Since Ford introduced a redesigned Mustang for the 1994 model year, sales of the popular pony coupe have surpassed the expectations of even the most optimistic bean counters in Dearborn. The Mustang is selling almost as many copies as the Chevy Camaro and Pontiac Firebird combined, despite weaker engine choices and less sleek styling; dealers are clamoring for more of them.
For 1996, Mustangs are infused with a host of powertrain improvements. All motors get 100,000 mile platinum-tipped spark plugs. Base models get a reworked "Essex" 3.8-liter V6, based on the engine from the now defunct Thunderbird Super Coupe, but good for just 150 measly horsepower. Mustang GT has a new 4.6-liter V8 under the hood. Smoother and cleaner than the 5.0-liter pushrod engine it replaces, the much-anticipated 4.6-liter engine disappoints with horsepower and torque ratings that are essentially unchanged from the old engine. The big power is reserved for the limited-production Cobra model. A DOHC 4.6-liter mod motor packs a 305 horsepower punch in the Cobra, but it comes at a steep price premium. The Cobra performs slightly better than the new Ram Air Firebirds released by General Motors this year. However, with production of just 10,000 copies and a cost of $26,000 per car, the Cobra has limited appeal. Folks who've been waiting for a real engine in the GTsince 1994 will likely head for Chevy dealerships in exasperation.
Suspension revisions and steering improvements make the Mustang more fun to drive this year. New wheels, taillights and colors liven up the exterior a bit. The GTS model has been dropped, ensuring that the 1995 GTS, which was produced for a scant six months, will become one of the more collectible Mustangs of the nineties.
All things considered equal, the Mustang offers good performance value for the dollar, as long as you keep your hands out of the options toy box. Things aren't equal though, and GM's ponycars, Camaro and Firebird, offer superior bang-for-the-buck in both base and Z28/Formula/Trans Am trim.