Well, it's a form of heritage, isn't it? When you see the "5.0" badge on the fender of a Mustang, you feel something, right? This can't be just some marketing exercise that has been churned through focus groups, consumer clinics and demographic researchers in order to get people to sign up for 72 monthly payments.
So why be cynical? When we heard about the 2011 Ford Mustang GT 5.0, we couldn't help but remember the 1979 Ford Mustang 5.0, when getting a serious 5.0-liter V8 under the hood of a Mustang was a big deal, and then all those 5.0s sold in the Mustang between 1982 and 1993.
So never mind the cynical talk. Aren't these 5.0 things wicked-ass cool?!
There was never any question once the 2011 Ford Mustang GT 5.0 was introduced that our customary irrepressible enthusiasm for anything that smacks of wholesome, 1980s-style high-performance goodness would prevail, so we've done the right thing and put together a new 412-horsepower 2011 Mustang GT 5.0 with a 225-hp 1992 Ford Mustang GT 5.0 for a side-by-side comparison.
Bringing these two cars together is a reminder why the 5.0 badge is worth bringing back at all. Cynical marketing ploy or not, there are good reasons to be fond of the old Mustang GT. And those good reasons don't fade away simply because the latest Mustang GT is faster.
Rounding Up the Herd
When we asked to borrow a 2011 Ford Mustang GT from Ford, we assumed it would be one wearing the 5.0 fender badges. But instead what first shows up is a red Mustang GT equipped with the "California Special" trim package, which replaces the iconic badges on the fenders with some tape stripes. After some begging and pleading, another Mustang GT shows up, painted Grabber Blue and with the appropriate fender badges.
After our success a couple months ago in finding a perfect, low-mileage 1998 Acura Integra Type R, it seemed there would be no sweat to find a similarly preserved 1988-'93 Mustang GT 5.0. Turned out there are plenty of low-mileage Mustang GTs of the appropriate vintage out there — eBay Motors is full of them — but none were accessible to us near our base in Southern California. And for obvious reasons.
During the late 1980s and through the 1990s, the 1988-'93 Mustang with its fuel-injected 5.0-liter V8 was America's default street-racing machine. Back then there were a half-dozen magazines dedicated solely to the 5.0, and there were enough ad pages from suppliers of aftermarket hardware for the 5.0 to choke a pony. The subculture for the 5.0 Mustang was huge and even had its own hard-core heroes like drag racers Chris Kaufmann and Billy Glidden. And unfortunately this means that most of the 5.0s that Ford built have long ago been used up.
The Faithful Remain
The 5.0 cult may have mellowed, but it's still out there. And 23-year-old Juan Navarro is a committed member. His 1992 Ford Mustang GT has survived the years more or less intact.
Yes, it has Flowmasters, but you expect an 18-year-old car to need a new exhaust system. And why would anyone keep the stock Ford sound system? So that's been replaced. Of course it wears Cobra R-style 17-inch wheels and Nexen 255/40R17 tires. But it's otherwise mechanically stock right down to its choke-me airbox and the gear hunter atop its five-speed manual transmission.
But this is also a car that Navarro bought used for $4,000 and has near 190,000 miles on its clock. It's not a perfect 1992 Mustang, but it's representative of what's out there. And what's out there is still worth having.
Generating numbers on Navarro's car wouldn't have been fair to either it or its species. So for this aspect of our comparison we rely on sense memory (many of us at Inside Line are so old that we tested the 1992 Mustang GT back when it was new), not to mention the historical record.
Working from the automotive taxonomy charts, we know that the current Mustang GT descends from the old warhorse. But parked next to each other, it's tough to see much in the way of commonality other than those fender badges.
The 1979-'93 Mustang was designed back when dance music still called itself disco, which ruled the dark pit of the late 1970s. But this sixth-generation Mustang (depending on the way you count them) is a clean and simple design and the only Mustang iteration that's a complete stylistic break from the other generations (10 of them altogether, depending on the way you count them). There's no running horse in the grille, there's no C-shaped indentation along the flanks and the rear brake lights aren't in three segments. This is the only Mustang that is its own unique thing. And the GT came as a hatchback back when it was OK to be a hatchback.
The 1992 Mustang GT might not be a classic, but 31 years after it hit the street, the car still looks good.
The tenth-generation Mustang debuted as a 2010 model and this shape has been calibrated to push the Mustang lover's every button. There are so many horses running over this car that it's a challenge to hunt down the traditional blue oval of a Ford badge (we couldn't find one). Not only are the taillights divided into the traditional three segments, but also they blink sequentially. The headlights kinda, sorta look like the lamps on the '70 Mustang, and while the car has a conventional trunk opening, the rear window still screams fastback.
As calculated as the retro-theme styling of the 2011 Mustang GT is, however, it all works. This is a handsome car that manages to hold together and look contemporary despite its traditional styling cues. With its much shorter front and rear overhangs and swollen flanks filled with big 255/40R19 Pirelli P Zero summer performance tires, the 2011 GT looks more athletic and muscular than the 2010 car.
The 2011 Ford Mustang GT doesn't have the blinding visual flash of the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS, but it's likely to age well.
Big and Little Ponies
The 1992 Ford Mustang GT doesn't qualify as small, since it rides on a 100.5-inch wheelbase and measures 179.6 inches overall. Stick it next to the 2011 Ford Mustang with its 107.1-inch wheelbase and 188.1-inch overall length, however, and it looks a puny pony. In fact, the 2011 Mustang is the biggest Mustang Ford has ever made. Even the controversially massive Mustang of 1971-'73 only rode on a 109.9-inch wheelbase and stretched 187.5 inches.
Sure the 2010 Camaro and Dodge Challenger are bigger than the 2011 Mustang, but so what? Ford has the 2011 Mustang GT coupe weighing in at 3,605 pounds, while the three-door 1992 Mustang GT tipped the scales at 3,144 pounds. That's a thick 461-pound difference, like having two guys nicknamed "Chubby" in the car at all times. Physics is physics, so the new Mustang has to work harder to deal with its relative gigantism.
Yeah, the 2011 Ford Mustang has all sorts of things aboard that the old one doesn't, like an airbag buffet, more computing power than existed at MIT in 1992 and a honking Mach 460 sound system. But imagine how much better it would be with a quarter-ton lopped off.
By 1992 the Mustang GT was already being severely criticized for its ancient underpinnings. After all, the Fox body architecture from which the Mustang was derived had first appeared as the 1978 Ford Fairmont. Nearly a decade and a half later the 1992 Mustang was still running simple MacPherson struts up front and a solid rear axle on coil springs in the back. Of course, here it is almost 19 years later and the 2011 Mustang GT runs... Hey, the Mustang still has MacPherson struts up front and a solid rear axle on coil springs in the back.
What the 1992 and 2011 Mustang GTs have in common is that they are simple cars, just like every Mustang has been since the first one was built upon the chassis of the Ford Falcon economy car. Both cars are built with straightforward unibody structures and they both use suspension components engineered for affordability and rugged durability rather than ultimate cornering performance.
This doesn't diminish what Ford engineers have achieved with the 2011 Mustang GT's suspension. Its configuration might be old-fashioned, but the wheels are better located and the damping much better tuned. The new Mustang might be heavier, but it drives lighter and with better feel and precision. With its big tires and electric-assist power steering, it doesn't have the same directness of the 1992 Mustang GT, but it's clearly superior overall.
Back in 1990, Motor Trend tested a Mustang LX 5.0 wearing 225/60VR15 Goodyear Eagle tires and had it going through its 600-foot slalom course (the same dimensions as the one Inside Line uses today) at 64.2 mph, and then managed to get the car to circle its 300-foot skid pad at 0.88g. The 2011 Ford Mustang GT runs Inside Line's slalom at 67.3 mph and sticks to our 200-foot skid pad at 0.91g. That's a solid improvement, and much of the credit goes to the new car's massive Pirelli tires.
While the 5.0 badges on the fenders of these cars both signify the displacement of the V8 engines behind them, the motors are very different.
The 302-cubic-inch Windsor small-block V8 with its iron block and iron cylinder heads makes a great, deep burble in Juan Navarro's '92 Mustang, and the Flowmasters make it sound even more contented. This is a charismatic engine, even if Ford's 225-hp rating seems feeble by 21st-century standards. The Windsor V8 revs quickly for a pushrod motor and makes its 300 pound-feet of peak torque at just 3,200 rpm, while even the redline is only 5,900 rpm.
The new 302-cubic-inch Ford V8 comes out of the same plant in Windsor, Ontario, as the old one did, but there the similarities end. Iron has been tossed aside in favor of all-aluminum construction; there are four cams involved and no pushrods; and each combustion chamber contains four variable-timed valves. The engine develops 390 lb-ft of torque at 4,250 rpm, and the peak output of 412 hp comes at 6,500 rpm, only 600 rpm past the old engine's redline.
As different as these two engines are, they feel like brothers. They're both a blast to rev, easy to keep boiling and have ricochet-action throttle response. Both are entertainers first and workhorses second. But the new engine does have the massive advantage of being hooked up to Getrag's new MT-82 six-speed transmission instead of the old car's Borg-Warner T5 five-speed.
In every way the new 5.0 feels like an amplification of the old 5.0 — the difference between trotting and galloping. Car and Driver measured the 1989 Mustang GT (functionally identical to the '92) to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds and timed the car through the quarter-mile in 14.7 seconds at 94 mph. The 2011 edition hits 60 mph in only 4.8 seconds and runs the quarter in 13.0 seconds at 110.6 mph.
Throw on the 2011 Mustang GT's ABS-equipped optional Brembo binders at 60 mph and the car hauls itself to a stop in just 109 feet. When Motor Trend used the ABS-free front discs and rear drums on its 1989 LX 5.0 to halt from 60 mph, the stop took 145 feet.
The Okay Corral
It's still a blast to drive an old 1992 Ford Mustang GT 5.0. It's still a car that will burn down its tires when asked, respond eagerly when given some spur and drift easily when asked to perform. It's big fun and, with prices for decent examples like Navarro's now below $5,000, this old Mustang GT is a great used-car value. It was a special car back then and it still is.
But the 2011 Mustang GT 5.0 might be even more special in today's context. This is a car that performs at what were considered supercar levels just a few years ago and yet putters along in everyday situations like a Ford Fusion. The engine is simply the best all-around performance V8 Ford has yet built, and the transmission is nothing less than brilliant.
It's hard to think of the 2011 Ford Mustang GT as a bargain, though. Its price starts at $30,495 and options easily push it past $40K. Back in 1992, the Mustang GT started at just $15,243. That's almost exactly half. And, inflation or not, in retrospect, that looks like the bargain of a lifetime.
The manufacturers and owners provided Edmunds these vehicles for the purposes of evaluation.