I write stuff. A lot of it is about cars and motorcycles.

Horsemanship

2014 Ford Mustang GT

For fifty years, the Ford Mustang has been the Pony car standard. Indeed, the Mustang is why we call them Pony Cars. It might seem that this isn’t the best time to review the Mustang. With the 2015 Mustang, the Pony will be smaller, lighter, faster, and will come standard with an independent rear suspension for the first time. Someone at Ford apparently realized it was 2014, i.e., past time to ditch the live axle in the back. Drag racers will still be able to order the solid rear axle, but for those of us who would like to, you know, turn, we’ll be getting a modern rear suspension.

Still, the current Mustang is the last—and apex—of the original, solid-axled, Mustang. So, I thought it was time to take a look at a car design that will soon slip into the mists of history—an American, mass-produced, muscle car built solely for straight-line performance.

The Mustang GT’s American competition is the Chevrolet Camaro SS and, theoretically, the Dodge Challenger. The Challenger, being sixteen feet long, six feet wide, and weighing more than two tons, is bit hefty to truly go head to head with the Mustang. But the Camaro SS is very strong competitor, indeed, when it comes to performance.

How it looks

2014 Ford Mustang GTThe exterior of the current-generation Mustang borrows heavily from the model’s design heritage. That’s why I hate it. The 2014 Mustang looks too retro to my eyes. But, what do I know? Customers love the Mustang. Customers love the Dodge Challenger, for that matter, and the Challenger is almost a carbon copy of the 70’s model, right down to the slab-serif font on the fuel filling cover. The Mustang looks fast and powerful, but I’m not a fan of this “let’s recreate a modern version of our classic design” deal.

I’m also not a fan of how big the Mustang is. The original Mustang had a curb weight of 2,606 lbs. The 2014 Mustang GT—with a 1-inch shorter wheelbase—weighs 3,618 lbs. Part of it is the big 5.0L V8. And, of course, the modern Mustang is 8 inches longer and 6 inches taller than the original. I’m not sure why it needs to be that big, and, by all accounts, the 2015 Mustang will be far closer to the dimensions of the original. For now, though, the extra bloat remains.

Inside, the GT version is just…OK. Frankly the interiors of the Fiesta, Focus, and Fusion are far nicer. I assume this is because they were designed by Europeans. American’s had the responsibility for the Mustang’s interior. There is soft touch material on the top of the dash and the side of the center console, but nowhere else. As a result, there’s more hard plastic than I like in the dash and on the upper sills of the door. Also, unless you spring for the Premium package, you’ll have to sit on cloth seats like some kind of animal.

And you won’t have a nice sat-nav screen either. You will, however, have Ford’s Sync® system, which means you will get turn-by-turn navigation instructions, as well as full hookups for Bluetooth and USB devices. The Premium package costs an additional $5,000, and gives you the sat-nav screen as well as a proper leather interior, but pushes the overall price to around $40,000. The stock seats are surprisingly firm, comfortable, and well-bolstered, however, despite being covered in an itchy petroleum-based fiber.

If you don’t need the leather or dashboard screen, a wise choice of options will get you a tweaked 3.73 gear ratio, manual transmission, and big Brembo disks up front for around $34,000, which is not a bad price for the horsepower you get. If you really have to have the leather interior, and you live in a decent-sized metropolitan area, your dealer will probably have the ability to get you aftermarket leather upholstery for half the price of the OEM leather—and it’ll probably be better quality, to boot.

2014 Ford Mustang InteriorErgonomics are a mixed bag. The leather covered steering wheel has just the right number of fiddly buttons for working the cruise control, stereo, and your smartphone. All of the other controls are very conveniently placed, except for the side rear-view mirror controls, which are on a stalk by the driver’s rear-view. The big problem for me is that the interior seems cramped. The center console is a bit too wide, so my right knee kept banging into it. This got annoying very quickly. Very shortly after that, it made me want to stab everyone in Flat Rock, Michigan. If you sit closer or farther back, it probably won’t be an issue for you, but you should be aware of the possibility.

The Mustang has back seats. I don’t know why. No one ever will—or can—sit in them. Much like I can’t sit in the driver’s seat, apparently.

If you don’t get the louvered rear window covers, visibility in the Mustang is surprisingly good compared to the Chevy Camaro or Dodge Challenger. The C-pillar is a bit big, but the rear window, while small, is still usable. Also the side rear-views also have passing mirrors built into them, which is a useful feature.

The instrument panel consists of round, analog speedometer and tach, set on either side of a color display that shows you a variety of information screens on demand. All are easy to read, and the center screen, while small, provides a ton of useful and fun information on demand.

How it drives

Start the Mustang GT up, and the 5.0L V8 lets loose with a menacing rumble. Then you shift it into first, and you realize that the manual transmission in the Mustang is very nice. It’s a joy to use. It’s tight, with a short throw, and willingly snaps into gear as quickly as you please. The effort is so light, you can shift with two fingers. If there is any drawback with the tranny, it’s that the friction point on the clutch is too close to floor, and a bit too abrupt. But it’s the kind of drawback you can easily get used to, and it’s so minor that it doesn’t spoil the whole shifting experience. Clutch effort is relatively light, and the whole setup is easy to use. I really like it. It’s a great transmission for this car.

Ford has the suspension on the Mustang locked in, too. The chassis is stiff, and the suspension does a great job of soaking up imperfections in the road, while keeping body roll minimized.

While we’re on the subject of cornering, and because the 2014 Mustang still has a live rear axle, we have to talk about it. Under hard cornering, the Mustang’s inside wheel is going to spin away power, and the traction control will step in to cut power to the wheels. If you take the Mustang to the track, you’ll have fun, but a pimply-faced kid in a Camaro SS will eat your lunch for you if you go head to head. You’ll have to slow down more in the corners than the Camaro will, especially if you turn the traction control off, unless you just want to slide through the corners sideways, transforming tire rubber into smoke. The Mustang simply can’t corner as well or as fast as its GM competitor.

The thing is, if you’re doing that kind of cornering, you really shouldn’t be on a public road. In normal, everyday driving—the only kind of driving that 99% of Mustang owners will ever do—you won’t notice the lack of independent rear suspension, or a diff that sends power to the wheel with the most traction. You’ll probably be perfectly happy with it. Of course, having said that, when I bought my last car, I went with a different one precisely because it had independent rear suspension. So my advice to you to ignore the lack of it in the Mustang GT is cynical and dishonest, because I certainly wouldn’t do it.

Letting loose the 420 wild horses and 390 torques under the hood isn’t as impressive as you’d think. Yes, it’s a faster car than almost anything else you can buy, but acceleration in first gear seems a bit restrained, and second, while better, isn’t great either. It’s a fast car, but it feels like it should be faster.

I put this down to the sub-400 lb.-ft. of torque. A little fiddling with the engine, using some bits from the truly massive parts market for the Mustang, should provide an impressive power upgrade. Running it stock, however, the Mustang isn’t as impressive as the Camaro SS, though it’s far nicer inside. And you can see out of it.

The steering in the Mustang is disappointing, too. It’s an electrically-assisted unit, so you can forget about feedback. It’s numb, and whatever feel you get out of it at higher speeds is purely artificial. You honestly cannot tell what the front is doing. It’s a point-and-shoot car, like nearly everything else on the road these days. I miss plain, old hydraulic steering, and I’m starting to sound like an old curmudgeon about missing it. But it was better, and we are all going to have to come to terms with its loss, and trust in modern electronics, rather than our own feel and judgment about what’s happening up front.

Still, it’s a fun car to drive. There is an edge to the Mustang that tempts you to wring every bit of performance you can out of it. It can do sedate and sane—and do it quite well—but you won’t want to. What you’ll want to do is drift it through corners, the floor the accelerator on the straights.

What’s good about it

The interior is significantly better than the Camaro SS. The transmission is fantastic—way better than the competition from GM or Dodge. The ergonomics of the instrumentation are generally good. The seats are comfortable and provide great support. It’s a fun car to drive, and turning off the traction control tempts you into license-losing hoonage.

What’s bad about it

The interior seems cramped, and in my particular case, I kept bumping my knee on the center console. The Premium package costs too much. The steering is numb. Stock engine power, according to the seat-of-the-pants dyno, isn’t as impressive as you’d expect from a 420 HP power plant, though, of course, it really is fast compared with most other cars.

Conclusion

Considering the $35,000 price for a well-equipped Mustang GT, the power and capability you get for so little money is impressive. It’s really the best muscle-car deal going. The Dodge Challenger R/T is a bit cheaper, but it’s also heaver, and less powerful. Frankly, it’s not even a player, here. The only thing that comes close is the Camaro SS, which has a $2,000 higher MSRP in 1SS spec, and the 2SS spec is $1,000 higher than the GT Premium’s MSRP of $35,000.

With the Mustang GT you get a better-looking interior, way better visibility, and a far better manual transmission than the GM competition, and better straight-line speed. From an economic point of view, if you want the most power for the least money, there’s no argument to be made to buy anything else.

And yet…given a choice between the Mustang GT and Camaro SS…I’d wait until the end of this year, when the 2015 Mustang becomes available.

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