2011 Ford Mustang V6 First Drive

2011 Ford Mustang V6 First Drive

  • Full Review
  • Pricing & Specs
  • Road Tests (7)
  • Comparison (1)
  • Long-Term

2011 Ford Mustang Coupe

(3.7L V6 6-speed Manual)

More Power, Better Mileage — the 305-hp Cheap Mustang

They're numbers that spit in the face of physics. Imagine, 305 horsepower and 31 mpg on the highway in a Ford Mustang. It's not just any Mustang either, but the least expensive, easiest-to-insure 2011 Mustang V6.

That's right, for the 2011 model year the wimpiest new Mustang available will have as much horsepower on tap as the 1999 SVT Cobra: the hairiest Mustang then in production. And no other Mustang has ever had higher EPA mileage ratings than the 2011 Mustang V6.

Remember when the mere idea of a DOHC four-valve Mustang seemed exotic?

Well, if you do, you're old. With the introduction of the 2011 Mustang V6 and its brother the 2011 Mustang GT powered by a new DOHC 5.0-liter V8, all new Mustangs are twin-cammers with four-valve combustion chambers. That's right, no more pushrods in any Mustang at any price level.

The result? This is the best base Mustang there has ever been.

Heart Transplant
Banished forever is the old 210-hp 4.0-liter SOHC 12-valve iron-block V6 that powered the 2010 version and in its place is a version of the increasingly familiar Duratec V6. This one displaces 3.7 liters and has DOHC heads, 24 valves and an aluminum block.

Also sent to car part purgatory are the five-speed transmissions. In their place are a new six-speed manual and six-speed automatic. The standard final-drive gear ratio is now 2.73:1 with a 3.31:1 set optional (the 3.31:1 set was standard on the 2010 model).

The Duratec V6 features virtually all the superstar technologies of internal combustion -- except forced induction and direct injection. The ignition system features an individual coil on each spark plug, the tuned intake manifolds are made from a lightweight composite material, and even the oil pan is made from aluminum.

Ford calls its variable valve timing system Twin Independent Variable Camshaft Timing (Ti-VCT) and, as the name states, it varies the timing of the intake and exhaust cams independently so as to maximize power and minimize fuel consumption. Ford claims the system is good for a 3 percent improvement in fuel economy and a 10 percent bump in power output.

Ready for Camaro
Though it gives up 278cc in displacement compared to the engine it replaces, the new 2011 Ford Mustang V6 has a longer 95.5mm crank stroke. Combine that with a stout 10.5:1 compression ratio and the result is solid torque production.

The new 3.7 makes its 280 pound-feet of peak torque at 4,250 rpm compared to the 4.0's peak of 240 lb-ft at 3,500 rpm. The 3.7's 305 hp live at a dizzying 6,500 rpm -- just 500 rpm short of the engine's 7,000-rpm redline.

Compared to the direct-injection 3.6-liter DOHC 24-valve V6 used in the Chevrolet Camaro, the Mustang V6 makes 1 more hp and claims a 7 lb-ft advantage in torque production. And the Camaro V6 is EPA rated at 29 mpg on the highway. Plus, the Camaro is much larger and heavier than the Mustang so the Mustang V6 should be quicker.

Road Surgery
The huge increase in output implies that the 2011 Ford Mustang V6 is some sort of rocket ship. It isn't. But it is quick.

It starts when the engine comes to life. Rev the Mustang V6 when it's parked and it makes a sweet sound -- some Nissan 370Z mixed with a bit of '69 Torino. That's a true dual-exhaust system you're listening to. The song may not be as intoxicating as the 5.0 V8's, but it's better than any V6 Mustang that's come before it.

That voice, however, disappears the moment the engine is under load and the car begins to move. From inside the Mustang it's hard to tell there's any exhaust note whatsoever. But the V6 Mustang moves with authority when given some spur and allowed to rev.

Tip into the Duratec V6 and it whirls up to about 4,000 rpm gracefully if not forcefully. It's only past 4,000 rpm, when the variable valve timing opens things up, that the engine seems to bare its teeth and make some real power.

Shifting Gears
With the manual transmission, it's relatively easy and a lot of fun to stay in the meat of the power band. The engine will obligingly romp at redline all day, but it won't be getting 30 mpg while it's doing that.

The automatic transmission is apparently programmed to exploit every nook and cranny of the EPA driving regimen. In fact, the automatic is so optimized for economy that the 31 mpg figure Ford will be touting is achieved with it and not the manual transmission.

At part throttle the automatic transmission will shift unobtrusively until the moment it can skip a couple of gears and cruise into the deep overdrive of 5th or 6th gear. Even at relatively low, around-town speeds, the transmission wants to run in overdrive. It's a testament to the new V6's personality that it deals with the automatic's determination to run in the highest gear possible without misbehaving.

There's no trigger-shifting scheme available with the Mustang's automatic, but the conventional shifter on the center console works fine. Keep the shift lever in the lower gears and the V6 will happily rev up to the thick part of its power band. It's almost as much fun as the manual. Almost.

How quick is it? Our experienced guesstimate would be a 0-60 time around 6 seconds for the manual coupe, with the quarter-mile going by in the mid-14s.

Exterior changes are minimal. There's a revised front fascia with a new splitter under its chin, new headlamps and a dual exhaust out back. To casual observers, the 2010 and 2011 models are interchangeable.

The base Mustang V6 automatic wears relatively narrow, low-rolling-resistance 215/65R17 Michelin A/S Energy Saver tires on silver-painted aluminum wheels to max out the mileage numbers. They'll do great in the rental fleets.

Standard on the manual-transmission machine are 225/60R17 BFGoodrich Radial T/As. Three different 18-inch wheel designs are also offered and they're all inside 235/50R18 Pirelli P Zeros.

There's a new electric power steering system, which isn't the most communicative around, but it isn't bad either. And Ford has revised the suspension tuning, which is now better than it was, but it's not quite right either. Hit a road divot and there's some initial impact harshness transmitted through the car's structure and the solid rear end still doesn't settle back down like an independent system. It all feels OK around town, but the front suspension can get a bit floaty when you start pressing.

Anyone with hanging fruit should opt for the new "V6 Performance Package" (which essentially results in a V6-powered Mustang GT) and the wheels grow to 19-inchers wearing 255/40R19 Pirelli P Zeros. It feels and handles the best.

Modern Classic
There's more power than ever in the 2011 Mustang V6, but this thoroughly and thoughtfully tweaked Mustang is still a Mustang. Under its voluptuous sheet metal are all the simple virtues that have kept the Mustang successful for 46 years. The recipe remains the same, but the ingredients have just gotten a whole lot better.

And Ford is holding steady on the price. The base V6 coupe starts at just about $23,000. So there's no reason to rush down and scoop up a 2010. If you're shopping for a Mustang V6, wait until April and buy a 2011. Did we mention it has 305 hp and gets 31 mpg?

Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.

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