Story and photos by Grant Yoxon October 12, 2004 Los Angeles, California - For 40 years, the Ford Mustang has delivered the biggest bang for the buck. Since its introduction in 1964 when people mobbed dealerships for a chance see and perhaps to buy the radical new 'pony car', the Mustang has, with rare exception, given buyers what they wanted - sporty styling, available V-8 power and an affordable price. More than eight million Mustangs have been sold since 1964. The Mustang was unique in 1964 and it is unique today. With pricing that begins at $23,795 for V-6 models and $32,795 for the sharp-handling, 300-horsepower GT, the latest Mustang easily lives up to its tradition as high-performance price leader. V-6 and V-8 coupe models are making their way to dealers across Canada, with a convertible to follow next year. Price will attract buyers, but so will the styling - and the styling is decidedly retro. Driving the 2005 Mustang near Los Angeles, California during a press preview, we were greeted by waves and honking horns at the sight of the new Mustang. People rolled down their windows at stop lights to give us the thumbs up or to voice their approval. When we stopped, others rolled off the highway to walk around and admire the new Mustang. If this reception is any indication, the retro-modern styling of the 2005 Mustang is a hit. This model digs deeper into its past than any recent Mustang, drawing particular inspiration from the 1967-68 Mustang Fastback. The cues are everywhere - in the three-bar taillights, the side C-scoops, the flat grille with large round fog lights bracketing a galloping pony, the chrome "spinners" on the V-6 model's optional wheels, and the new-old colours: Windveil Blue and Legend Lime. Despite the obviously favourable response, I believe the 2005 Mustang digs too deep into its historical roots. Over forty years, Ford has always moved Mustang styling ahead, while paying tribute to its heritage, but the result was always a modern interpretation of the classic long hood, short deck pony car. This latest version appears, at least to me, to be too much retro and not enough modern. The retro styling also covers a bit of retro technology. V-8 power may be unusual at a time when many six-cylinder cars are pushing 300 horsepower, but the solid "live" rear axle is a museum piece, although in this case, it is from the museum of modern art. The V-8 in the '05 Mustang GT is thoroughly modern with aluminum block and heads, coil-on-spark ignition and electronic, drive-by-wire throttle. Three valves per cylinder and variable cam timing help push output of the 4.6-litre, single-overhead-cam motor to 300 horsepower - a full 40 more than '04 - and 320 pound-feet of torque. With high-test fuel closing in on a dollar a litre, V-8-powered coupes have become the playthings of the wealthy, but this pony is built for the proletariat. It costs less than any V-8-powered coupe available and runs on regular unleaded fuel. The aluminum block construction reduces engine weight by 34 kg (75 lbs) over the cast iron version, lifting a load off the front suspension that had debilitated earlier generation Mustangs. Now when you bang the throttle, the GT hooks up with ease and power turns don't threaten to bring the back end around any more. Of course, better front to rear weight distribution isn't the only reason. Despite its links with the past, the 2005 Mustang rides on a completely new chassis. The 2,720 milimetre wheelbase is 147 mm (6-inches) longer than 2004. It is about 120 mm (5 in.) longer, 48 mm (2 in) higher and a bit wider. The track has also been widened 61 mm (2.4 in.) front and rear. The front independent suspension with MacPherson struts is anchored by a beefy 34 mm tubular stabilizer bar. The Mustang's live axle, a really historic piece of equipment in these days when every four-door sedan has a fully independent rear suspension, continues to evolve and has become civilized, actually, with the addition of the panhard. Well, civilized to a point - to the point of delivering enough throttle to kick out the back-end in one of those wonderful, power slides that defined the Mustang as much as it was a curse that put many unwary drivers into the weeds or snow. The brakes have also been beefed up with 12.4 in. ventilated front discs (11.4 in on V6), and 11.8 in rear discs, vented on V-8, solid on V-6. Both GT and V-6 brakes in 2004 were 10.8 in. front and 10.5 in. rear. Four-channel anti lock brakes and traction control are standard equipment on the GT, but traction control can be deactivated with a dash button. Despite my reservations about the solid axle, driving the GT through the mountains and canyons of Southern California was thrilling. The new V-8 coupe had a smooth and comfortable ride and handled the twists and turns with ease. With and without traction control, the car cut corners better than any previous GT. Even on rough pavement, the panhard kept the rear axle well planted - without a hint of wheel-hop or unexpected lateral movement. The same could not be said for the V-6 coupe we tested. With a smaller front stabilizer bar (28.6 mm), no rear stabilizer bar and tires (P215/65R-16) that looked and behaved like they came from the sixties, we quickly lost confidence in its high speed handling ability and kept the automatic-equipped V-6 to reasonable cruising speeds. The base coupe's V-6 engine is also new for 2005. A 4.0-litre, 60-degree, single-overhead-cam engine replaces the 3.8-litre 90-degree pushrod engine in the 2004 model. The new engine produces 210 horsepower and 240 ft-lb of torque - a gain of seventeen horsepower and 15 foot-pounds. Buyers have a choice of 5-speed manual or automatic transmissions. V-6 models have a Tremec T-5 manual standard, while a Tremec 3650 is standard in the GT. The latter shifts easily and precisely with a slightly notchy feel. Clutch feel is also relatively light. Gone are the days when a Mustang clutch felt like there was an anchor attached to your foot. Standard features on both models include one-touch up and down windows, power mirrors, power locks and keyless entry, cruise control, tilt steering, 6-way power adjustable driver's sear, manual air conditioning, engine block heater and rear spoiler. GTs come with additional standard features such as fog lights, 17-inch aluminum wheels (16-inch aluminum on V-6) and Shaker 500 audio system with 6-disc and MP3 player (single CD on V-6). Optional equipment is restricted to interior upgrades, anti-theft system and front seat side airbags. The interior, which one could describe as retro-modern, is rather plain in base trim. We also noticed a number of fit and finish issues which might be due to the pre-production nature of the cars we drove. Two large round '67-style gauges - tach on left, speedometer on the right - dominate the instrument panel with air vents continuing at the same level on a flat panel dash. The white on black script on the instruments is reminiscent of early sixties gauges. The optional upgrade package adds a variety of aluminum trim pieces and is much more eye-appealing. And the gauges are magically transported into the 21st century with backlighting that can be lit in one of 125 different driver-selectable colours. An additional colour accent package includes red leather upholstery and red door trim inserts and floor mats. While a well-equipped '67 Mustang came with a radio, this 2005 model has an optional 1000-watt sound system. With its longer wheelbase, the 2005 Mustang gives rear seat passengers some added and much needed legroom - on paper at least. But with the driver's seat moved to its rear-most position, those passenger legs had better be thin. Trunk space is adequate with about 365 litres (13 cubic feet) of space, expandable through a large pass-through and folding rear seats. Most people who buy a Mustang, especially a V-8 Mustang, will not be overly concerned by restricted luggage or passenger legroom. For them, the attraction is a good-looking ride that drives as well as it looks. In this respect, the 2005 Mustang is a winner. The perennial pony car still delivers the biggest bang for the buck.