Man, do we ever hate to see a good joke die.
And, make no mistake, the V6 Mustang has been a joke for — oh, as long as we've been alive. It served admirably as the car enthusiast's go-to vehicle for ridicule. Want to make a joke about dudes who idolize Huey Lewis and the News? Bam! There's the Mustang V6 convertible oozing 210 horsepower from its 4.0-liter of superannuated iron-block V6. Want to stereotype someone as a certain variety of sorority girl? That small-wheeled, weak-kneed 'Stang was at the ready.
If Ford manages to follow through with its plan for the 2011 Ford Mustang V6, these jokes could all go away, as massive powertrain improvements could not only lift the lesser Mustang out from the land of ridicule but also actually put it in direct competition with the excellent 2010 Chevrolet Camaro V6.
Perhaps all of this is why, when we asked Ford to test a 2010 Ford Mustang V6, our usual contact seemed to keep conveniently forgetting our request. Or he did until we threatened to rent one — a nice white one with mismatched tires and stained seats. Then a Mustang V6 materialized, but only after we were required to drive both a Shelby GT500 and a special Mustang GT with the Track Pack that had been specially optioned for competing in comparison tests by the media.
And when we asked for a 2010 Ford Mustang V6 out on the West Coast to take to the test track to run performance numbers, we were told that the one Mustang V6 available there was in for repairs. And then later everything went silent from Ford HQ on the matter.
It's as if the Mustang V6, which makes up the bulk of Mustang sales, is an embarrassment to people who actually like cars, which includes quite a number of people at Ford. Of course, our contacts were at the distinct disadvantage of knowing that a much-improved Mustang V6 is on the way for 2011 (and knowing that we knew it, too) but couldn't say anything about it.
One More Better, Innit?
That much-improved power plant for the 2011 Ford Mustang V6 is the 3.7-liter version of the all-aluminum, 60-degree Duratec V6. You'll recognize this as the same displacement Duratec V6 that powers the Lincoln MKS (other Ford brand vehicles make do with the slightly less powerful 3.5-liter version of this engine). For duty in the Mustang, Ford has pumped up the peak output of this motor to 305 hp at 6,500 rpm and 280 pound-feet of torque at 4,250 rpm. The DOHC V6 has a compression ratio of 10.5:1, features cylinder heads with four valves per cylinder and uses variable camshaft timing for both intake and exhaust.
Let's put that in perspective, shall we? In a vehicle that weighs almost exactly the same as it did last year (somewhere just north of 3,400 pounds), the 2011 model brings 95 hp more. What is that, a 31 percent improvement? That speaks well of the new motor, which makes 82 hp per liter of displacement. But it speaks even more loudly about the straight-up suckitude of the ancient 4.0-liter V6, which has an output of some 53 hp per liter — only 53 hp per liter more than our office desk.
More to the point, the 3.7-liter V6 produces 1 hp more in peak power than the well-regarded 3.6-liter V6 in the Camaro V6. OK, so 1 hp is meaningless on the street and falls well within the normal variation from one ostensibly identical engine to the next. Still, 1 hp means everything in the showroom and in bragging done on online forums. Besides, what was Ford going to do; rate its engine at or below the Chevy?
Oh, and thanks in part to its aluminum block, the new 3.7-liter V6 is 41 pounds lighter — always a nice thing, especially when that weight happens to be sitting over the front axle.
Efficiencies Add Up
Thanks to a variety of improvements large and small, Ford estimates that the 2011 Mustang V6 will get 19 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway. These figures are achieved with the new six-speed automatic transmission, which Ford says is good for a 3 to 5 percent improvement in fuel economy over the outgoing five-speed automatic. Meanwhile the old five-speed manual transmission has also been swapped out for the Getrag/Ford MT82 six-speed manual. With the manual in place, Ford says the Mustang will achieve 18 mpg city/29 mpg highway. And, yes, this highway mpg for the new Mustang V6 is one better than the best the Camaro V6 can do.
Throw in polished valvetrain tappets that the company says bring a 0.8 percent improvement in fuel economy, aggressive deceleration fuel shutoff and an engine architecture designed after the Eisenhower administration and things look pretty good for V6 efficiency. The old 4.0-liter, mated to an automatic, eked out 16 mpg city/24 mpg highway, not really any better than a 4.6-liter V8.
Oh, and the 3.7 V6 is not only 2 dBA quieter than the old motor but also it sounds decidedly less like the bleating of a dying donkey.
Still Available in White
Do you care that the 2011 Ford Mustang V6, which arrives in Spring 2010, will have fold-down rear-seat headrests or integrated spotter mirrors for better blind-spot visibility? Us neither. You might care that all V6 models will now come with dual exhaust, because the single exhaust "looks so tremendously lame." (We're quoting ourselves here).
Now that the powertrain appears to be up to the proverbial snuff, you might also care that the V6 model's front brake rotors are now the size of the 2010 Mustang GT's brakes (12.4 inches now, almost an inch larger in diameter). Also the antiroll bars on all Mustang V6s are stiffer, both front and rear. The rear suspension still has a stick axle, of course, but it also gets a lower control arm that's stiffer, which Ford says is from the Shelby GT500. And the structure of the floppy-noodle convertible version gets additional structural bracing.
Other changes for the 2011 Ford Mustang V6 include electric power-assist steering, which surely contributes some efficiency gains and comes with Ford's anti-drift compensation that can automatically steer into a crosswind to keep the car on the straight-ahead. We worry about this one, though. Natural-feeling steering has been one of the Mustang's strong suits, or at least it has been in the GT. The Mustang also gets some further aerodynamic improvements and some additional dash-mounted acoustic insulation and rear-wheel liners to (hopefully) make the drive more pleasant. And, oh, all V6 Mustangs get a standard limited-slip differential. That's nice.
What about the GT, dude? Yeah, well, Ford is milking this rollout of the 2011 Ford Mustang for all the news coverage it can get. So the company ain't talking about the 2011 version of the 5.0-liter V8, which we hear puts out roughly 400 hp. And there aren't any details about the selection of six-speed manual and automatic transmissions that are on their way for the Mustang GT. Ford will reveal the specifics in mid-December.
Performance Package? Really?
Need any more proof that Ford is trying to get serious about the Mustang V6 being much less laughable?
Well, there will be a 2011 Ford Mustang V6 Performance Package, a model that will come with the same stiffer, more aggressive suspension as the Mustang GT. It'll wear 19-inch wheels with summer tires and the brakes will have heavy-duty pads from Performance Friction. The car will have a strut tower brace, a 3.31:1 rear axle ratio (2.73:1 is standard), and its stability control system will have a specific sport mode for performance and track driving. The Performance package will be available late next summer.
This Mustang V6 Performance package will be ideal for the inevitable comparison tests against the Camaro V6, with all the stuff that'll help post the best possible performance at the test track. Something tells us that we won't have as much trouble getting hold of a 2011 Mustang V6 Performance Package model as we did a plain old 2010 Mustang V6.
Clearly, all of the upgrades to the 2011 Ford Mustang V6 are going to cost Ford some money, so expect that the company will be passing it along to you, the customer. And don't expect that the thing will start at $21,845 as the 2010 model does. Still, with the price tag of the Camaro V6 hovering only a couple thousand bucks higher ($23,530 in 2010), Ford can't go crazy on the price, either.
Either way, we're still going to miss that old 2010 Mustang V6, for reasons not entirely pleasant.