its 412 hp.
Bits & Pieces
As far as the details go, the 5.0-liter V8 features a stout, forged-steel crankshaft and it's got larger bolts for the cross-bolted main bearing caps. Wider crankcase bulkheads lend greater support for the crank as well. Powder-metal-forged connecting rods have floating wrist pins, while oil squirters cool the underside of the piston crowns. The compression ratio is 11.0:1. This new lump continues to use port-type fuel injection instead of direct injection because the engineering team believes that direct injection wouldn't add enough benefit to justify the time and expense of its development.
And for all this, the new 5.0-liter V8 weighs only 10 pounds more than the outgoing 4.6-liter version. And weight, or the relative lack of it, is what has been keeping the Mustang GT in the hunt with the thundering Camaro, despite the relatively weak output of the 4.6-liter V8. Using the data from our 2010 Ford Mustang GT, 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS and 2009 Dodge Challenger R/T comparison test as a baseline, the Mustang now has fewer pounds for each of its horsepower to pull around than the relatively heavy Camaro. With a slight weight gain from its 3,572 pounds in 2010 trim, the new Mustang GT should have a weight-to-power ratio of 8.7 pounds per hp. The Camaro is right around 9.0 pounds per hp and the flabby Challenger R/T is 10.7 pounds per hp.
If a class-leading weight-to-power ratio still seems a bit tame to you, Ford Racing has something right up your alley: the Boss 302R. This dedicated racer will set you back a little more than a standard 2011 GT — like somewhere between $79,000 and $129,000, depending on which racing series you want to run with it. Oh, and it's not what you would call street legal — at all. But its throwback paint scheme and historic name (nabbed from the Bud Moore-built racecar that Parnelli Jones made famous in the 1970 Trans-Am series) are pitch-perfect.
Other Items of Interest in the Appearance and Function of This Automobile
Barring some anomaly, the Mustang should be able to add the title of "quickest pony car" to its resumé once the 2011 version of the GT hits the street — which would be in addition to the title of "most nimble pony car."
Thanks in part to the choice between two new six-speed transmissions (a manual and an automatic), the Mustang will likely be the most fuel-efficient pony car, too, although only by a slight margin. (You'll forgive us, we trust, for waiting until now to discuss pony car fuel economy). Ford estimates a 2011 Mustang GT with the six-speed automatic should get 17 mpg in the city and 25 on the highway. The Camaro SS gets 16 mpg city/24 mpg highway and the Challenger gets 16 mpg city/25 mpg highway. And we hope the MT82 six-speed manual transmission will offer better shift feel than the five-speed Tremec of the 2010 model.
In the pursuit of fuel economy, Ford is also switching the Mustang's steering system to electric assist. This is not always a welcome swap, even if it seems increasingly inevitable as manufacturers attempt to squeeze more fuel-efficiency from every package. And we love the way the 2010 Mustang steers. We hope the challenge of meeting the standard set by the current car will make the new system better.
Ford says that more structurally rigid links for the rear axle, tuning of spring and damper rates and more roll stiffness in the rear antiroll bar will improve the vehicle's dynamics and steering response. Again, the 2010 'Stang seems pretty well tuned to us, but we'll see.
Meanwhile, Ford will up the performance ante for the Mustang GT by offering an optional Brembo braking package, which includes 14-inch front rotors along with 19-inch wheels and summer performance tires. (Presumably this will be the model Ford public relations will be handing out when it suspects a comparison test is in the offing.)
Like the 2011 Ford Mustang V6, the Mustang GT convertible also gets a strut-tower brace, a stiffer A-pillar and other items of structural bracing to combat the chop top's noodly nature.
The Mustang's interior has already been reworked for the 2010 model year, and for 2011 it gets a couple more niceties such as sun-visor storage, a universal garage door opener and illuminated visors. So there's that. Also the speedometer now goes to 160 mph and the tachometer redline moves from 6,500 to 7,000 rpm.
And — who could forget — the fenders of all 2011 GTs will carry "5.0" badges, just like Mr. Ice prefers. The 2011 Ford Mustang GT goes on sale next spring.