by Byron Hurd. Photos courtesy of Ford Motor Company.
Price as tested: $28,480 (Incl. $850 destination charge).
Major equipment: Premium trim level (Base price: $26,845), 6-Speed Automatic Transmission ($995), 3.31 Rear Axle Ratio ($395), Security Package ($395).
In the fleet: May 2010
~300 horsepower. ~3500lbs. High 13s in the 1/4 mile. Sound familiar? They probably did to the Z28 owner sitting next to me at the stop light.
What didn’t sound familiar to my newfound neighbor was the bark of the 3.7L VVT Duratec V6 coming from a chromed dual exhaust treatment. While a 2011 Mustang V6 is virtually indistinguishable from a 2010 from the front (a view I saw him evaluating in his side-view mirror as I rolled to a stop in the left lane), the rear end gives the only two reliable hints as to what rests between the front strut towers.
And what lay there gave my fourth-gen friend quite a scare.
In front of us, our three-lane surface street narrowed into a two-lane, limited-access highway. It was me, the Z, and some anonymous import to his right. Three cars. Two lanes. One sick game of musical chairs.
When the light turned green, the tachs turned red; our import companion quickly removed himself from the equation as two American motoring icons reared back on their live axles and tore after the fast-approaching merge zone in a shameless display of society-shattering, testosterone-fueled misbehavior.
And then a funny thing happened. Deep in the revs in second gear, I glanced over at the Camaro. I had gained a full door length on him and was inching further ahead. As I popped the selector forward into 3rd, I had nearly a half a car length of progress and no sign of slowing. Wow. This is a V6 Mustang…
But with the merge only yards away and no possibility at all of clearing the Camaro in the front, I backed off the throttle and motioned toward the Camaro driver to go on ahead. I don’t live my life 1/4 mile at a time; I just wanted to see what this thing could do. I wasn’t about to eat a curb or collect the front end of an F-Body just in the name of competition.
But my gesture was never met. I glanced over as I eased on the brakes, trying to make sure he knew I wasn’t going to move over on him. And there he was, his gaze fixed forward and his jaw set. It wasn’t quite determination; it was something else… something a bit darker. I hauled it down a bit more and tucked in behind him, and then moved over to the right lane as the merge lines ended. He kept on, his foot still pinned somewhere close to the floorboard. He was out of sight before my exit popped up not even a mile down the highway.
I’m not normally one for stoplight shenanigans, but in this case, my week with the car was drawing to a close and I needed to give our Mustang tester a chance at redemption. Why redemption, you ask? Well, for all its features and improvements, the 2011 V6 was still by far the most frustrating vehicle I’ve ever tested.
If you’re expecting me to drop a huge bomb on Ford’s PR parade here, fear not. There’s a caveat. As you can see from the above equipment list, our Mustang sported Ford’s new 6-speed automatic transmission. Only there’s nothing “sport” about it. Make no mistake, this transmission will probably do exactly what Ford promises it will–deliver all 31 of those emm-pee-gees. But will you enjoy it along the way? Unlikely. It’s quick to upshift and hellaciously slow to downshift. Need to pass? Do yourself a favor and drop it into 3rd gear manually. Otherwise, you’ll need to plan your pass at least two or three seconds sooner than you otherwise would have. Maddening.
What’s really puzzling about this however is the complete absence of anything resembling a sport mode. The gear selector is adorned with the standard straight-line arrangement: PRND321. No “S.” No “M.” No paddles. Nothing. For anybody who has driven a new Taurus or Fusion, this may seem odd. Both offer some form of manual-mode shifting even on their mid-trim models. No such luck with the V6 Mustang, even with the order sheet inked up like a business major’s English 101 final. After days of exasperation over this missing feature, I stumbled upon the hill descent control function, which did help the car hold gears longer, but only on deceleration. My quest for the Mustang’s hidden hoon mode yielded nothing.
But for all the frustration conjured by the gearbox, the car does have moments (like the one described above) in which our dreams of budget-level Mustang tomfoolery come true. It can be fast. Hell, it can be very fast. Others have accused the rev-happy Duratec of being a bit down on grunt. Quite frankly, they’re high. Yes, the V6 is geared for fuel economy no matter which transmission you choose, but if you plant your foot from a standstill, the 3.7L will make the rear tires scratch madly at the pavement for traction.
And speaking of tires, well, yes, the standard, economy-geared, 17″ Michelin all-seasons are a disaster. Sure, it’s neat to spin them mercilessly through the first three gears, but the scratching, shuffling, rustling noise of hockey-puck-hard compound on asphalt is not the stuff of muscle car legend. It’s not unlike the spectacle of a cat trying to corner too briskly on a hardwood floor; it would be entertaining if it weren’t so pathetic. Oh, and while you’re at it, go easy on that brisk cornering, too. Hard braking and quick turn-in with the nannies off will loosen the rear end sooner rather than later. Trail braking will reward you with a 100-level course in controlling oversteer, and unlike your manic tabby, Mustangs don’t have nine lives.
But to be fair to the car, the standard 17″ wheels are just that–standard. Ford offers several plus-size options, both in packages and a-la-carte. Same deal with the transmission. Hell, when you configure a Mustang online, you have to pick a gearbox before they even let you play around with anything else. Choose the manual and 3.31 limited-slip rear end and then find the best summer tire option you can, or even have the dealer swap out some GT rubber before delivery. Problems solved.
Performance aside, the new car is just the 2010 model dialed up (forgive me) to 11. The interior is still covered in bright aluminized trim and squishy plastics. SYNC is still great, though we did encounter some bugs in our car when trying to synchronize phones with the Bluetooth system. We had no issues in our 2010 Taurus tester (same non-Nav SYNC package) just a week before using the same phones, so I imagine it was a software version issue has likely already been fixed in production versions.
And as with the GT, the V6 car retains the 2010’s improved ride and handling. While its size and heft add to the sensation of body roll in corners, the car never feels upset, and you don’t get that sensation that something’s loose in the rear end over bumps like you do in some softly-sprung live axle trucks. The car is simultaneously buttoned down and immensely comfortable. Either engine option brings excellent daily drivability to the table, especially with the standard 17″ wheel package. As I pointed out before though, don’t expect to run stock rubber through the cones or down the strip if you want to be quick.
So is it an enthusiast car or a secretary special? That’s entirely up to you. The trade-offs necessary to please the EPA (and a few buyers wallets’) are unpleasant, but they’re known quantities. Just consider them a couple of extra incentives for optioning the 6-Speed manual, 3.31 limited-slip rear end and a +1 wheel package with summer rubber. Not that you really needed more excuses anyway, right?
Ford provided the Mustang for our misbehavior. No Camaros were harmed during the production of this article.