2011 Mustang GT 5.0 - First Drive

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2011 Mustang GT 5.0We spent two days traversing the back roads around Los Angeles in a pair of 2011 Mustangs that left us with an amazing realization -- the golden age of horsepower is now.  Never before has Ford produced so much horsepower in both the base Mustang and GT models.  The end result is a pair of cars that will mash you back into the seat and pull the corners of your mouth around to the backside of your head in a power induced Cheshire grin.

 

But before you think that this story is just about straight line performance alone there is more to the 2011 Mustang than just straight-line performance.  Suspension, brakes, axles, electronics, NVH and transmissions have all been thoroughly massaged to produce a pair of cars that can stop and turn as well as fry the hides off the rear wheels.

 

The interior of both 2011 Mustang GT and V6 are visual carryovers from 2010; however, added refinements make them luxury car quiet.  Extra sound absorbing materials were added to the engine hood, shock tower, front fenders, dashboard, transmission tunnel, headliner, doors, C-Pillar, trunk, rear wheel wells and the rear package tray.  Another new addition is a pair of rear seat head rests, that the driver can fold down at the touch of a button for better rear visibility.

 

 

2011 Mustang GT 5.0 and WWII P-51 MustangIn fact the interior is so quiet that sounds from the engine actually have to be piped in through a special resonator to bring the noise directly to the cabin.  With such a great line up of engines we’d actually like even more sound brought in while keeping out road and wind noise.  Enthusiasts will most likely be slapping a set of aftermarket mufflers on these new steeds to just to hear the new powertrain better.

 

Seats are comfortable and supportive and both leather and cloth seats keep you planted firmly in the cockpit during high-G cornering.  Class exclusive creature comforts abound and technology features like SYNC, navigation, reverse camera, HD Radio, steering wheel mounted phone and navigation controls and MyKey are not found in the Camaro or the Challenger.

 

Also available is Sirius Travel Link, which provides real time traffic and weather for navigation equipped cars.  This subscription-based service also provides sports scores, movie ticket information and fuel prices.

 

New side view mirrors retain the same housing, but now contain integrated blind spot mirrors located on the outboard upper corner of the mirrors.  The glass roof option also comes back for 2011.

 

2011 Mustang GT 5.0, California SpecialReturning again for 2011 is the Mustang GT California Special with unique wheels and a gorgeous dashboard insert that mimics a carbon fiber look.  A GT/CS specific, pedestal mount spoiler adorns the rear decklid.  Unique blackout treatment on the rear license plate area adds another subtle difference between the California Special and the base GT.  As in previous generate California Special Mustangs unique side stripes adorn the flanks of the 2011 model.

 

Even last year those of us who are performance oriented would never have even considered a V6 Mustang.  But the new 3.7L engine with Twin independent – Variable Cam Timing (Ti-VCT) and 4-valves per cylinder is now a serious contender.  In fact the 2011 Mustang’s 305 BHP V6 is good enough to give ANY previous stock Mustang GT a run for its money.  It’s true dual exhaust emits a throaty roar that may not have the Bassano rumble like a V8 but it is certainly a pleasant enough sound track.

 

This engine loves to rev and in the upper RPM band it pulls hard all the way up until the computer shuts the fuel off at 7,000 RPM.  Launch from 3,000 RPM and floor it and the car will light the both rear tires as the 8.8” Traction-Lok axle hooks up and sends clouds of smoke into the atmosphere.  Second gear is announced with a healthy chirp as the rear wheels break loose again on a wide-open throttle upshift.

 

2011 MustangHit the twisties and the car is an absolute blast to drive!  The 2011 Mustang V6 now sports last year’s Mustang GT suspension including springs, sway bars, shocks and struts and rear axle.  This equates to mind boggling lateral grip and a very balanced feel that his just a bit shy of neutral, with a slight bias towards understeer.  At speeds well in excess of the legal limit we did find that the 2011 Mustang V6 was a bit floaty on roads with small sharp vertical transitions; however, at sane speeds this was not an issue.

 

Otherwise, excellent chassis balance and grip keeps the car planted firmly in the corners disputing the naysayer’s claims that a solid rear axle hampers the car.  Even over rough pavement the 2011 Mustang stays firmly planted on whatever cornering line you point it.

 

Some automotive industry writers consider the Mustang’s 8.8” solid rear axle to be an archaic suspension piece.  Perhaps it is, but it is set up well and provides tremendous handling despite it’s age.  The car handles rough, pot hole filled pavement with ease and corners with pavement like a gravel road did not seem to upset the car tremendously.

 

On a short autocross course we pitted the Camaro V6 against the new 2011 Mustang V6.  The V6 Camaro understeered heavily and it’s IRS proved no advantage on the rough cornering surfaces.  The Mustang on the other hand turned in predictably and it’s 200# weight advantage was easily felt throughout the course.  Despite its fancy, heavy, IRS, the Camaro got smoked by the Mustang.

 

Poor visibility and generally awkward handling everywhere severely hampered the Camaro’s performance.  The Camaro’s clumsy shifter actually got stuck between gates on the 1-2 shift and took several seconds to get back into neutral and then into second gear.  Several other cars on the course suffered the same fate.

 

Gear changes were a little mushy as the stock V6 bushings didn’t provide the crisp shifts we’ve become accustomed to with aftermarket shifters.  So a trip to your favorite aftermarket manufacturer is going to be just the thing for the V6.

 

What points the Camaro gains in exterior aggressive styling is completely lost in interior layout, visibility and handling.  With a helmet on the author’s 5’8” frame was unable to clear the roof of the Camaro without tilting his head uncomfortably to the right.  The Camaro’s bulbous rearview mirror bifurcates the view out the front window and tiny rear windows make visibility out the back and to the right rear corner virtually impossible.

 

Whether the reason for considering a V6 Mustang is insurance, the 31 MPG EPA rating or overall purchase price, the 2011 Mustang finally delivers performance that will enable you to hold your head high at the local cruise-in.

 

What you really want to know though, is what we thought of the 2011 Mustang GT?

 

It’s brilliant.

 

The new motor is absolutely incredible.  It will pull all the way to its 7,000-RPM rev limit before the computer chokes the fuel off.  You can feel that the engine wants to keep going.  Throttle response is excellent and the exhaust note, while a little quiet inside the cockpit, is the deep roar you’ve come to expect from this car.

 

Using a RaceAmercia 2650 Series XL Advanced Drag Timing System, we did some informal testing and found some very surprising numbers.  On a 1/8-mile asphalt strip, using an automatic Camaro SS and a 2011 Mustang GT, as well as a 2011 Mustang GT 6-speed we recorded some fairly impressive numbers.

 

Performance Comparisons:

 

2010 Camaro SS

Auto

2011 Mustang GT

Auto

2011 Mustang GT

6-speed

60’ time

2.175

2.149

2.172

1/8 mile

8.820

8.683

8.629

Speed

83.22 MPH

84.25 MPH

86.87 MPH

 

For a little longer test we used a DashDAQ performance computer to try to get some quarter mile numbers.  Our test car was a 2011 Mustang GT with manual transmission, cloth seats, 3.73:1 rear and the Brembo Brake upgrade package.  Our steed for the day  was saddled with: 3/4 tank of gas, the driver, a 175-pound passenger,  and about 40# of camera gear.  Our 2011 Mustang GT tester had over 4,000 miles on the odometer.  We ran the stock tires at full street pressure, with no burnout on a street made up of regular asphalt with typical road surface debris and a little sand.

 

The DashDAQ Data logger performs a quarter mile test based off the car’s OBD-II port.  As it is connected directly to the engine computer it begins measuring the quarter mile the instant the wheels start turning.  This would be like being deep staged at the track.  We were only able to get one decent run completed; however, with a lot of extra weight and very little traction we clicked off a 12.8 quarter mile at 109 MPH!  Not bad for a first try.

 

We expect consistent 12.5 quarter mile times or better on regular street tires.  Throw a set of drag radials on there and you should be able to click off another few tenths.

 

On the curvy roads of the California coast the 2011 Mustang GT makes short work of even the most treacherous switchback curves. The ride is amazingly smooth proving that you don’t have to drive a car with a spine shattering suspension to get decent grip.  This year’s Mustang GT is last year’s Mustang GT with the track pack suspension.  In our previous review of the 2010 Mustang GT we raved about the Track Pack suspension; however, it was an option for the car.  Now it is standard equipment and everyone can enjoy it.  Tenacious grip and the optional 14-inch, 4-piston Brembo brakes make this a corner carver’s dream.

 

Each generation of Mustang seems to top its predecessor.  So too does the 2011 Mustang lineup rise way beyond the 2010 model year offerings.  With increases in: horsepower, transmission gears, brake rotor diameter, refinement and suspension improvements 2011 Mustang owners will be leaving their competitors in the dust on the drag strip and on the corners.

More images here!