Jan 102007
 

Retro-look and retro-technology created this retro-antique.

Background
This midsize coupe was acquired as a rental vehicle with 35,500 miles on the odometer at the time of pick up. It stayed with us for 24hrs. We drove approximately 400 miles. The test route included the San Francisco urban traffic to the historic Laguna Seca Raceway (LSR) at the beautiful Monterey peninsular. The entire trip in the Mustang was with 1 average size adult. The averaged fuel consumption was 18 mpg.

Introduction
Ford Mustang introduced the 1st generation Mustang back in 1965 at the beginning of the American muscle car era, and became one of the first iconic American muscle cars. The tester is the 5th generation, debuted in 2004 North American International Auto Show as a 2005 model (code name: S-197). This generation has been completely redesigned to replace the 14 years old Foxplatform that had been in use since 1979 with the third generation debut. The evolution of this current Mustang has retained the root elements of its ancestors. Our tester is the base model of the Mustang lineup. It equips with a Germany built Cologne V6 engine that pumps out 210hp@5,300rpm and 240Ib-ft of torque@3,500rpm. Engine is longitudinally mounted, driving the rear wheels via a 5-speed automatic transmission (5R55S) thru an open differential. Traction is provided by a set of P215/65R16, BFGoodrich Traction T/A Spec all-season tires with T speed rating; 118mph. The all new D2C chassis is supported by independent MacPherson strut suspensions with stabilizer bar in front, and 3-link solid axle suspension with Panhard rod supporting the rear corners. Stopping power is generated by 4 wheel ABS ventilated discs brakes. The S-197 is assembled at Ford & Mazda jointly owned AutoAlliance International, located in Flat Rock, Michigan, where it also produces the Mazda6.

Impression
Besides the Nissan 350Z, this Mustang is our 2ndrear wheel drive sports coupe that we’ve reviewed. We were excited upon receiving the car and hoping to see how it compares to our beloved Z. But however, this is by no means a comparison test because we will be taking the Mustang to the infamous Laguna Seca Raceway for an open track event to test its limit or our limit at the track. In speaking of limit, and because of the ultra high limit of the Z, we weren’t able to test the Z’s limit on the street, so it is not sensible to compare the Mustang with the Z due to dissimilarity of driving conditions between street and track. However, consider the following analogy between the terminal limit of the driver and the terminal limit of the car: Limit of the driver is the accumulated skills and experiences that the driver has, to control a car at the driver’s comfort speed. The terminal limit of the driver is achieved when the car’s handling terminal limit is much higher than the driver can achieve within his worry-free, fearless comfort zone. Therefore, when we are able to find out the limit of a car that we test, usually it means that the car has a lower than expected limit; the limit that will not put a smile on car enthusiasts’ face. Unfortunately, we were able to explore the limit of the tester many times on the track with ease, and in the streets with effortless attempts.

The 4.0L or 245 [in3] (Read as Cubic Inches in the muscle car world)Cologne V-6 engine has the output of a true muscle car in the 1960 era; large displacement, lower than expected horsepower output that features strong low end torque and out of juice at higher rpm despite the engine’s somewhat high compression ratio at 9.7:1. But in the 21st century standard, its spec equates to a dated truck engine. And that is exactly what this Cologne engine is about. It is the exact same unit that Ford yanked out from its current Explore SUV, and Ranger pickup. The structure of this bi-metal (aluminum heads and cast iron block) engine however can considered to be an advancement over the yester-centuries’ commonly used pushrod valvetrains, since the Cologne engine features yester-decades’ Single Overhead Cam on each cylinder head actuating intake and exhaust valves (one each) per cylinder via hydraulic lifters with modern diesel engine like 5,750 rpm redline. The 210hp is capable of generating commuter like mid 7 second 0-60mph acceleration, thanks to the lofty ~3,500Ibs curb weight, despite it is plainly equipped. Under hard acceleration when coming out of turn 11 at LSR, the engine emits authority, throaty sound with 100 something horsepower Miatas passing me left-and-right swiftly. The Mustang achieved about 110mph and hitting its top speed limiter seamlessly at our much earlier than normal brake zone before Turn 2 – the Andetti Hairpin. Going up the Rahal Straight (between turn 6 and 7) incline, with the extended pedal-to-metal action, the engine is laboring like a drowning victim gasping for air, where a line of drafting Mini Coopers’ bulging headlights are often seen on the driver-side side-mirror, anxiously waiting for me to go offline to free up the road to allow for this Kamikaze-like Minis to overtake me with passions.

Perhaps, one might suggest to upshift earlier to take advantage of the engine power band. But we can’t! In the Rahal Straight instance, to upshift from 3rd to 4th requires surgeon precision like effort to push the shifter, that appears straight taken from a Boeing 737’s cockpit, from “3” to “D” to avoid over pushing into “N”, however, the transmission will not upshift itself, simply because we have the accelerator mated to the floor. It will only upshift into 4th only when the engine reaches it’s redline or we lift off the accelerator – perhaps this may not the best way to go around the track. But neither can ever happen in the Rahal Straight. The equipped tranny is lacking driver control, and efficiency even for this non-competition track use. It lacks the commonly found electronic gear selector, in which even most SUVs have equipped as standard with their automatic transmission. Some of the Mustang competitors’ AT are very capable for track use as well, namely, the 350Z AT with Downshift Rev Matching, and manual shift mode. The responsiveness of the Mustang’s AT is just as good as the unit in the closely related Explorer. The time it requires to upshift and downshift feels like it takes seconds or minutes to complete on the track, accompanied by rapid back and forth jerky motions to upset the balance of the car. We determined that the most optimal way to drive the track is to leave the shifter in “3” throughout the entire track except turn 11, thanks to its tall gear ratio and strong low and midrange engine output. We often manually downshift into “2” during the heavy braking when approaching turn 11 to reduce the ultra long braking distance by applying engine braking, and use “2” through the corner.

In speaking of heavy braking, the brakes on this 35,000 miles tester should have seen better days when we picked up the car. Initially, on our way to the LSR, the pedal was somewhat spongy. The operating effort is higher than expected with minor pulsation, vibration felt thru the pedal and steering wheel follow by some minor grinding noise. Good indications that the front rotors were warped, and the factory filled fluid needed flushing (Ford has no recommended maintenance schedule for brake fluid). Without a doubt, the conditions of the brakes weren’t track material. LSR is famous for its rotor cracking and fluid boiling brake zones. And the Mustang performed unpleasantly in those segments. The 11.5″ front brakes had a tough time absorbing, dissipating, and transferring the heat from slowing down its 1.5ton curb weight. Perhaps, it is a bit small for a supposedly performance coupe – a subcompact Nissan Versa came with 11.02″ rotors stock! On the track, the brakes are noticeably faded on the second lap with increasingly longer braking distances, and longer pedal travel to slow to a desired entry speed as the number of laps driven increases. Due to the non-linearity conditions of the brakes, it is hard to modulate the pedal effort to optimize braking to avoid ABS’s involvement under heavy braking. Front end dive is very noticeable, and the ABS unit seems to be taken from the early ’90s due to its harshness in operation. By the end of the day, the vibration and grinding sound are unbearable, and the upper 40% of pedal travel is as soft as cotton ball.

Combine with the Mustang’s substandard braking, the yester-centuries’ suspension design and tuning caused blockage in the corners on the track, like an overweighed couch potato’s artery. Congested by fatty cholesterol deposit that is about to burst. Often times, a group of cars would be blocked by the Mustang at the brake zone thru the corners and burst thru aggressively once the tester is out of their way. This circulatory illness can often happen on all the corners thru out the track, and especially more severe during turn 2 and 11, habitually can partly blame the Mustang’s obese curb weight for its inactiveness akin to its couch potato counterpart. The majority of the problem is on the simple suspension design that has the similar setup as a ’79 Mazda RX7. The rear suspension consists of a pair of upper and lower trailing link to provide longitudinal support since the solid axle is supported by coil springs, and a Panhard rod to prevent lateral movement. Interestingly, independent suspension is used on the Explorer where a solid axle would be more beneficial for a truck than a supposedly sports car. The solid axle rear suspension on the Mustang mainly is a cost saving method. The suspension provided the on road manner like a well built family sedan, but with ridiculous amount of body roll in the turns due to the lack of anti-roll bar in the rear on this Deluxe sports coupe. On the track, body roll made the chassis very unsettling during left and right transitions, like a junk being hit by rogue wave from starboard and port side consecutively in the Bearing Sea.

The disadvantage of the rear suspension setup is extremely transparent on the track as the rear wheels are rigidity connected to each other where a bump experienced by one wheel is transferred to the other. The disadvantage included heavy unsprung weight, and greater camber change in corners in which reduces traction and ride quality. And caused surprisingly serious turn in understeering to moderately gradual oversteer when load is applied to the outside rear tire and forced the inside tire to experience positive camber change in off-throttle corners. However, at most of the situation, the understeering and slight oversteering can be manipulated with the amount of throttle input. The RWD setup will naturally cure mid-corner understeering by apply throttle early in Turn 2, 3, 4 & 5 to reduce turning radius. The open differential will cured the off-throttle oversteering in bigger sweeping corners like from Turn 8A & 9 to shift weight to the rear end to plant the solid axle to the ground, to provide more grip to the tires and perhaps to reduce the camber differences between the outside and inside tires, while the open diff will send power to the inside tire to tighten the rear end to correct slight oversteer. In reality, once you got used to the body roll, screaming-for-no-reason tires, and ultra low handling limits, this Mustang is kinda rewarding to drive since you are driving at the car’s limit.

Despite all the mentioned shortcomings from head to toe, the steering, however, is surprisingly responsive, and accurate, even though the front suspension setup is shockingly simple. It consists of MacPherson struts, and welded stamped-steel lower control arms. The rack-and-pinion steering provided good feedback and road feel. Steering effort is suitable for both low and high speed driving. It is hard to believe that the D2C chassis is associated with the platforms hidden beneath the much sportier and modern Mazda 3 & 5, and Volvo S40, V50 & C70 models. Without the words from Ford, it is hard to believe the D2C chassis is derived from Ford Corporation’s C1 platform where it was co-developed with Mazda & Volvo where the C1 platforms were developed to be equipped with independent rear suspension, and either front or all-wheel drive systems. Equipped tires have the longevity and specifications suitable for a minivan. The tread wear index is as high as a couch potato on a truck scale at 620, with thick sidewall height; the 65 aspect ratio is equal to 5.5 inches high sidewalk to cushion curb impact to the rim due to inexperienced parallel parking. Tires provided very low grip upon warm up, but loses grip at higher temperature, and very willing to scream at any slight directional change. After a hard track run session, tires show no wear and tear and looks like new.

Body rigidity is on the same par as cars built in today’s era. The cabin has minimal wind and road noise intrusion but caused the tractor-like sounding engine more translucent and trashy. Like most domestic vehicles, the interior is roomy with plenty of headroom, even with a helmet. The rear seats are functional with acceptable head, shoulder and leg room as a 2+2 coupe, thanks to the ultra long car length (an inch or two longer than a G35 Sedan), and overall height. The front seats are fairly comfortable and provide acceptable lateral support even for track use. Front visibility is low due to the highly bulged hood that weights like a ton – opening and closing the hood is like training for power lifting for the Olympics. Standard sound system emits the “stereo” effect of the late 70s’ and early 80s’. Gauge cluster is hard to read, the analog dials, and letterings are so thick, and the dials only has a 180degsweep which also caused the letterings and markings to be so close to each other. The feel of the steering wheel, transmission shifter and emergency brake are bulky to the touch, proven the “bigger-the-better” hypothesis in today’s American culture.

The Mustang is a retro of the original pony car, but why is it also using the same ancient philosophy and design? Perhaps, to pass along the muscle car spirit for generations to come? Muscle car’s philosophy ever since day one was to use a large displacement truck engine from the company’s truck line and install it into a relatively compact car chassis (American-size’s compact size). It doesn’t handle but it goes, was the truthful idiom for those cars. This Deluxe Mustang however, with the thick sidewall tires, solid rear suspension, big displacement engine, oldie sound like stereo, big and heavy chassis really captured the muscle philosophy. And when thinking of muscle, bigger-is-always-better but that is no longer true for performance sports car’s standpoint when the imports invented and applied mathematics and physics since the past decades to design cars. The imports had proven over-and-over again that curb weight, unsprung weight are performance car’s enemies. Therefore, not bigger-is-always-better. The tester however, is more like a restored antique with poorly selected upgrades taken from Ford’s parts bin.

 

Overall Impression
Scoring System:

Performance & Acceleration: 6
Comment: Average power for today’s standard.

Drivetrain: 5
Comment: Delay!

Handling & Cornering: 5
Comment: In the same league as some compact size SUV & Body Roll!

Brake Feel: 5
Comment: Shaky!

Ride Characteristic: 6.5
Comment: Rides like a cruiser more than a sports car.

Interior Comfort: 8
Comment: Roomy for a coupe.

Workmanship: 7.5
Comment: Outstanding quality as domestic built. But no where close to Audi or BMW.

Functionality: 7
Comment: Daily useable coupe.

Technology: 5
Comment: Dated.

Afterthought
After some research on the MSRP on the tester, and with the relaxed driving style, the on road manner of this base model Mustang is quite good for a domestic brand, and realizing, the purpose of the Deluxe model isn’t meant for performance use. With MSRP at about $20,000, and Ford’s occasional generous incentives and rebates to sell cars at lower cost to keep the volume up, and stockholder happy, this Deluxe model can be an alternative for domestic car buyers who don’t want to settle with the Crown Victoria, or the other plain-jane rental fleets. END

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