Ed Hellwig, Executive Editor
You barely even notice the styling changes to the 2010 Ford Mustang GT until you see it side by side with last year's car. It's only then that the revised Mustang's shorter grille, smoother fenders and tucked in rear end become obvious.
Look inside and the cabin is the same story. The overall design is familiar, but the details have changed. The materials are richer, the panel fits are tighter and the switchgear feels sturdier.
See it all firsthand and you might be convinced that this is an all-new Mustang, not a mere midcycle face-lift. Well, that is, until you actually drive it.
Bullitt -- The Sequel
Don't worry. There's nothing wrong with the 2010 Mustang GT. Ford didn't refine it into a Taurus coupe, or try to make it the first ever PZEV V8 to satisfy Bill Ford's green dreams.
No, Ford pretty much stuck to the script on this one; same 4.6-liter V8 up front, same five-speed transmissions behind it and the same live-axle suspension out back. In fact, virtually all of the dimensions and most of the hardware on the 2010 Ford Mustang GT are identical to the previous car.
The only upgrades aren't really new at all; they've simply been carried over from the Bullitt package for the '09 Mustang with a few refinements along the way. That means a cold air intake under the hood along with a reprogrammed ECU that bumps the redline to 6,500 rpm. That same computer also has two different fuel programs, for regular and premium gas.
Both settings generate the same horsepower, but running premium fattens up the torque curve a bit. Peak numbers are 315 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 325 pound-feet of torque at 4,250 rpm, just like the Bullitt.
The carryover parts continue with the suspension, which retains MacPherson struts up front and a three-link solid axle with coil springs out back. The GT's setup uses the same front springs as the Bullitt, but the rear spring rates are up 17 percent. Damping rates are also increased compared to the Bullitt. The standard GT wheels now measure 18 inches like the Bullitt, but they get Pirelli P Zero Nero all-season tires sized 235/50ZR18 at each corner instead of BFGs.
A Good Start
So Ford isn't going to score any points for originality this time around, but the Bullitt's setup isn't a bad place to start for this new GT. It's an improvement over the inherent sloppiness in the Mustang's basic setup and gets the GT to a point where you feel comfortable throwing it into a turn with some speed.
Well, some speed, but not much. On winding canyon roads the 2010 Ford Mustang is still too big, too soft and too vague to really toss around with any measure of precision. The steering is overboosted and the car itself doesn't shift its 3,533 pounds from one turn to the next particularly well either. The brakes withstand hard use better than we remember, but the pedal is still a little soft.
Power is certainly not a problem. The throttle is responsive and the engine revs willingly while delivering solid chunks of torque good for getting the nose pointed in the right direction. It sounds good doing it, too. We seem to remember a better shifter in the Bullitt, though, as this one seems vague when you try to force it from gear to gear.
Ford isn't oblivious to the limitations of the Mustang's handling, hence the newly optional Track Pack. Available on GT coupes starting next summer, the $1,495 option package borrows several pieces from the current Shelby GT500, including its front and rear antiroll bars, rear lower trailing links and front upper strut mounts.
A unique set of dampers is also fitted as well as a front strut-tower brace, high-performance brake pads and a limited-slip differential with 3.73:1 gears. A set of 19-inch aluminum wheels with Pirelli P Zero summer performance tires sized 255/40ZR19 is also part of the package.
At speed on the road course at the Streets of Willow, the improvement from this package proved noticeable almost instantly. The retuned dampers do a better job of keeping the front end under control, so the initial turn toward the apex of the corner is more immediate. There's far less body roll and the additional cornering grip allows you to push it a little harder at the limit.
If you're not up for the full Track Pack, there will also be an axle package that gets you the 3.73 gears and high-performance brake pads up front. The standard rear-end gears are 3.31:1, and 3.55:1 gears are also an option with the manual transmission.
The Softer Side of the Mustang
Ford is well aware that not every Mustang is destined for the track, so in addition to the upgraded suspension and drivetrain components this Mustang has also been designed to deliver a more refined overall driving experience. This involved reducing unwanted cabin noise through improved exterior aerodynamics while adding some of the more desirable noise back in with an induction tube from the engine on all V8 models.
It is indeed effective, as every crack of the throttle makes the V8 sound like it's riding shotgun. Go easy on the gas pedal, though, and this Mustang gets noticeably quiet for a pony car. There's minimal wind and road noise, and even at 75 mph the drone of the V8 is relatively mild.
The reduced mechanical clatter goes along with the refreshed look of this Mustang's interior. Much of the cheap plastic is gone in favor of a soft-touch dash and good quality metallic trim. You will not feel cheated paying $30K for a 2010 Ford Mustang.
Premium models get six-way power seats with leather upholstery that features contrasting stitching. This actually looks less gimmicky than it sounds, but we can't say the same for the multicolor instrument panel lighting. At least the stamped aluminum badge for the steering wheel is a nice touch for this relatively inexpensive performance coupe.
Keeping the Mustang affordable has always been one of Ford's goals for the 2010 model, and this base-model Mustang GT undercuts its obvious competition with a price of $28,845. A base Dodge Challenger R/T will run you another thousand bucks while the Chevrolet Camaro with a V8 is almost $31K.
And although the Challenger might offer more horsepower, we figure the Mustang's lighter weight will keep it way ahead at the track. Just compare the last Bullitt we tested, which got to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds and then did the quarter-mile in 13.7 seconds, to the 5.9-second and 14.1-second performance of the Challenger R/T -- it's not even close.
We can't say the same just yet about the Camaro, but it does weigh around 500 pounds more than the Mustang. Then there's the Nissan 370Z. Maybe not a natural competitor, but it does cost around $30K and runs a 13.4-second quarter-mile.
So where does that leave the 2010 Ford Mustang? Well, it probably won't be the most performance you can get for $30K, but it will be close. And this time around it's not saddled with a low-dollar interior. Throw in the Track Pack and it will actually handle respectably, too. Just don't expect many people to ask you about your new Mustang, because they're not even going to notice.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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