Big V8 power, quiet cabin, athletic handling, wide range of options.
Steering is too light, soft brake feel.
The Ford Mustang operates on a fairly simple formula — put a big V8 in the front that drives a solid axle in back, put two doors in between and make it fun to drive. Sounds simple, right? You'd think so, but the details have often served to make or break this revered nameplate. It seems that every time the Ford engineers change something, the Mustang faithful hold their collective breath either in anticipation or fear. For every Shelby GT500 memory, there's been a Mustang II waiting around the corner. The unveiling of the 2010 Ford Mustang at the Los Angeles auto show was no different, and like so many times before, reaction to its mild styling redesign was mixed. From the driver seat, though, we're happy to report there's nothing but thumbs-up.
Although the new Mustang shares many exterior traits with its 2009 predecessor, every panel except for the roof is completely new. The styling tweaks are noticeable fore and aft, with a sloping nose that produces a more sinister frown, and more shapely taillights. From any angle, though, the historical styling DNA is readily apparent.
The makeovers are more than skin deep, however, thanks in large part to a raid on the Mustang Bullitt parts bin. The 2010 Ford Mustang GT now makes use of the Bullitt's cold air intake to help boost power output, along with a reworked ECU to raise the redline to 6,500 rpm. The new GT also borrows some suspension components from the Bullitt and further stiffens the springs for more spirited cornering.
Performance improvements are always applauded by ponyphiles, but mention the word "refinement" and they'll begin mobbing Ford headquarters with pitchforks in hand. To them "refinement" equals wimpy, lame and most definitely not Mustang. Yet, noticeably less wind and road noise and a higher-quality cabin don't sully any of the fun — nor the V8's wonderful growl that's actually channeled into the cabin via an induction tube.
After all, it's that visceral, blood-pumping emotion that ensures the Mustang's survival. Turn the key and feel the big V8 rumble as it roars to life. Then stab the throttle, dump the clutch and leave greasy black tire streaks on the pavement in a cloud of white smoke. For more than 45 years, this ritual has been a staple in the life of the Ford Mustang. Hailed as revolutionary when it debuted in 1964, the Mustang takes an evolutionary step forward for 2010, while remaining true to its roots.
Borrowing heavily from last year's Mustang Bullitt, the new Mustang GT adds slightly more performance. While a boost in engine output to 315 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque adds only 15 hp and 5 lb-ft over the '09 specs, a higher redline and quicker throttle response are much more noteworthy. Also impressive is the fact that the 4.6-liter V8 was designed to run on regular unleaded. However, Ford notes that filling the tank with premium fuel will add another 10 lb-ft of torque.
The five-speed manual transmission is carried over from the last Mustang, with well-spaced gear ratios and an intuitive clutch pedal engagement. Pedal placement is comfortable, but the gas and brake pedals still feel a bit too far apart, making heel-toe downshifts tricky, but not impossible. Stability control is now standard, but seldom intrudes during spirited driving. Ensuring an optimal blend of performance and drivability, three stability control modes are at the driver's disposal — standard mode (which still allows quite a bit of fun and freedom), a sport mode that permits much more aggressive driving and "all-off" mode for tire-shredding four-wheel-drift hoonage.
Bombing through curvy canyon roads, the 2010 Ford Mustang GT feels solidly planted to the pavement. Even potholes and ruts fail to upset the solid rear-axle suspension, although a deliberate jab at the throttle can induce some rear end jiggle. The ride itself is on the soft and compliant side, which induces a moderate but acceptable amount of body roll. Breaking the rear tires loose in a corner is supremely easy to initiate as well as to control. Steering is fairly precise but perhaps a bit too light for a car with such potential. Brakes are likewise competent but on the soft side, with a moderate amount of fade when punished repeatedly. For those seeking even more performance, Ford will offer an optional Track package that sharpens up the suspension with stiffer components and more aggressive brake pads.
We didn't get a chance to take a full highway journey in the new Mustang, but a heady mix of sweeping coastline miles mixed with the tight twisties of Malibu, California, showed it to be pleasantly comfortable. With the aerodynamic and acoustic insulation upgrades, this is by far the quietest Mustang ever. That is, until you summon the inspiring roar of the V8. The front seats are quite comfy, while the GT Premium trim's added bolstering and power adjustments provide more support than any Mustang in recent memory.
As performance-focused as the Mustangs have been, they've managed to avoid a harsh and skittish ride quality. Despite its stiffer, sportier suspension, the new 2010 Ford Mustang GT still makes for a comfortable companion on longer trips, soaking up the choppiest of road flaws without protest. We were also impressed with the absence of squeaks and rattles that plagued previous model years.
There have been many interior improvements for 2010. The updated yet retro-inspired gauges are easily read and color-customizable. Ford's latest parts bin stereo and climate controls have found their way into the Mustang, and unlike their ugly predecessors, this new switchgear looks modern and works well (specifically with the available Sync entertainment and communications interface). If there is a complaint to be made about the improved cabin layout, it is that the climate controls are situated a bit too low in the center console, with the gearshift impeding easy access.
Our test car's optional glass roof added an open-air feel without the turbulence and body flex associated with the Mustang convertible. The new rear LED turn signals are now fired in sequential order from inside out, instantly drawing attention. Little touches enhance the fun factor as well, like a reverse camera that remains operational after you shift into 1st gear, allowing drivers to watch their own burnout — not that we tried that.
From the driver seat, the 2010 Ford Mustang GT is a vast improvement over last year's model, and indeed, every year before that. The revised center console and use of higher-quality materials (including real aluminum trim) replace the cheap, industrial hard interior plastics of Mustangs past. There are a few bits left over, but most have been replaced by soft-touch materials fitted with much better precision. Adding to the newly sculpted interior, our Premier Trim-equipped version sported visually stunning red leather on the seats, doors and steering wheel.
Since the base V6 Mustang is neither fast nor fuel-efficient, that leaves the GT as the Mustang to buy if you like having fun behind the wheel, if horsepower excites you, if you can appreciate its aggressive yet stylish body, if you want plenty of bang for your buck and if you find the uniquely American personality of this beast attractive.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.