Review: 2011 Ford Mustang V6 Premium Coupe
By Chris Haak
In December 1967, South African surgeon Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the first successful human heart transplant. Though the patient unfortunately died, Dr. Barnard’s procedure was the first of many heart transplants to occur around the world. Today, some 3,500 heart transplant operations occur annually, extending the lives of the patients and improving the quality of life for those individuals and their loved ones. So what do heart transplants have to do with a Mustang?
One famous heart transplant recipient was racing legend Carroll Shelby, a guy who might just have had a small relationship with the Ford Mustang over the years. By now we’ve all heard the news about how the Ford Mustang, fresh off a refreshed body and refreshed interior for the 2010 model year, has received what amounts to a heart transplant for the 2011 model year. If you’ll humor us, you could say that the Mustang is receiving a heart-lung transplant, because in addition to a new heart in each model, six-speed transmissions have proliferated across the entire lineup. It’s easy to argue that the powertrain and other upgrades that Ford bestowed upon the Mustang for 2011 have extended the model’s life, and certainly made it more vigorous and lively. Like the 2011 Mustang’s two new tickers, Mr. Shelby received two heart transplants, as well as a liver transplant.
We’ll talk about the return of the 5.0 liter Mustang GT in a later review – let’s just say that the new V8 is magical – but the base car’s 3.7 liter V6 is no slouch. Throwing out the old 4.0 liter cast iron block, 210-horsepower lump, Ford instantly upgraded the base car from the darling of the Hertz rental car lot into a bona fide sports car. And with the optional Track Package (not included on our tester, though), the V6 can get the same suspension and brake upgrades that the 2010 GT had. All great news.
The V6 Mustang really only competes with two cars at this point, the Chevrolet Camaro and the Hyundai Genesis Coupe. The Dodge Challenger is too heavy, under-tired, under-suspended, and under-horspowered to be a serious contender in this space. And frankly, with the Camaro’s weight disadvantage versus the Mustang, plus a few design compromises that the bowtie brand’s offering bring to the table, the Mustang’s position is looking even better. The Mustang is the only of the above-mentioned cars actually built in the US, and were the Dodge and Chevy guys not so loyal to their brands, would probably claim an even-larger piece of the market.
Updated extensively inside and out last year (but not really under the skin at that point), the Mustang looks like a Mustang. And though we also like the looks of the other cars in this segment, the Mustang strikes an attractive balance between tipping its cap to the past and looking modern, without looking cartoonish or as if it’s suffering from giantism. You can tell this car is a Mustang, and if someone woke up from a coma he’d been in for the past 40 years, odds are he or she would be able to tell that this car is a Mustang without straining those just-awakened brain cells. On the other hand, the V6 (and even GT) versions of the Mustang lack some of the visual flair that the top-dog Shelby GT500 and myriad aftermarket-tuned Mustangs offer. Depending upon your perspective, this may be a good thing, and may be a bad thing.
Nearly undetectable visual tweaks made to the 2011 cars from the 2010s include a new upper grille, new front spoiler and air dam, an underbody shield, a decklid seal, and rear wheel spats. All 2011 Mustangs, including the V6 base cars, get dual rear exhaust outlets. The bottom line on the looks, though, is that it’s not a flashy car, and doesn’t scream for attention the way a Camaro, Genesis, or a [pick one – yellow/lime green/purple] Challenger do.
Last year’s updates essentially gutted the 2005-2009 Mustang’s plastic-fantastic Focus-grade interior with its cheap-feeling switchgear, and replaced it with what is essentially a Fusion-grade interior. More seriously, the 2010 interior update meant updated electronics, SYNC, improved door panels, seats, and dashboard, as well as additional sound deadening. Those improvements, of course, make it into the 2011 Mustang as well. Still, as nice as the interior is, and as dramatic as the improvement was over the 2009 and older Mustang’s cockpit, it’s still not going to be confused with a luxury car, even when equipped with our tester’s Premium equipment.
The V6 Premium model adds leather seats, power driver’s seat, ambient lighting, Sirius, Shaker audio system, SYNC, real aluminum trim throughout the interior, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and softer door panels. Seventeen inch wheels are standard on the Mustang, but the V6 Premium gets nicer ones. Though all of the metallic-looking surfaces are, in fact, real aluminum, there are several plastic-looking surfaces that are, in fact, real plastic. Real hard plastic. The front seats don’t provide a ton of support, but are reasonably comfortable. The two-person back seat is tight, and appropriate for only very small adults or children. With the driver’s seat adjusted for a six-four driver, there’s no room for legs behind that seat, at all. The driver can then choose to compromise his or her space, or to not accept a back seat passenger. The trunk isn’t huge, but it has a large opening. We found it to be a far more practical design than the mail-slot opening in the Camaro.
But the big news, of course, on the 2011 Mustang is how the car drives. It’s a lot of fun, which is something that folks have probably never said about a base Mustang during the car’s 45-year history. Certainly drivers of four-cylinder LXs in the 1980s weren’t saying that their car was fun to drive, unless their definition of fun was an abnormal one. The difference-maker, of course, is the new V6. Though like most Ford engines (the new 5.0 excepted), it’s not much to look at, the new engine displaces 3.7 liters and is of all-aluminum construction. It produces a solid 305 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. Nissan gets more power from its 3.7, but we’re not talking about Nissan here. We’re talking about a base Mustang that can do a burnout, and can wind itself out to 7,000 RPMs before hitting its redline. The Ti-VCT V6 (which features the same Twin Independent Variable Camshaft Timing that the rock star 5.0 liter V8 does in the 2011 Mustang GT) has a nice, flat torque curve and feels strong all the way to 7,000, and sounds better than most engines when doing that.
The new six-speed automatic that’s paired to this new engine, though it wouldn’t be our transmission of choice (we’re talking about a performance car here, so we’d spec our custom-ordered Mustang with the cheaper and equally-new six-speed manual) was a willing partner, and always seemed to find the right ratio and kick down quickly when called upon for more revs. Passing on two-lane roads is a piece of cake; in fact, this car would still hold our two-lane road cars-passed record, had the more powerful Mustang GT not shown up a week later for its evaluation. No fuss, no muss – the car accelerates, and sounds good doing it, with no drama.
In addition to the significant powertrain upgrades and performance options, Ford also imparted the V6 model with suspension improvements that enhanced handling, and the lighter aluminum V6 (the old 4.0 liter V6 had a cast iron block) improves the car’s weight distribution and handling balance. Steering feel, too, is improved over the old car, and that’s in spite of chucking the hydraulic hardware in favor of the now-fashionable fuel-saving EPAS (electric power-assisted steering). Ford claims to have mastered EPAS tuning, and it’s pretty darn good – absolutely worlds better than what we’ve seen from earlier implementations such as on the Chevy Cobalt or the now-recalled steering in the Toyota Corolla. The wheel’s weighting is not too hard, not too soft, and a reasonable amount of road feel made its way into the driver’s hands.
Brakes have long been a sore spot for Ford, which has shown a consistent pattern of under-spec’ing its brake hardware given the horsepower numbers that some of its vehicles are capable of (we’re talking to you, Taurus SHO). We didn’t drive the Mustang V6 hard enough for long enough to really tax its brakes, but they felt far less spongy than some other Ford cars’ brakes have felt over the past year or two. Credit likely goes in this case to the larger brake booster that Ford fitted to the 2011 Mustang.
Stops were sure and easily modulated, and the brakes fitted to this Mustang are not likely to be out-driven by the powertrain, particularly if the buyer doesn’t step up to the V6 Performance Package. The Performance Package includes the same 3.31 axle ratio included in our tester, plus a strut tower brace, specific ESC tuning, 19 inch wheels, and summer tires – but no brake upgrade. The GT for 2011 gets optional Brembo front brakes, and they’re obviously a highly-recommended option for that car.
During our week with the car, having driven the car nearly 300 miles in both city and highway routes, we observed combined fuel economy of 22 miles per gallon. The EPA says that this, the most efficient of 2011 Mustangs (V6/auto) should show 19 mpg in the city and an impressive 31 miles per gallon on the highway. Even after a feather-footing the car for the first day in the fleet to try to achieve the 31 mpg bogey, we failed. Most likely, it was due to the car’s optional axle ratio, which helps performance, but harms fuel economy. Ford is not required to publish fuel economy ratings for each axle ratio, so they test using the tallest gears. As they say, your mileage may vary. The best we saw was 28, which is almost identical to what we achieved in the Genesis Coupe with the same basic powertrain specs (300+ horsepower V6 and six-speed automatic).
Our tester rolled into the Autosavant Garage with an MSRP of $28,480 (including destination). The V6 Premium starts at $25,845, and the only options on the test car aside from the Premium model were the six-speed automatic ($995), 3.31 axle ratio ($395), and Security Package ($395). Destination at $850 is the only other charge. By the way, if anyone can get me to Flat Rock, Michigan, I’d be happy to deliver their new Mustang for less than $850 each, door to door. This pricing compares favorably to a Camaro V6 (about $500 less, says TrueDelta) and unfavorably to a Genesis Coupe (about $1,000 more, says TrueDelta this time). Price comparisons on TrueDelta normalize equipment differences between vehicles so that you can find the true delta, or difference, between the vehicles’ prices.
In case you have any doubts about the transformative power a successful transplant can have on a person, just ask Carroll Shelby, the godfather of Mustang performance how he feels about them. In the case of this new engine, it has found the perfect body in which to spend its days, making the 2011 Mustang V6 the best factory V6 Mustang ever, and one heck of a performance car value.