- The Washington Times - Friday, December 24, 2004

The word “icon” gets bandied about a lot when writers describe a new entry into the automobile market, in many cases with much exaggeration.

However, it can be easily applied to the new-generation Mustang to describe this historically significant automobile.

In 1964, when it was introduced, the simple little two-door car started a new category of vehicle, the “pony car.” Inspiration for the Mustang name came from the World War II P-51 fighter plane. But the horse analogy is just too strong to ignore. After all, there was and always has been a pony running at full gallop across every Mustang grille. The new car is no exception.

The new 2005 Mustang is a better performer in all areas. This Mustang accelerates better and handles better, and the looks stir up more memories than a hypnotist.

Ford did its homework, giving the Mustang an attitude that hits right at the emotions. It is as if the designers fed the body design of the 1967 Mustang GT into a computer with a command to morph that car into the future. That is the modern-yet-vintage appeal found here.

The strong angles from front to rear, which gave that earlier model its aggressive stance, are not-so-subtly seen here. It is what gives this car its character.

The melding of new and old has made the new Mustang a vehicle people want. Even before it hits the showroom, people have put their money down on order forms.

Covering its bases, Ford has made two versions available. As the first cars roll out, buyers have a choice of a base V-6-powered model or a more powerful V-8 in the GT.

You might think that most people will be drawn to the V-8 model, and in the enthusiasts’ world, you would be right. But we also live in a more practical world where economics often rules our decisions. This is where the V-6 model will play a big role in keeping the Mustang alive.

With this model, you get all the style and image, coupled with better fuel economy and pretty good performance. The V-6 engine produces a not-too-shabby 210 horsepower and 240 foot-pounds of torque.

On the other side of the equation is the wonderful guttural growl of the 300-horsepower V-8 that just can not be replaced. Ford engineers did an excellent job of combining that fantastic growl with keeping it in check at highway speeds.

At speed, the Mustang is quiet and comfortable. But it is at the lower speed range where the senses are delighted. Shifting up through first, second and into third gear, the throaty V-8 plays its music.

Two transmission types are available on both the base and GT models. The standard transmission is a 5-speed manual that offers the feel of shifting for yourself.

The involvement heightens the driving experience. But sometimes that involvement is too much work for some, so a smooth 5-speed automatic is also available.

According to Ford, it continues to use a solid live axle at the rear suspension because it is what owners expect and it gives the Mustang the quality drive buyers want. Bottom line: This is a system that works, so why mess with success? Besides, it is relatively inexpensive to manufacture, so it helps Ford keep the price of an entry-level Mustang in the $20,000 range.

Sliding behind the steering wheel, you wonder at its contemporary execution of a vintage theme. In front of you sits an instrument pod that is anchored at each side by a large chrome-ringed gauge. Smaller gauges sitting between are set deeper into the dash. Moving into the 21st century, the instruments can be lit with 125 color combinations. The interior is a combination of classic and modern design.

Combining old and new design isn’t revolutionary; many have accomplished such a feat. However, the Mustang’s design, which combines such a strong element of classic lines with a modern flare, is sure to bring new enthusiasm for a vehicle that evokes much emotion for many people.

For most, it touches a nerve deep in our memory that excites and enlivens us in a troubled time.

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