Expert Rating Ann Job's Rating: 9 out of 10. Bottom Line: Ford's 2005 Mustang liberally takes some of the best styling cues from past Mustangs, adds a new, stiffer platform, a healthy 300 horsepower V8 and a retro-touched interior to create a most appealing, eye-catching and affordable sports car. Pros: Bad boy looks Awesome V8 sounds Affordable pricing Cons: Front passenger seat is too low Stiff, loud ride in GT Dead pedal needs improvement Over the years, Ford's iconic pony car, the Mustang, has had its share of hits and misses—models that stirred souls and others that fell a bit flat. Early indications are that the all-re-engineered and restyled 2005 Mustang falls squarely into the former category. Indeed, during my test drive in Southern California, some people were taking pictures of the car with their camera phone. Heads swiveled everywhere, and young guys in other vehicles chased down the test Mustang—not an easy feat in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a Los Angeles freeway. Judging by their excited rubbernecking and smiles, they liked what they saw. The keen interest in this, the first big redesign of the now more-than-40-year-old Mustang in years, isn't merely a West Coast thing. Ford had more than 23,000 orders nationwide—evidence of both dealer and consumer interest—before the car even went into final assembly. There are many reasons for the Mustang buzz. For one thing, since General Motors Corp. did away with the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird in recent years, the Mustang is arguably the only long-running, affordable, American sports car for the masses left. Then, there's the styling of the 2005 Mustang. It grabs people—baby boomers who remember the first Mustangs from their youth and young people who weren't even born in the '60s but who likely recall a Mustang or two featured on the silver screen. (In fact, the Mustang ranks as the No. 1 car of American film, having had starring roles in more than 500 movies, according to Ford officials. Even John Wayne, who was the leading man in a record 142 movies, can't top that.) Ford designers incorporated some traditional Mustang elements. The car's round headlamps are back prominently; so are the three-element taillights of earlier Mustangs. C-scoops are there on the sides, and the galloping pony in the center of the grille looks just as fresh and fun-loving as ever. But Ford designers also made this Mustang brawnier than mainstream Mustangs—not necessarily the SVT Cobras or Saleens—have been in a long time. Don't believe me? Look at how long and tall the hood is on the '05 Mustang. The in-your-face nose and forward-leaning grille convey a no-nonsense attitude, too. And new flashy 17-inch wheels on the uplevel GT don't hurt, either. There's more than looks to the 2005 Mustang, though. It's the first mainstream Mustang with a V8—in the GT model—that generates 300 horsepower. Historically, this level of performance has been reserved for specialty Mustangs—the Cobra and Boss models, for example, or at least the Mach 1. (The predecessor GT model, the 2004, had a 260-horse V8.) Last but not least, price remains reasonable. At the start of the 2005 model year, the manufacturer suggested retail price started around $19,000 for a new Mustang V6 and $24,500 for a V8-powered GT. Strong engine sounds It's an understatement to say the Mustang GT gets going quickly. Torque is a hale and healthy 320 lb-ft at 4500 rpm, enough to push me back into the seatback during hard acceleration and squeal the tires at startup. The ready power comes in a responsive surge. Before I knew it, I was above the speed limit, passing cars like they were standing still and relishing the oh-so-deep V8 sounds. Approaching a highway, I was at highway speed before I cleared the entrance ramp. And once the speed leveled out, the GT cruised easily. Note that all GTs have a new, 4.6-liter single overhead cam V8 that delivers all its power on regular, not premium, gasoline. The Mustang GT comes with choice of 5-speed manual or 5-speed automatic transmission. The latter, which is the first 5-speed automatic in a Mustang, was in the test GT and likely will be in the majority of Mustangs sold, if past sales are any guide. Also used in the Ford Thunderbird and Lincoln LS, this 5-speed made travel through congested traffic much easier. The shifts weren't jolting, but were well-timed for performance, and kickdown during acceleration was satisfying. Still, there is no manumatic shift here that allows drivers, even with automatics, to shift from gear to gear, sans clutch pedal. This kind of transmission, however, is offered on sporty BMWs and even some Chryslers. Don't look for great fuel economy. The Mustang GT with automatic is rated at just 18 miles a gallon in city driving and 23 mpg on the highway. The manual transmission doesn't improve things much. The base Mustang, which comes with a 210-horsepower, 4.0-liter, single overhead cam V6, is no slouch. While its 240 lb-ft of torque at 3500 rpm doesn't rival the 320 lb-ft in the GT, it's ample for a fun ride. What I found to be most impressive are the confident sounds of the V6. This has to be one of the best-sounding V6 installations that Ford has done. The Mustang V6 was mated to a 5-speed manual with satisfying shifts and provides better, though not stellar, fuel economy of 19/28 mpg. Ford officials say 65 percent to 70 percent of Mustangs sold have the V6, and of those, only 10 percent have manual transmissions. Of the V8 models, it's expected that some 30 percent will have manual transmissions. Interior throwback If you don't feel at least a twinge of nostalgia when you get inside the '05 Mustang with its classic fastback profile, you're unplugged from the past. Even the fonts used for the numbers on the speedometer and the letters on the PRNDL of the '05 Mustang are throwbacks to the '60s. So is the placement and styling of the automatic gear lever. The car's longer wheelbase, an 0.8-inch expansion in the width and a taller, 55.4-inch height make the interior and trunk larger than the predecessor Mustang had. Specifically, the Mustang coupe's trunk is 13.1 cubic feet in size now vs. 10.9 cubic feet for the 2004 model. Inside, front hip room is increased 1.3 inches, helping to accommodate riders more comfortably. But everyone still must drop down into the seats. There's no high-riding profile here, and I could scarcely see through the windows of cars in front of me. Indeed, once in the driver's seat with standard height adjustment, I put the seat up as high as I could and made full use of the additional half inch of front-seat headroom to try to see over the big hood. This hood sits high. Even when I was sitting inside the car, I was aware of how high the hood was, because the top of the dash—the cowl—is high, too. The situation can be even worse in the Mustang's front passenger seat, which at introduction didn't include height adjustment. One of the big complaints that Ford officials were receiving as the car was being shown to the media is the fact the front passenger seat was too low for most people. At 5 feet 4, I felt like I sat in a hole in that seat, and after a couple hours, my back hurt from my straining to see over the cowl and the hood. I had a great view of the windshield washer nozzle in front of me, but not much else. My 6-foot driving partner didn't have a backache, but he, too, complained about the low ride in the passenger seat. A Ford official said the company was looking at alleviating this problem. Not everything is larger in the '05 Mustang. Rear-seat hiproom and headroom have decreased slightly, and truth be told, even with the additional 0.4 inch of legroom in the back seat, the rear seat isn't a very comfortable ride for adults. There's a closed-in feeling back there because of the sloping roofline, the smallish, triangle-sized rear windows and the thick window pillars at the back. About the ride The wheels in the '05 Mustang are pushed out farther to the corners than in the previous car, stretching the wheelbase by 6 inches. This helps improve, somewhat, the choppy ride that can be felt in the uplevel GT, which has larger stabilizer bars, front and rear, and larger, 17-inch, low-profile tires than the base V6 Mustang. Still, over manhole covers and uneven surfaces, the stiff ride in the GT can become a bit tiring. It seemed as if the test GT conveyed each road imperfection intimately to passengers. My body flab juggled, and there was a constant sense that the GT ride was more than firm, it was stiff. All '05 Mustangs have independent MacPherson struts up front and a 3-link solid axle and a Panhard rod at the back. But be aware that in a V6 Mustang, the ride is more compliant, thanks in large part to the 16-inch tires with greater sidewall. The car remains rear-drive, though the platform underneath is all new, and its sense of balance on twisty roads and the fine steering manners make driving enjoyable. I relished my drive time in mountain twisties — so long as other drivers didn't hold me up. Front and rear vented disc brakes are standard on all Mustangs and work well. The '05 Mustang has the biggest rotors ever seen on a mainstream Mustang. The car also comes with a stiffer body and safety cage construction that aids in crash protection. All-speed traction control is standard on the GT but can be turned off for smoky burnouts when the urge strikes, via a button on the dashboard. Note that side airbags are optional and curtain airbags are not offered. The Mustang GT hums and growls deeply nearly all the time. About the only thing that drowned it out was the optional, top-level Shaker 1000 audio system. Cranked up, the volume got to the point our bodies vibrated from the bass, yet tunes remained crystal clear. Odds and ends I appreciated the fabric seats in the Mustang V6. They held me in place better than the leather seats of the GT's premium package did. I was not as comfortable, however, in positioning myself in the driver's seat of the stick-shift Mustang as I was in the Mustang with automatic transmission. In order to get the clutch all the way down to the floor, I had to move the seat up too close to the tilt-only steering column. My knee actually brushed the bottom of the column, which left me feeling cramped. My 6-foot driving partner had a much easier time getting a comfortable driving position. Also, the dead pedal area in the '05 Mustang that can help a driver brace her or his left foot during aggressive driving could use some improvement. It's basically a carpeted spot on the floor of the car, but it doesn't have enough of an angle to provide as good bracing as I'd prefer. I noticed that several hours of driving in the GT had a sensory-overload effect on me once I stepped out of the car. My body seemed to suddenly notice how quiet and vibration-free my surroundings were in contrast to the previous hours of travel. Mustangs have not been known for consistent quality over the years. The '05 model is being built at a new assembly plant in Michigan. Time will tell if the new plant and new assembly techniques improve the Mustang's quality record. A final note: Early sales of the '05 Mustang are all coupes. Ford isn't showing the convertible version until calendar 2006.