There are very few special cars – fun cars, exciting cars – that most of us can afford.
Sure, there are Ferraris and BMWs, and even Chevrolet’s Corvette. But only Ford’s Mustang has a working man’s starting price.
An entry-level V6-powered Mustang Coupe starts at $22,145, about half an average working Joe’s annual salary. And this car looks great and drives great, and its upgraded V6 delivers 305 horsepower.
For 2011, Ford tweaked the Mustang’s retro styling yet again, giving the car a bit crisper lines and a slightly more aggressive snout. My test car was the V6 Coupe Premium, a little more upscale model from that base, but both carry the strong new 3.7-liter V6. And even this one starts at a tolerable $25,845.
Plus, the V6 gets reasonable gas mileage. I managed nearly 24 mpg while the EPA rates it at 19 mpg city and 29 highway. Compare that to your macho SUV – or even some boring family sedans – and you’ll come away happy.
I had driven the much more upscale GT version in convertible trim earlier in the summer and was wowed by its power (412 hp), handling and ride. So I was concerned that I’d be disappointed by the less powerful, less tricked out V6 test car.
The V6 Premium test car, a gorgeous dark metallic blue, looks and feels like a much more sophisticated racer than its price would indicate. Some of that comes from a $1,995 performance package (GT suspension and bigger brakes, plus 19-inch alloy wheels and tires along with a strut tower brace) and 3.31 ratio rear axle ($395). But even with those added, the car’s a bargain.
Light, quick, sporty
The V6 is strong and gives the coupe a lot of squirt off the line. The coupe feels quick, thanks to weighing only 3,750 pounds to deliver a low power-to-weight ratio of 12.3. While I prefer the growl of the V8, this powerful V6 will do just fine for most of us. It has a racy exhaust tone, too, just not as deep and sexy as the V8.
Clutch engagement is incredibly quick with the car’s six-speed manual transmission. But I found the shifting here much notchier, especially in the low gears, than it had been in the V8. Not a deal breaker, but if you have any hesitation about going the manual route, an automatic might be your better option.
Handling, as in the V8, is superb. The car clips off corners with precision and the wheel delivers a sporty feel without being too heavy. Pirelli ZR 19 performance tires (part of that performance package) provide excellent grip but also allow the car to deliver a good ride. Some sport coupes feel too harsh on city streets. The Mustang’s ride with the GT suspension is firm, but fairly well cushioned.
There’s independent front suspension to help with the handling and ride, but a live rear axle, which has been on the bouncy side. Ford’s engineers seem to have discovered how to tame that, though, as the back-end feels well planted and well sprung too. Anti-roll bars front and rear also help ride and handling here.
Braking is top notch, with Ford’s performance package providing vented front and rear disc brakes, along with ABS and traction control.
Inside, the Premium coupe upgrades to leather seats and adds a more stylish and youthful brushed metal trim to the dash’s face. I love the look, along with the saddle brown leather seats with its contrasting stitching. The cushions are perforated leather to provide cooler summer seating.
The seats are well contoured and comfortable, with particularly good back side bolsters. The Premium includes a power driver’s seat, including lumbar support. But the seat back angle is manually adjusted. Both front seats are heated.
Head and legroom are good up front, but the back seat space is limited. A couple of pre-teens will fit in back or, for a short time, a moderate sized adult could ride there. My only comfort complaint is that the stereo speaker sticks out of the door trim a bit too far and can make it hard to get your feet out of the car when you’re in a tight spot and can’t open the door wide enough.
I like the Mustang’s gauges, with two big round ones doing the heavy lifting and the fuel, trip computer and others in the middle. The bigger gauges glow blue at night and feature silver backing and black numbers that are easy to read during the day.
Trip computer buttons are on the dash’s left side and the 10-button Shaker radio is easy to use. The Premium model comes with the Sync system that lets you call up your favorite tunes via a verbal command. The three-spoke steering wheel includes radio and cruise control buttons on the hub.
I also like the generous 13-cubic-foot trunk.
You’ll have a hard time finding a sporty car, or sports car, at this price point with this kind of handling, power and awesome looks. The Premium Coupe, with the performance package and its racy blackened chrome wheels, is a looker and an economical performer, too.
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