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Driving impressions of the 2005 production Mustang

After forty years of solid sales with only the occasional glitch – the Pinto-based, unloved Mustang II perhaps - the Blue Oval brigade has pushed the nostalgia boat out with the launch of the eagerly awaited 2005 version of the Ford Mustang, - arguably the strongest name and image of any Ford product on both sides of the Atlantic.

Sensational Mustang concept has watered down production appeal...

The concept version of the 2005 Mustang was inspirational – low, sleek, undeniably aggressive but wrapped in a retro theme that had jaws dropping. Pass it on for mass production and the concept has been watered down somewhat to a point where the finished vehicle is more luke warm. However, the car still contains elements of retro-chic and indications suggest the 2005 Mustang will be embraced with open arms in its native US, when it goes on sale this month.

It’s been more than a quarter-century since the iconic pony car had a full makeover, and the 2005 version is completely new inside and out. Brand new sheet metal capably blends retro styling – the stern fastback profile is reminiscent of the ’67-68 model, the side C-scoops are familiar distinguishing points of the same era, the nose angle is a definite reincarnation of the ’69-’70 variants and the three-element tail lamps couldn’t be anything but classic Mustang – with modern execution.

.......and it's the same story at the rear

The Flat Rock, Michigan-built new Mustang has a six-inch longer wheelbase than its predecessor - by pushing out the wheels closer to the front and rear bodywork – and thus the car’s cabin offers increased interior space, though, surprisingly, rear passenger interior space remains a joke as before.

The interior theme mirrors the exterior with retro style instrumentation and brightwork. A prominent pair of deep-dish, double-barrel chrome-rimmed gauges hark back to the muscle car era and feature the industry’s first colour-configurable mix and match instrument backlighting at the touch of a button. The satin aluminium three-spoke, leather-wrapped wheel adds a further retro feel along with pleated seats and other detail touches. Unlike the original Mustang, you sit in hip-hugging and comfortable deep bucket seats rather than on them. Rear occupants of any age under 10 will probably find the individually sculptured back seats comfortable, but for all others space is severely restricted – as with the original and last generation Mustangs.

On the road The GT version (the car is obtainable in V-6 Deluxe and Premium guise, the same variants being available in a duo of GT V-8 packages) made available for a test drive, offers factory performance figures of 300bhp @ 5750rpm and 320 lb.ft torque @ 4500rpm from a 4.6-litre, SOHC, 3-valves-per-cylinder, all-aluminium powerplant. This is hooked up to a standard Tremec 5-speed manual gearbox.

Swapping cogs is an absolute delight, the short-throw lever falls right to hand and positively begs for slick shifting through a mere flick of the wrist, and with 300hp available over the counter, this latest Mustang hauls like no other. The only point to remember with the manual gearbox is that fifth is a true overdrive fuel saving gear so that you always need to shift down to get any real acceleration.

Out on the road, the big benefits here are in mechanical refinement and the seemingly much lower levels of noise, vibration and harshness at higher speeds. A five-speed automatic transmission is available, but such is the slickness of the manual gearbox that any self-respecting pony car driver will undoubtedly say nay to this option.

An initial plan to incorporate independent rear suspension (as fitted to the retro Thunderbird) was scrapped for cost-cutting purposes – as indeed was the notion of using 18-inch rolling stock -- and a three-link, coil-sprung rear axle set-up, replete with Panhard rod for lateral rigidity, has been installed instead. It’s not the most sophisticated set up and goes against the grain of European car manufacturers, but it does appear to work well on US roads.

Another plus point is the nicely weighted power steering, which has a strong on-centre feel, so the car pulls straight when you want it to and turns in to corners without too much effort.

At the front, MacPherson strut front suspension using reverse “L” lower control arms acts as a proven modern complement to the ‘old’ live rear, the combination providing a tighter feel, improved camber stiffness and a ride that in comparison to the old platform shows improvements. An independent rear set-up would have proved an interesting comparison and perhaps this will eventually arrive when a higher-priced SVT Cobra derivative debuts at some stage.

 Four-wheel disc brakes (ABS is standard on the GT and an option on the V-6) provide a reassuring degree of stopping power to the coupe’s eager propensity to go. The beautifully modulated exhaust note is itself the result of extensive testing of dozens of mufflers in order to snare the correct, captivating burble that makes the whole driving experience a veritable delight.

Minus points for me are the twee rear side windows; they may bear allegiance to the earlier fastback treatment but simply seem out of proportion and almost an afterthought - I wonder who will be first to manufacture the side slats to go over these as per the original fastbacks. Larger diameter wheels would certainly add to the macho appeal too.

From a UK customer point of view, fuel consumption under 20 mpg for the manual V8 model is nothing to write home about, and one journalist who drove the new Mustang in predominantly round town traffic averaged just 14.1 mpg! The answer is to make full use of that overdrive gear to get the quoted 17/25 manufacturer figure. Low fuel prices in the US still favour gas guzzlers and 12 gallons there will cost around £24, whereas in the UK that will be nearer £45.

In summation, it seems that the new model Mustang may have arrived at a fortuitous time as FoMoCo’s sales figures have been sliding in recent years. It may not be the panacea for tumbling profits, but as an indicator of the company’s new direction, it bodes well. After all, the basic V6 model starts at $19.410, while the GT Premium model tested here costs $28,865 (including $625 delivery).

This makes the Mustang an affordable 300hp package in the US that’ll have rival manufacturers looking hard as to where they can swiftly fight back.

Early indications are that UK customers can expect to pay around £27,500 from the import specialists for the top specification 2005 Mustang GT Premium - and at least two cars are on the boat for arrival in November at the time of writing.

Story and photos: Andy Willsheer

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