- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 30, 2005

Can taking a couple of steps backward really help improve a vehicle’s popularity and move it ahead of the competition a notch or two?

In the case of Ford’s Mustang GT, the answer is a resounding yes.

OK, taking a couple of steps backward may not be in the proper context — the styling is retrospective, which is technically a reflection of the past, but in this instance modern design touches are applied advantageously. Additionally, returning to a 1960s-era live rear-axle setup smacks more of a production cost-cutting initiative than a retro action — besides, it works.

The new Mustang GT is based on what essentially began life as a Lincoln LS platform with a wheelbase that’s been lengthened 6 inches, a much-needed move to modernize the chassis. The live rear axle is strong enough to work well behind the 300-horsepower V-8, and yet is sufficiently cost effective to allow its placement in the V-6-powered base-model Mustang, with a price in the $20,000 range.

The Mustang GT displays a blend of styling cues inherent over the pony car’s 40-year history. Features such as the signature long hood, short deck, side C-scoops, bold three-element taillamps and galloping Mustang emblem centered in the grille are all freshened to harmonize with the balance of the updated but traditional design execution.

The car appears to be in motion even when parked with its forward-raked stance. The graphite-finished American-style alloy wheels have been pushed out to all four corners, improving not only the look, but stability as well. The sharklike nose sports jeweled round headlamps in trapezoidal housings that flank the black, honeycomb mesh grille with integrated fog lamps. The pronounced wheel-well arches and rear quarter windows harken back to earlier Mustang models.

Inside the roomier interior, seats are more supportive, in keeping with the car’s enhanced performance capability. Gauges reside in deeply tunneled housings with an available industry-first, color-configurable instrument panel that allows the driver to create more than 125 different-colored backgrounds to suit mood or fancy. The color enhancements contrast nicely with the optional aluminum panels that traverse the dash.

Power comes from either a 4.0-liter SOHC V-6 for the base model GT that puts out 210 horsepower and 240 foot-pounds of torque, or a more potent 4.6-liter SOHC V-8 that cranks out a healthy 300 horsepower and 320 foot-pounds of torque. The engines mate to either a five-speed manual gearbox, or a five-speed automatic transmission.

The test Mustang GT was a GT Coupe in Premium trim with the V-8 and five-speed manual tranny. It had a base price of $25,705. Options, along with destination and delivery charges, bumped the sticker to a still quite reasonable $27,200. This is a bargain folks, considering the content and fun factor.

The Mustang GT is heavier than before, but it should be as it has a lot more to offer in terms not only of performance, but interior volume as well. It looks better too, while still offering a hint of nostalgia.

Acceleration is more than adequate — it’s exhilarating. The V-8-powered GT will scoot from 0 to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds, provided one doesn’t pre-rev the engine and then dump the clutch — in which case the rear Pirelli P-Zero Neros will light up, enveloping the atmosphere in a cloud of white smoke, while the car fishtails delightfully off the line, streaking the pavement with telltale black stripes.

Handling characteristics are vastly improved but there is still a certain lovable “crudity” that, ironically, is tastefully in keeping with earlier models. I felt that the suspension could have been a little firmer to eliminate some bump steer in severe corners with rough, uneven surfaces, but hey, would Steve McQueen complain?

The car is comfortable to ride in and great fun to drive, drawing admiring looks and thumbs-up wherever you go.

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