Muscle Cars 101
It was the best of times, it was the best of times. I’m just saying, any summer that includes more than one American muscle car is a good summer.
I’ve been hooning around ahem, “enjoying” Motor Trend’s long-term 2015 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 whenever its caretaker, Scott Evans, is called away on business. Hoo boy, that Z/28 is something special. However, it requires your full, complete, careful attention at every turn. Fun but not quite my cup o’ tea. Just before a long weekend, however, keys to a 2015 Camaro SS 1LE landed in my lap. Hmm, a little like the Z/28 but without that razor’s edge. Had the Z/28 desensitized me with its lovely powerband and ridiculously stiff but eager chassis? I thought maybe all those lower-spine impacts had taken their toll.
Then out of happenstance, I took a 2016 Mustang GT back to Motor Trend HQ. This was a Mustang with the Performance package, Recaro leather sport seats, and retina-searing Triple Yellow exterior paint. All told (plus a few packages) it was a $46,655 USD Mustang GT in the proper arrangement: six speeds and three pedals.
Holy skip shift, Batman. You mean I can use second gear whenever I want to? A performance car with a manual transmission that lets me decide when to shift? Sure, it’s a $23.99 USD fix for the Camaro or Corvette, but why do I have to fix my brand-new car? I could take Scott Evans to lunch and leave a generous tip with the $23.99 USD I didn’t have to spend.
The interior is nice, too. Get in a fifth-generation Camaro (even the SS 1LE), and you’re reminded constantly that you’re sacrificing for performance. In the Mustang, not so. A swath of material that looks like engine-turned aluminum cuts a handsome horizontal line across the cabin, the armrests are padded leather and adorned with yellow contrast stitching, the instruments and gauges are high-quality and look nice, and fun details such as “ground speed” on the speedometer complete the feel. The interior makes you feel like you’re in something special.
If you’re thinking this painfully yellow Mustang GT is looking a little familiar, that’s because it is. Just a year ago Christian Seabaugh wrote a First Test about a 2015 Mustang GT with the Performance package. What’s different between the two cars? Well, mine had a black-painted roof (a $695 USD option), auxiliary turn signals integrated into the hood vents, and Sync 3, the latest iteration of Ford‘s infotainment system. Performance is in the same ballpark, though the 2015 posted slightly quicker numbers.
While the turn signals integrated into the hood vents are a neat touch, Sync 3 is the big news for 2016. Ford touts new hardware, new software, a better touchscreen, easy destination entry, and enhanced voice recognition. But how well does it work? Sync 3 has all the usual bases covered but scored a few bonus points in my book for smartphone integration. Not only was there a more detailed screen for Spotify (and no doubt others) but I could also use voice commands to launch the app on my phone, browse my playlists, and select one to suit my listening desires.
Voice commands are still a little bit clunky, though. It’s not unlike registering for classes with a touch-tone system, and rather limited since you have to use certain verbiage to get particular outcomes. You can do quite a bit, but you won’t be holding any conversations with your Ford.
Our testing regimen revealed that compared to the 2015 ‘Stang, it was business as usual for the 2016 Ford: 435 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque from the 5.0-liter Coyote V-8 with a six-speed manual sending the power rearward through a 3.73 rearend that spins a pair of 275-series Pirelli P Zeroes. Sixty mph comes in just 4.6 seconds, the quarter mile in 12.9 at 110 mph (177 km/h) flat. Slamming on the brakes will haul the yellow coupe to a stop from 60 in just 109 feet (33 m). A lap around our figure eight took just 24.4 seconds at 0.82g average.
There’s a give and take going on. The independent rear suspension setup definitely improves the car’s handling, but the weight gain slows it down, and on the track there’s more pitch and roll than we’d like. Looking back into the archives at a 2013 Ford Mustang GT with the Performance package we tested confirmed some suspicions: 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds, quarter mile in 12.7 seconds at 111.9 mph (180 km/h), and a figure eight of 25.0 seconds at 0.77g average. Weight difference? 207 pounds (94 kg) per our scales in the old-timer’s favor.
If you lined up with an “old” Mustang at your local drag strip (let’s pretend it’s stock, too) we’re talking more than just a nose ahead. The older and lighter Mustang will be trying to show you some taillights. Just don’t eat a big meal beforehand.
When the road gets twisty, though, the tables get turned. With my wife in the passenger seat and my daughter in the back, I pointed the long yellow nose toward Wrightwood by way of Angeles Crest highway.
At 45 mph (72 km/h) in fourth gear on the twisting two-lane, the Mustang positively saunters. It’s not just that it’s not being pushed. You feel relaxed. The heavily bolstered Recaro seats hug you tightly, which adds to the feeling of confidence. This is the Grand Touring part of the Mustang GT being fully realized.
I dropped the ladies off at a picnic area with a scenic overlook and took the Mustang up the road a ways to push a little harder. Third gear and a more generous right foot brought the ground speed up along with my heart rate. It’s not just about straight-line performance and highway pulls anymore. Muscle cars have entered the era of handling. With a wife and daughter waiting to head back down the mountain, I wasn’t about to see exactly how high those limits were. Plenty to have fun with, though.
On the way home I put it in sixth, cranked the tunes, and activated the adaptive cruise control. The Mustang GT will purr along happily in top gear, but when there’s too much variance in traffic speeds, I found third or fourth to be best. With the adaptive cruise control activated (it’s not quite as good as Mercedes-Benz’s system but far better than Mitsubishi‘s) the Mustang GT will brake down to about 5 mph (8 km/h) and deactivate the system with a loud beep. It won’t stall the car, and it does the auto-brake routine well.
If you’re searching for every last tenth of an advantage on paper, you may find something that’s faster than the 2016 Ford Mustang GT. Maybe something cheaper. But if you enjoy the experience as much as the performance, the Mustang GT is the whole package, with an exhaust that’s muscular when exercised, a controlled ride, and an interior you don’t have to make excuses for.
|2016 Ford Mustang GT|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$47,350|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 4-pass, 2-door coupe|
|ENGINE||5.0L/435-hp/400-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,825 lb (54/46%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||188.3 x 75.4 x 54.4 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.6 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||12.9 sec @ 110.0 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||109 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.96 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||24.4 sec @ 0.82 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||15/25/19 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||225/135 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.06 lb/mile|