Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Redesigned Ford Mustang gives no quarter to revived competition
First came Dodge, with its near-1970 knock-off 2008 Challenger, sporting brawny Mopar cues and a Hemi, no less. General Motors, which left Ford all alone in the pony-car segment when it dumped the Chevrolet Camaro and the Pontiac Firebird after the 2002 model year, rejoins the fray in February with the 2010 Camaro. The all-new Camaro draws its lines from 1969, but its styling makes a point of moving the pony car into the 21st century.
Ford, facing tough sledding ahead in the auto business, could be excused if it didn’t stray far from the
established playbook to remake its own muscle car. The existing Mustang is already buff compared with the returning upstarts--both the Challenger and the Camaro weigh in at 350 to 500 pounds more, depending on the model. But with the 2010 Mustang coupe, convertible and glass hardtop revealed at this week’s Los Angeles auto show, it is clear that Ford doesn’t plan to give up any of its hard-earned tarmac.
The goal for 2010 was to move the Mustang out of its recent retro past and into the future, still using the platform that debuted in 2004 (foreshadowed by the 2003 concept drawing on classic cues from first-generation 1964½-1968 Mustangs).
“Every piece of sheetmetal, other than the roof panel, is brand new,” said Paul Randall, chief nameplate engineer. And even that roof, Randall noted, was redesigned when the glass roof panel was introduced on the 2009 model.
Exterior designer George Saridakis started work on the project three years ago, beginning with one of the smallest details, the iconic Mustang pony badge.
“The pony badge sets the standard for the car,” said Saridakis, whose redo was just the fourth in the horse’s 45-year history. “Now it’s more modern and more muscular.” It holds its head higher and looks forward.
Chief designer Doug Gafka oversaw a total restyling effort to carry that theme into the rest of the car. Up front, the grille is thinner, with a more pronounced forward lean, while internal grille bars are sharply angled, defining new headlight fixtures with integrated turn signals and parking lamps moved from the car’s lower fascia. The hood, which had been a featureless expanse of sheetmetal, now gets sharp creases and a central dome that emphasize the power beneath. GT and V6 models get different front fascias (except headlights), with the horse logo accented in bright chrome on V6s, a darkened pony on GTs.
In profile, the side glass tips down and rearward to make the car appear more settled on its rear drive wheels. Side character lines are defined and more chamfered, as is the rear fender kick. At the same time, fender lips are scaled back, and side scallops and the Mustang “hockey stick” lines are smoothed.
“A lot of the cliché details have been edited out,” said Gafka. “We’re evolving the car to make it more modern and to make it able to stand alone.”
The rear view reveals the most noticeable styling change: the clipped rear corners, where the turn signals now sport three-bar LED-fired lamps that illuminate sequentially (inside to outside).
Other exterior details might escape notice or may not even be visible. The radio antenna mast is shorter and moves from the front fender to the rear fender; windshield-washer outlets move off the hood and are built into the rear edge of the hood; the fuel filler is capless; sleeker mirror housings and hidden wiper blades contribute to a 12 percent reduction in wind noise in the coupe; and an underengine shield on V8 models reduces front lift by 23 percent at high speeds.
Overall, the finished product looks lower, leaner and meaner than its predecessor. Even though the car appears smaller from every angle, its dimensions remain virtually the same, and the hood line is actually slightly higher than on the outgoing model, Gafka said.
Inside, the makeover is even more dramatic; everything appears more tailored and upscale, with softer materials applied to every touch point. The center stack is completely redesigned, with slimmer rectangular air vents replacing the larger round units, allowing the center controls and the optional eight-inch navigation screen to move upward into easier view. The center console flows cleanly from the stack rearward, with the now-lockable console storage lid fitting flush. The flat surface eliminates one of the biggest complaints from owners of the previous model: that the raised console lid blocked a driver’s elbow, impeding shifting. That shouldn’t be a problem in the new car. In addition, the center console and the door armrests are now at identical height, enveloping the driver’s seat.
Aluminum trim and precise fits bring an extra level of refinement to the cockpit. Chrome surrounds on the instruments now are full 360-degree circles (vs. 270 degrees, cut off at the steering column, on the outgoing Mustang). Even the instrument-panel indicator light and the button for traction control eschew the universal generic car with a skidmark icon and instead uses a Mustang-shaped symbol. The trunk-release button on the console (there’s no keyhole in the decklid anymore) also features a Mustang-shaped symbol.
Cool ambient lighting and the Sync 2.0 interface are options, along with a rear-spoiler-mounted backup camera that displays in the navigation screen or on the rearview mirror (on models without nav).
“Every little detail was important to us in this car,” said senior interior designer Rob Gelardi.
Powertrains are carried over, including the three-valve 4.6-liter V8 and the 4.0-liter V6, although cold-air induction and freer-flowing exhaust on the V8 bumps power by 15 hp to 315 and torque by 5 lb-ft to 325. The V6 remains at 210 hp and 240 lb-ft. Five-speed automatic and five-speed manual transmissions continue to be offered with either engine.
Suspension doesn’t get any wholesale changes--if you were expecting Ford to make the leap to an independent rear suspension, forget it--but it does get substantial retuning along the lines of the well-received Bullitt edition. Spring rates increase, and shocks are retuned to make the car better balanced and to reduce body roll and understeer without degrading ride quality. Reducing aero-induced lift on the nose also aids in handling at speed.
The now-standard stability-control system has three modes: full on, full off and sport mode, which allows some tail wagging but intervenes just enough to keep the car out of the weeds. Wheels go up an inch on all models, to 17s and 18s on V6 models and 18s and 19s on V8s, and V6 models pick up a standard rear antiroll bar. V8 models equipped with 19-inch wheels also get a front shock tower cross-brace; the brace is also part of an optional “track pack” that comes with 19s, a 3.73 rear axle, summer-only tires and high-performance brake pads. The base axle ratio is 3.31, with a 3.55 and the 3.73 as options.
Despite the added equipment, curb weight is up just 15 pounds on the V8, 35 pounds on the V6. For the V8, the power-to-weight ratio improves, leading Ford to predict a 0-to-60-mph time of about 5.0 seconds.
Coupe, convertible and glass-roof 2010 Mustangs all go on sale in March, with pricing likely to be close to those on comparable 2009 models.