Vehicle: 2010 Ford Mustang GT Coupe Premium

Price-as-tested: $35,470

Major equipment: 4.6L 3V OHC V8 engine, 5-speed manual transmission, Premium trim package ($395 option), 19″ wheels ($1,095 option), Safety Package ($395 option), Comfort group ($595 option), Glass roof ($1,995 option)

In the fleet: 1/29/2009 – 2/5/2009

Approximate mileage driven: 430

Birthdays. I celebrated my twenty-first by drinking until I fell over, and my insurance company celebrated my twenty-fifth by cutting my rate a few bucks — but I haven’t felt much like celebrating my thirtieth, which happened this past month. Still, the past twenty-nine years haven’t been short of good (or bad) times, particularly with regards to cars. On nearly any given day of the week during my high school years, I spent at least a couple of hours a day wrenching on cars with my friends. One friend had a beautiful red ’68 Mustang with a 351 Windsor engine and the transmission out of a ’91 Mustang LX 5.0 in it. Another had a ’69 Mach One, complete with shaker hood and the original 3-speed manual transmission. Somewhere between the time spent under those hoods and the nights running down the Houston freeways, I became a real Mustang fan.

When I left high school, I put away my wrenches, went to work, and started appreciating other aspects of performance automobiles: finely finished interiors, refined styling, handling. The Mustangs of the time never embodied any of these qualities, so I could never convince myself to buy one. Though Ford made great strides in performance and quality with the 2005-2009 S197 Mustangs, I still felt there was room for improvement. The dashboards were still made of plastics that resembled my kitchen cutting boards, and the handling remained sloppy at best when corners were thrown into the mix. Even with those flaws, however, the S197 gave me some hope that there might someday be another Mustang to capture my heart the way the old cars did. Perhaps it was divine intervention that a 2010 Mustang GT was to be delivered to me for evaluation the week of my 30th birthday, because if there was ever a pony car to rekindle an old flame, this is the one.

At first glance, the 2010 Mustang GT might appear to be nothing more than a slight design refresh of the S197, but a closer examination tells the truth: these are big changes. On the outside, the styling of the 2010 Mustang GT has been substantially updated, sharing only the roof panel with the 2009 model. The new headlamps, which feature integrated turn indicators, hearken back to the Mustang of the early 70’s, while a redrawn rear quarter-panel and fender line pays tribute to the 1969 Mustang Fastback that I so loved. All this is topped off by a new “Power Dome” hood that gives the 2010 Mustang a much more muscular look than its predecessor. This new beauty isn’t just skin deep, with Ford citing a seven percent reduction in drag, and a 23 percent reduction of front end lift from the updated sheetmetal.

On the inside, nearly every bit of the Mustang’s interior has been reworked, with the only carry-over being the door cards and other very minor pieces of trim. The rental grade two-piece dashboard and center stack is gone, replaced with a very clean looking one-piece dashboard and instrument panel complete with new HVAC vents and an updated gauge cluster. All the hard plastics of the dashboard and center console have been replaced with high grade soft touch materials. Center stack controls feature the high quality HVAC and radio controls that have made their appearance on other recently updated Ford products, and are very easy to use.

NVH is way down from the S197, thanks to strategic additions of sound padding and revised window seals. It’s so quiet that ford actually pumps engine sounds into the cabin by way of a “loud-tube”, similar to the arrangement in the BMW Z4. This loud-tube connects the intake to the firewall and delivers the smooth sounds of the Mustang’s V8 to the occupants while keeping annoying road noise out.

Though I didn’t care for the bright red leather seats or steering wheel of our test car, I really did enjoy the glass roof option. The glass roof covers nearly the entire passenger seating area, and really adds a nice touch to the already high class interior. Maintenance is not going to be a hassle, either-if you just buy distilled water and a suitable cleaning solution, that should be enough to clean on your own. Otherwise, you can always rely on experts at the car shop to do it for you! Ford says this glass roof panel only adds 24 pounds to the weight of the Mustang, but at $1,995 it becomes an expensive alternative to a traditional sunroof. If you aren’t a convertible kind of person but love natural light, this is a great compromise.

Once out on the road, I immediately noticed significant improvements to the Mustang’s ride and handling. For 2010, Ford has updated the suspension on the Mustang with firmer springs, larger stabilizer bars, and recalibrated shock absorbers. Ford has also added a strut tower bar for models equipped with the optional 19″ wheel and tire package to increase chassis stiffness.

These improvements result in a far more neutral handling car than the old model, and significantly less body roll. Even though our test car was equipped with all-season Pirelli performance tires, the car seemed to have much more pavement bite than the old car with ultra high performance summer tires.

Ford’s AdvanceTrac stability control is now standard, and offers a sport mode that allows you a bit more freedom to kick the tail out. Because our tester was not equipped with the optional TrackPack, there was no way to defeat the electronic nanny completely.

About the only area where Ford really hasn’t done much to improve the 2010 Mustang is under the hood. The 4.6L V8 is pretty much a direct carryover from the previous car, with the exception of a cold-air intake setup and a heaver crank damper that increases the redline by 250 RPM; both of which were borrowed from the 2009 Bullitt Mustang. The result is a very mild power increase of 15 horsepower to 315. Peak torque has been increased by 5 lb-ft to 325, but isn’t found until a rather lofty 4,250 RPM.

As with the old car, the 2010 Mustang certainly has enough power to get the job done, but rather ironically, the chassis is ahead of the engine. The competition is ahead (the Challenger R/T has 375-plus horsepower, and the Camaro 2SS is expected to clear 400), so I have to wonder what Ford has up their sleeves. Another 50 or so horsepower would make the Mustang damn near perfect. There might be hope just over the horizon though, as rumors of the return of a 5.0 liter V8 in the Mustang are spreading through the enthusiast community like wildfire. Ford has denied all rumors of the new engine, but common sense says that Ford isn’t going to let their iconic car get overshadowed by the upcoming Camaro.

By spending money where it counts, Ford has massaged an aging platform into a true performer. Ford has also given interior-quality fetishists that much less to complain about by updating the Mustang’s interior to be a contender for best in class. All things considered, the 2010 Mustang GT is a vast improvement over the outgoing model, and really needs more than a casual glance to appreciate all the changes.

I absolutely loved everything about the Mustang, and driving it reminded me what it was like to feel young and invincible again. This is THE Mustang that has made me fall in love with the brand all over again. Sure cars like the R8 and Viper are a blast to drive, but they are fantasy cars to me. The new Mustang is a dream car that is easily within reach to me and most Americans. That said, a new Mustang is certainly in my future when it comes time to add a garage mate to my Audi TT sometime in 2010. Not only can I not wait to drive one again, I can’t wait to finally own one.

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Zerin Dube

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