Joe Oldham, Contributor
Don't be faked out by all the hype. Don't believe everything you've been reading about the new 2011 Ford Mustang V6 being the greatest thing since the Victoria's Secret catalog. You know what we're talking about. The numbers are all over the Internet: 305 horsepower. 31 mpg.
Don't be fooled. The truth is that guys who really love to drive (not like, love) will save up a few more months and buy a GT with the new 5.0-liter V8. It's even worth the higher insurance premiums.
Now you're lighting up your Twitter account typing out something like, "Come on, the new 2011 Ford Mustang's got 305 hp. That thing's got to move out. Car and Crack magazine said it's fast."
Don't misunderstand. The 2011 Ford Mustang V6 is not slow. With a good launch and a tight gearchange it hits 60 in just 5.6 seconds (5.3 seconds with rollout like on a drag strip). If you've been driving a worn-out Civic, a sub-6-second 0-60-mph will feel like you've strapped yourself to a bottle rocket.
But for the rest of us, out in the real world, away from the test track, the Mustang V6 just doesn't feel that fast. When you dump 2nd and punch it hard in the head, you're not going to be pinned against the seatback, eyelids peeling from the explosive burst of acceleration. Not in this Mustang.
Not with just 280 pound-feet of torque at 4,250 rpm. At 4,250 rpm!
Torque — or Lack of Same
That's not that much torque, and you've got to rev past four grand to get there. On the street, this makes it too easy to get caught at the bottom of the tach, out of the V6's lofty power band. Plus, those 280 lb-ft have to push around 3,500 pounds. You do the math.
So again, the new 2011 Ford Mustang V6 isn't slow. It just doesn't feel that fast around town. And out on the highway, you need to skip 5th and downshift to 4th (maybe even 3rd) if getting around that truck is on your agenda this month.
Oh, this is a quick car at the test track. It eats up the quarter-mile in just 13.9 seconds at 101.2 mph. That's about what a 5.0 Mustang ran back in the '80s, and legendary muscle cars like GTOs and Road Runners ran back in the day. The difference is that those cars had real torque available down around 2,000 rpm, so when you punched it on the street, you got a good wallop to the base of your spinal cord. And it's that torque that helped make the Mustang 5.0 of the 1980s so legendary.
But this Mustang doesn't make any real power until 3,000 rpm. That means it's easy to get caught up in 3rd gear when you should be in 2nd. You carpet the throttle to squirt the Mustang into that hole between the bus and the concrete truck and nothing happens. A few seconds later the tach hits 3,000 rpm and the fun begins, but by that time the door has closed.
Keep the revs up and it's a different story. Drive this Mustang like it belongs to your ex-girlfriend (the one who dumped you for your best friend) and it can be a lot of fun. The V6 is strong up over 4,000 rpm, its 305 hp peaks at 6,500 rpm and the redline on the tach is nearly 7,000 rpm. That is screaming.
Wind it out to seven grand on every shift, pound gears through the six speeds and you can have a blast with this car. You might not win a few light-to-light drag races (it's quicker than a Chevy Camaro V6 and a Hyundai Genesis V6, but chances are you'll lose more than you'll win (a Nissan Z and an Infiniti G coupe are significantly quicker). Whatever. Drive this car like you hate it and you'll even have a good time losing. Hell, it destroys its tires on a good 1-2 powershift and even gets good rubber on the 2-3 if you're quick.
Artwork Under the Hood
The new version of Ford's Duratec V6 is a technological masterpiece, no question about it. It packs every trick in the book to extract horsepower — short of turbo- or supercharging. It has 3.7 liters of displacement, double overhead cams, an all-aluminum block and heads, four valves per cylinder with variable valve timing, tuned intake and exhaust manifolds, 10.5:1 compression and a true dual exhaust system.
It all adds up to those 305 horses we've been referring to. But truth be told, if you want balls-out performance, you're not going to buy the V6 anyway. And you shouldn't. You're going to pop for the 412-hp 5.0 V8 in the Mustang GT. That car, sports fans, is a small rocket ship that hits 60 mph in 4.8 seconds (4.5 seconds with a foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and scorches the quarter-mile in 13.0 seconds at over 110 mph. It also sounds much better than the V6, which is important in our car-loving world.
No, the V6 is all about the person looking for fuel mileage in a sporty coupe. According to the EPA the Mustang V6 delivers 29 highway/18 city with the stick. And Ford engineers are very proud of those numbers, touting them constantly when you talk to them.
Of course, you'll get nowhere near that kind of fuel economy if you're using the V6 up near its 7,000-rpm redline all the time. In fact, during our two weeks with this very blue Mustang, we averaged just 20.7 mpg, which ain't bad, but it ain't gonna pass any Priuses at the pump. At least it runs on cheaper 87 octane regular. We should also mention that we averaged about 26 mpg on pure highway runs.
Backing up that engine in our test car is a new six-speed Getrag manual and the optional 3.31 rear axle ratio (a 2.73 is standard). To get anywhere near 30 mpg with this car, you're going to have to spend most of your driving time up in 6th gear, traveling downhill with a tailwind at speeds below 70 mph. And don't even think about touching the throttle pedal.
We'd be remiss if we didn't mention the shifter, which is one of the best factory-installed shifters we've ever come across — tight, short, slick. Banging gears is a pleasure. Well, for some of us. A few staffers, including our track test-driver, complained about missing 3rd gear on occasion.
Hooves for the Pony
Base Mustangs have a 17-inch combo, which you'd think would look cool. Unfortunately, the tire choice is a puny 215/65R17 Michelin A/S Energy Saver chosen strictly for its low rolling resistance and, therefore, better fuel economy.
Frankly, the tiny, narrow tire makes the car look stupid and offers no grip. Eighteens are optional. But thank heaven for the Performance package combo — fat 255/40R19 Pirelli P Zero summer performance tires, which give the car the planted, hefty stance it deserves and some exceptional grip.
Our test car wore the Performance package option, which is a steal at $1,995. It also includes stiffer spring rates off the GT, a slightly fatter 34.6mm front stabilizer bar, that 3.31 rear axle, a Panhard rod off a Shelby GT500 to help locate the live rear axle, bigger brakes off the GT with performance friction pads, a strut tower brace for increased body rigidity and unique electronic stability control calibration with Sport mode for performance driving. Then Ford tops it off with special badges.
Compared to the 2010 Mustang, the body structure is torsionally 15 percent stiffer, and everybody knows, the more rigid the structure, the better the handling. Every 2011 Ford Mustang packs a completely revised and recalibrated suspension, although the basic layout is carryover — at the front, reverse-L MacPherson struts and a 34mm tubular antiroll stabilizer bar; at the rear, solid axle and coil springs located by three links and 24mm solid antiroll stabilizer bar. Both the stabilizer bars and spring rates are 4 percent stiffer than on 2010s.
You'd expect some impressive handling from all this hardware. And it's there in spades on smooth roads. Carving through the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles in this Mustang was fun, provided we kept the revs up so the V6 could pull us out of the corners. In tight 2nd-gear stuff, however, when you can't avoid the revs dropping below 3,000 rpm, corner exit is a full-throttle-but-there-ain't-much-happening game of waiting for the revs to build and the V6's power band to ignite.
Around town, the car feels tied down, with ride motions reminiscent of a muscle car. Cool. At speed, however, especially around tight turns on bumpier roads, the live rear axle walks out on you just at the wrong time. And the shock calibration leaves a lot to be desired.
Ford's engineers gave the Performance package the spring rates of the GT, but not the shock calibrations because of the lighter weight of the V6 engine. The result is a car with a front end that gets floaty over high-speed bumps, as if the engineers were trying to preserve ride quality for V6 buyers at the expense of handling. The front shock calibration needs more sorting, guys.
At mirror-smooth Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, the test numbers were glowing. Our Performance package-equipped Mustang handled the 100-foot slalom in 68.6 mph with the electronic stability control off and the 'Stang recorded 0.91g on the skid pad. That slalom speed is faster than the GT and the skid pad performance is the same.
And the brakes are spectacular, stopping the Mustang from 60 mph in just 103 feet. Pedal feel isn't all that special, but there's no sign of fade, and that stopping distance is outstanding.
Calling a Spade
The test numbers are all very lovely but you have to put it all into perspective. The 2011 Ford Mustang V6 just doesn't feel like a high-performance car on the street unless you drive the snot out of it. Let's call this car what it is — a sporty coupe, just as the Mustang V6 always has been. Calling this thing a muscle car is like calling Tiger Woods a good family man.
Ford knows this. That's why you can "dress it up" with cutesy special decal packages like the California Special stripe option or the Mustang Club of America package.
Bottom line: This is not a high-performance muscle car that's going to give you 29 mpg. If you want balls-out performance, pop for the 412-hp 5.0 V8 in the Mustang GT. And the V6's 18 mpg in the city? Sorry, guys. The way readers of this Web site drive, it just ain't gonna happen. Not in the real world, anyway. We averaged 14 mpg driving this Mustang around Los Angeles with gumption.
The 2011 Ford Mustang V6 is a nice car, a sporty car to tool around town in. Driven hard, it can be fast and quick. And for a base price of $22,995 and an as-tested price of $30,600, it is without a doubt a performance bargain. It's just not the Holy Grail of Mustangs, despite the hype.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of this evaluation.
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