Tales from the Dark Side: But does it work?
by, 04-08-2012 at 02:51 PM (4880 Views)
As of this writing, I've had the mustang for a few thousand miles and the car is still pretty stock. So that begs the question, is the car actually fun to drive or is it strictly a numbers car? This installment will review what it's like for a German car fan to own something so strongly American.
My natural automotive proclivity is towards a balanced driving experience over something that either cuts corners in the corners or is merely a straight line superstar. That's one thing I really appreciated about my mkV GTI. That car has a chassis that perfectly balanced with the output of the engine. It was a fun car for that reason--however, I always got the feeling that if one item was modified, all of the other supporting parts needed to addressed by a similar magnitude. Unlike say, a low level 5 series, where the chassis had much higher limits that the engine would let you explore. I hated my experience driving such a car because the balance was horrible.
But I also enjoy a nicely designed interior--DESIGN! Which to me is separated from materials used to illustrate the design. I have a higher threshold for poor materials if the overall design is attractive. But yeah, my thoughts on balance also carry over to the interior as well. The car needs to be at least pleasant on the eyes. That's not to say that it needs to be as clean looking at a modern Audi, but there has to be evidence of at least some effort to present a clean look. This, IMO, is a major failing of the current Mini cars--the interior of course is very thoughtfully designed to mimic various interior elements of the original Minis, but IMO, they failed quite miserably. A hodge podge of switches and dials that looks to be trying too hard, IMO. And that center mounted speedo! Yikes, I can't stand that. If you're being kind, I suppose you could say my tastes are traditional. I like a car to look like a car. I can appreciate clever solutions to the clutter issue, as well though. The initial versions of BMWs iDrive for instance was far too complex in execution to appreciate, but I have to say that I really like the concept. And at this time, so have many other manufacturers.
So how does the mustang stack up? It's certainly not perfect, let me get that out of the way right up front. It's got this, how should I say it, charming aloofness about how it goes about it's business. It's in stark contrast with all things German which have a very well defined purpose in life. Or maybe I should say that the car has a fair amount of engineered imperfection, which defined the car overall and gives it a different feel from a german vehicle--and yet, I can see the charm to it all. It's a different approach to the car thing. Of course, I'm sure some of that engineered imperfection was brought about by some high ranking "bean counter" that most American companies just haven't been able to shake. But Ford was clever about things. I really like the overall look of the Mustang interior. It's not the best looking interior out there, but it's pleasant and attractive, IMO. I like the organization of the buttons far more than how Honda organizes the buttons in say the Accord. But could ford do better? I think so. But it works and doesn't look terrible doing it. I'm not a hard plastic hater, personally. I remember the mkII/III cars and early passats. Those had lots of hard plastic, but still looked good. I think the current mustang is similar---but there's far more soft plastic in the current mustang than in older VWs. And then there's the blatant cost cutting, which isn't all that obvious, until you start looking for it. Why the rough edges on the dash that surrounds the steering column? Even a low end base Jetta would likely have some type of trim to hide the rough cuts. And then there's the exposed insulation underneath the dash that you can't see unless you're looking. The seats are pleasant to look at and actually fairly comfortable--but they lack any substantial bolstering. So I think the interior is pretty decent looking and of reasonable quality. It won't win any awards, but I can tell that someone was making an effort. And I was lucky enough to order a car right at the point where Ford was adding adjustable headrests to the mustang, which is a feature I like in my cars. Honestly, I was impressed when I discovered this feature.
So I got the dash stroking portion of the review over, but what about the more dynamic qualities of the car. Let me start in a place that might normally be considered an unusual place to review: the transmission and shifter. This is the most controversial part of the car. Magazines and some owners rave about this. However, a lot of people on the internet at least detest the Getrag MT82 transmission used in the current mustangs. I've never had even a hint of transmission problems with the transmission in this car. And I still think the transmission is wonderfully smooth. Is it always perfect? Absolutely not. It can get notchy on occasion and I've even experienced some very difficulty engaging a gear every once in a while. But I've experienced this at one time or another in every manual tranmssion car I've ever owned. And having driven VWs most of my life, the mustang shifter is wonderfully communicative by comparison. Gone is the typical vagueness that I'm used to in many German cars, in fact. I do think there is something to the idea that human error is to blame for a proportion of complaints. Unlike a VW, the throws are tight and short. It's easy to miss a gear or go in between gears on this transmission. People often refute user error stating that they've driven manuals for years and have driven trucks and jeeps with difficult transmissions for years without problems. But those cars have a different problem--they're sloppy making it difficult to find gears. The MT82 in the mustang is the exact opposite of that.
In contrast to the transmission, we come to the chassis. The video above really makes the car to seem almost faultless. But really, the car is a bit of a mixed bag in this department, to be honest. The ride isn't bad, though it definitely gets choppy over bad roads. It's also pretty bouncy over certain types of road surfaces, especially roads where the paving material is cement. The tires really make a big difference on this car, IMO. They have a good amount of grip around turns and are fairly predictable when it comes to the tires breaking loose. But the car really is pretty big and I've had a hard time getting comfortable throwing it around back roads. But I've found that the car is pretty neutral, but is very easy to induce a little oversteer with the throttle. However, I find the steering to be numb. You can increase the stiffness of the steering, but the feel remains absent. There is some pitch and roll, but I think it's pretty mild compared with many VWs I've owned in the past. I think the bottom line is that while the car handles pretty well, it's no Porsche Boxster. Oh and then there's the wheel hop--yes this car, with a solid rear axle, does have wheel hop.
Saving the best for last: the powertrain. I really can't anything bad about the 5.0 "coyote" motor. It's a real screamer, though if you're looking for low end torque, you need to look elsewhere. This car loves to rev, but doesn't feel all that fast until the tach sweeps pas 3500 rpms. This car is definitely the fastest vehicle I've ever owned. I will say that in some circumstances the chassis can overwhelm the chassis, depending on the tires. I have found that when I had my winter performance tires, the rear end would swing in own direction through the first gear, and like a pendulum, swings back the other way through second gear following the swift application of throttle from a stop. Things don't get that much better when underway. During some aggressive straight line acceleration, the traction control becomes very intrusive (which is odd, because the stability control is excellent when activated), to the point that it feels like I just deployed a parachute from the back of a top fuel dragster. This is another instance where decent tires make a big difference. There is still some squirrely behavior with the gripper and thicker summer tires, but it's far more controllable. I don't think I would feel all that comfortable driving a mustang GT with the stock 235 series 18 inch wheels. The 255 series Pirelli P-Zero tires on 19 inch wheels are excellent. But yeah, this car gets to very illegal speeds especially quickly. And when launched from a stop, the car gets to illegal speeds in a very rapid pace. I also haven't noticed any issues with harshness, vibration, or unwanted noise. I will say though that the stock mufflers are WAY too quiet. But yeah, 400+hp rocks. Cylinder #8 problem? Not in my car!
I have yet to take the car to a road course, I don't have the best sense for how all the dynamic factors all come together. Hopefully in a future installment, I'll be able to address my thoughts on how the car performs for me on a track.
Next up: the 10k mile review.