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The 2005 Mustang - Back to the Future?
    Managing Editor

Since it's introduction in mid-1964, the Ford Mustang has symbolized the traditional American Muscle Car. Few cars have enjoyed such iconic status as the Mustang, and it is certainly well deserved. When any nameplate of any brand endures 40 years of use, yet seems fresh and modern enough in today's market, it's an accomplishment within itself. When it was introduced, the Mustang was aimed at the female market, as it was touted to be "the working woman's car". Obviously that original designation changed quickly, and the Mustang's reputation has become one of raw, unabated V8 Americana. At 40 years young, the Mustang nameplate has outlasted most of its competitors. Past perennial rivals - the Chevy Camaro and its mechanical twin, the Pontiac Firebird - have since gone the way of the dodo bird. Other competitors have come and gone, and with the Corvette and new Pontiac GTO aimed squarely at the Luxury GT market with price tags north of $30k, the Mustang takes on the burden of being the only affordable American V8 muscle car in the industry. Befitting, considering it's the original "Pony Car".

The Mustang enjoyed very few evolutions throughout the years. It started out as front-engine, rear wheel drive chassis with a simple, reliable solid rear axle - and not much has changed since. In fact, the outgoing car shares much (too much) with it's 1979 Fox origins, which was the last time the Mustang enjoyed a full, fresh redesign. In short, it was way overdue for an overhaul. When the 2005 redesign of America's original Pony Car was announced, one of the largest questions that loomed in people's was whether Ford would switch all Mustangs over to an independent rear suspension or keep the solid rear axle that the Mustang built it's legacy on. Traditionalists and economists smiled when Ford said it was keeping the solid rear axle because of it's low cost, ease of replacement, and the fact it would keep with the Mustang's tradition. Straight-line enthusiasts were ecstatic as well, because of the effectiveness of the solid rear axle at the drag strip - which is where many a Mustang has found and proved itself. So far, the only Mustang models to do away with the solid rear axle are the SVT Cobra versions, which had an independent rear suspension installed because of the improved handling in corners it provided over the solid axle. Overall, nothing has really changed for 2005 in terms of the overall mechanical layout. In fact, the 2005 Mustang is a showcase of a lot of old and a few, but very important, new features. Let's take a look.

Apparent from the outset is the 2005 Mustang's exterior and interior styling. With many cars doing the retro thing nowadays, it's not much of a surprise. However, what is rare is that the Mustang pulls it off well. Looking like it just drove out of 1968, this new Mustang - complete with round headlights and triple sectioned taillights - harkens back to America's automotive golden age. Which is perhaps why, psychologically, it's style resonates with the majority of critics and the buying public alike. It reminds people of times when Detroit was the innovator and not the follower. Bold, angular and engaging are key descriptors here, the perfect attributes for a car in the Mustang's market. I commend J. Mays for his design work on this vehicle; it is truly one design that was put together well. It might even make people forgive him for his Thunderbird tragedy a few years ago.

As for what is new on the exterior, when viewed at the 2004 New York International Auto Show, it seemed as though panel fitment was better, allowed by Ford's claimed 31% increase in body stiffness. Also, there is a new third window in the C-pillar that is supposed to cure the previous coupe's blind spot. While the styling is patterned after Mustangs of yore, you can see that it's not completely faithful, as previous sharp edges have been softened and dulled to modernize the appearance somewhat. This is not a bad thing however, as it allows the Mustang to keep one foot in the modern era without being the neo-retro abstract art mess that befalls some vehicles (cough - Thunderbird - cough). Other than that, it's still good ol' stamped sheet metal - just like the original.

The interior has retro cues as well. For one, the gauge cluster has an equal sized tach and speedometer, and each is garnished with numbers in a classic Mustang font. The front bucket seats are adorned with classic ribbed upholstery that has also seen recent use in the 2003 Mustang Mach 1 model. The interior is finished off with chromed accents such as gauge rings and vent surroundings that are reminiscent of flashy past models yet don't look out of place today. Beyond that, the center stack and console are actually pretty modern pieces, but they don't clash with the aforementioned retro cues at all. In fact, the new layout looks very attractive and harmonious when compared to the previous generation's layout.

What's new here is Ford's attention to detail and fit and finish. New, higher quality materials give this Mustang a much different feeling than the last generation. Gone are the cheap, shiny plastics that were starting to characterize Ford's - and most of the domestic markets - product line. This alone was enough of a change to warrant applause from this writer, as this has been the bane of so many domestic cars when they were inevitably compared to their Japanese counterparts. A domestic car's argument fell short when you talked about the interior quality, only to be saved by huge incentives. Though, it seems as if Ford is on the way to really, sincerely, making "Quality Job One". The new Mustang is also a showcase of standard - if not expected - features for this class. Power locks, windows, mirrors, and cruise control top the list. There are still many options, though, and this includes the consumer's choice of three different stereo units. On one end there is a standard 80 Watt CD stereo and the other end gives you the aptly named 1000 Watt "Shaker Audiophile" system. Similar to the current "Mach 1000" system, the shaker system will do just what it was designed to do - pummel you and any unfortunate passengers with stomach-churning bass. Besides exhibiting raw power, the new interior shows some thoughtful innovations. One example is the instrument panel backlit with LEDs. So what?, you say, many cars have that now. Well, the Mustang allows you to customize the background colors at will, utilizing multi-color LEDs. Ford claims that over 125 different colors are possible, allowing the consumer to effectively "display" their current mood, or just to simply match the color of their socks. While a unique novelty, it seems a bit out of place in this car, but I'm sure it's fun to play with!

Motivational Force
Isn't this what the Mustang is all about? High horsepower, and tire shredding torque? The capability to throw your passenger in the back of their seat with just a flick of your right foot? Of course it is! That is why all engines get a power boost for '05. The bread and butter V6 model gets a new 4.0L SOHC V6 to replace the aging corporate push rod 3.8L engine. This new V6 produces 202HP and 235 ft/lbs of torque which results in gains of 9HP and 10 ft/lbs over the outgoing unit. While those are respectable base numbers by themselves, when you compare them to the numbers produced by Japanese and even other American V6's (Chrysler's 3.5L for example), they seem kind of weak. In my opinion, the V6 should have been moved closer to the 240-250HP mark. That would have at least let you give that Accord V6 in the other lane a knowing grin. The big improvement is with the new version of the familiar 4.6L SOHC V8 in the GT model, which is now bumping out 300HP and 315 ft/lbs of torque, gains of a whopping 40HP and a meaningful 13 ft/lbs of torque. This means that the kind of horsepower previously only accessible to the few lucky Mach 1 owners is now for everybody checking off the V8 box on the options sheet. With the most available HP for a non-SVT Mustang in a while, it is even more glaringly obvious that ABS and traction control are not standard issue in this car. It's a little disappointing to not see them included on the Mustang. In my opinion, traction control (albeit, one you can turn off at will) should at least be standard on such a high-horsepower, rear wheel drive car. Of course, Ford did this as a cost savings measure, but it's still odd to not have them standard in such a safety-conscious market.

ABS might not be standard, but four-wheel disc brakes are on both V6 and GT models, and the rear discs are even vented to help prevent fade. The GT gets much larger front discs (12.4 vs. 11.4 inches) to handle the extra speed supplied by the additional almost 100HP, but both the V6 and GT models get twin piston front calipers.

To put the power to the ground, you can row your own using the 5-speed Tremec manual transmission or let a computer handle the duties with the available 5-speed automatic transmission, which is a Mustang first. This automatic is the same unit used on the Lincoln LS, and the extra cog in the transmission endows the Mustang with improved fuel economy and a wider range of gear ratios to aid in fast acceleration. Ford claims an improved shift quality over last year's model for the 5-speed manual, along with a boosted hydraulic clutch to ease clutch engagement. This is a welcome improvement, as previous Mustangs were not up to par in this department.

The Final Review
Ford has pulled off something big here. They managed to totally redesign a cornerstone of their product line-up without screwing it up. The key, in my opinion, is the styling. The Mustang's styling doesn't leave you guessing which cues are modern and which are reheated versions of something that Ford may or may not have offered in the past. You can clearly see where the bloodline runs, and there are no cheap attempts to add classic features onto a modern body (like the "shaker" hood scoop on the Mach 1). In fact, the '05 Mustang does something else remarkable. The new design manages to look nothing like the previous generation, while instantly being recognized as a Mustang - even to people who were not alive in the 60's. Though this might not seem that remarkable to many people, considering the universal fame and attention enjoyed by classic Mustangs, it's still amazing how well the majority of the 60's design cues have transferred into a new car for the 21st century without too much bastardization by J. Mays. The 2005 Mustang finds itself in a very peculiar, if not desirable position coming to market. It pretty much has no real competition in its price range for V8 powered, rear wheel drive sports cars. Phil Martens, Ford's VP of Product Creation, put it best when he said the 2005 Ford Mustang GT is "the most accessible 300 HP on the market." He is most certainly correct, considering the target price for the '05 GT is around $25,000. If this new Mustang lives up to all the fanfare it has created, Billy Ford will most definitely have a runaway hit on his hands. One final message for Billy: Don't let it runaway for 25 years before it gets it's next redesign!


Great, If You Like Mediocre


I know I'm asking for it here. Mustang fans are like Apple fans, they will attack anything that approaches a negative comment about their beloved car. Look, the new Mustang is far superior to the car it replaces. Is that really saying anything, though? The last Mustang handled pathetically. Yes, pathetically. My old Corolla handled better, and I'm not joking or being smug here at all. A drunk fat man rolling down a hill was the best way to describe the Mustang. It did well on the drag strip precisely because there's not an ounce of handling or driver skill involved there. You just need great tires and a lot of torque. It was ok in both respects. The thing to blame, aside from 25 year old front suspension geometry technology, was the damn live rear axle. I understand staying true to your fans, but Saab ditched the hatch only to see sales of the 93 soar. Sometimes, progress ain't such a bad thing.

To me, the new Mustang looks good, but the interior is very retro. Sorry, Tim, I can't agree with your point about modern aspects. The only modern thing is the dash coloring options. That's grossly out of place here at first glance, but when you look at most Mustang drivers, they don't look so dissimilar from most Scion drivers, and Scion sells a lot of interior lighting kits through their dealers. My only complaint with the cars looks, which I really do like overall (save for the retro interior, which, luckily, solves most of the ergonomic issues of the old car, like not being able to use the CD player when the car was in park without wrenching your wrist) is the little windows in the C-pillars. Their shape does not seem to fit the shape of the car. The show car lacked these windows and looked much better. I think they should really take the exact shape of the C-pillar, only be smaller. Why are they rounded at the corners, and at a different rate than the pillar? Just poor design.

But, none of my thoughts matter here. I would never buy a Mustang in a million years. No, the opinion that Ford should concern itself with is that of Mustangphiles and those on the fence. Or, luckily for Ford, the throngs of F-body (Camaro and Thunderbird) owners who have nothing to buy unless they want to ante up for a GTO, which is a disappointing car in many respects except sheer tire spinning power. Ford will win big with this Mustang, just like the past ones. It's better than the old Mustang, but that means nothing to me, and,I think, many other people.