2003 Ford Mustang Review
Pros & Cons
- Available V8 power, variety of trim levels, healthy dose of American attitude.
- Archaic structure, aged design.
Edmunds' Expert Review
Fittingly, the Ford Mustang is the last surviving member of the "pony car" breed. For 2003, it's never been better.
The Ford Mustang debuted in April of 1964 as either a coupe or convertible with six or eight cylinders under the hood, and became a national sensation. Ford sold hundreds of thousands of Mustangs, convincing General Motors and Chrysler Corporation to release their own variations on the theme. By the late 1960s, the Mustang competed against the AMC Javelin, Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger, Plymouth Barracuda and Pontiac Firebird. But, like Elvis Presley, the Mustang had evolved from a lightweight and simple sporty car into an overweight and flashy muscle car. By the time the oil crisis of 1973 hit, the Mustang had lost its edge in terms of performance and appeal. Reborn for 1974, the Mustang II rode on a Pinto platform to save development costs and improve fuel economy. Emissions regulations had stifled performance, and the convertible model had disappeared from the lineup. The mid-1970s represented a dismal time for the American automobile industry, and the emasculation of the Ford Mustang is perhaps the greatest example of what went wrong in the middle of this decade. Not surprisingly, sales reached an all-time low during this period of time. Still, Ford wasn't ready to give up on the Mustang. In 1979, it was completely redesigned. There was even a performance model with a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine, and a stripes-and-decals Cobra version. The new Mustang proved popular, and by 1982, Ford had endowed it with a relatively strong (for the time) V8 engine and the GT designation that continues today. General Motors released a sexy new Camaro and Firebird duo in '82, so Ford countered by continually updating the Mustang GT and engineering a special turbocharged performance model called the SVO. In the late 1980s, Mustang enthusiasts heard that Ford planned to replace the rear-drive model with a front-drive car based on a Mazda. Recoiling in revulsion, these purists bombarded Ford with hate mail, effectively convincing corporate brass to keep the all-American Mustang as it was and release the new vehicle under development as the Probe. This delay meant Ford needed to market the existing and aged Mustang beyond its expiration date until a suitable replacement could be styled and engineered. To retain buyer interest, Ford kept boosting power and improving the Mustang in subtle but effective ways. The new car arrived in 1994 wearing retro styling cues such as tri-bar taillights and a side scoop. Inside, a dual-cowl dashboard provided plenty of pizzazz. A coupe and convertible were available, with either a V6 or V8 engine. A Cobra model with added horsepower and special performance upgrades paced the Indianapolis 500 that year. In 1999, the Mustang was updated with boxy new styling and more power. The Cobra was said to make more horsepower than it actually did, which made buyers who wanted tire-smoking launches more than a bit upset. The 2003 Ford Mustang appeals to those who love the burble of a V8, the handling of rear-wheel drive and the appeal of a legendary car with long and storied history.
2003 Ford Mustang models
Two body styles and four trim levels are available for the 2003 Ford Mustang. Base models have a V6 engine. GT, Mach 1 and Cobra get a V8. Coupes are available in each trim, while the convertible is limited to the Base, GT and Cobra. The Mach 1 and Cobra contain plenty of special equipment to justify their higher prices. The limited-production Mach 1 includes a massaged V8 engine making at least 300 horsepower, a functional shaker hood with ram-air scoop, special interior detailing, unique alloy wheels and exterior trim and a lowered, retuned sport suspension. Upgraded brakes with ABS and traction control come standard. Substantially updated for 2003 is the SVT Cobra, which makes 390 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque thanks to the addition of a supercharger. A new six-speed manual transmission is standard. Larger wheels and tires, stiffer springs and a tubular cross brace are included. Functional hood vents are added, and minor styling modifications distinguish the 2003 model from previous versions. Cobra convertibles have a cloth top, while both cars get new seats with upgraded leather and suede upholstery.
Performance & mpg
Standard on the base Mustang is a 190-horsepower 3.8-liter V6. Step up to the GT and you'll get a 260-horsepower 4.6-liter V8. The Mach 1 will make at least 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque when it debuts. Cobra models have a new supercharger and produce an astounding 390 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. Base, GT and Mach 1 models are available with either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission. The Cobra comes with a six-speed manual gearbox.
Dual front airbags are standard. GT, Mach 1 and Cobra models come with antilock brakes and traction control. The 2003 Ford Mustang coupe received five-star crash test scores for the driver and passenger. Side-impact testing resulted in three-star scores for both front- and rear-seat occupants (convertibles received a two-star rating for front-seat occupants in the side-impact test). The Mustang has not been subjected to an offset crash test.
Mustangs are crude by modern standards, but continual updating, low prices and a brash character keep the Base and GT models competitive with the more refined sport coupes on the market. The Mach 1 and Cobra carry higher price tags, but offer far more performance and cache due to their stout powertrains and low-volume production. The Cobra is the most sophisticated Mustang, the only one in the lineup with an independent rear suspension. The Mach 1 is a terrific blend of power and handling, while the GT is a great daily driver that allows for tail-out thrills on command. Even budget-minded shoppers will find fun and value in the V6 models.
The retro-style dual-cowl dashboard has aged well since 1994. Instrumentation is simple and straightforward, if sometimes hard to locate and reach. Of particular interest is the old-fashioned pull-out headlight switch mounted to the lower left side of the dash. Seats in the Base and GT models are flat and featureless; the Mach 1 and Cobra versions get seats with stiffer bolsters and greater adjustability.