There's value aplenty in the 2011 Ford Mustang.
For a starting retail price of just $22,995, buyers get more than 300 horsepower, a six-speed transmission and the unmistakable sporty looks of one of America's favorite icons. The newest Mustang even has the best six-cylinder fuel economy rating ever in the car's 47-year history — 19 miles per gallon in city driving and 31 mpg on the highway, according to the federal government.
And this comes from a new V-6 whose 305 horsepower is just 10 less than the V-8 that was in the 2010 Mustang GT. It's a happy confluence of power and efficiency. But it's also surprising that it shows up in a famous sporty car. Mustang buyers typically don't make fuel economy a high priority.
Sold as a two-door coupe and convertible, the 2011 Mustang has a starting retail price of $22,995 for a V-6 coupe with six-speed manual transmission. A six-speed automatic, which nets the top fuel economy rating, adds $995 to the price, for a total of $23,990.
Gosh, these prices aren't far from the $23,305 starting retail price for a more ho-hum 2010 Honda Accord coupe with 190-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and manual transmission.
Mustang V-6 prices also compare favorably with the starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $23,530 for a 2010 Chevrolet Camaro coupe with 304-horsepower V-6 and manual transmission. The lowest starting retail price for a Camaro with automatic is $24,525. Note that the top government fuel economy rating for the Camaro is 17/29 mpg with automatic transmission.
Meantime, a 2010 Dodge Challenger with 250-horspower V-6 starts at $23,695 and is rated at 17/25 mpg. There's no manual transmission in the Challenger. Neither the Camaro nor Challenger is available as a convertible.
The test Mustang was a 2011 Premium coupe with automatic transmission that had shift-it-yourself controls that don't require a clutch pedal.
While buyers who demand brawny V-8 power may scoff, the tester with new, 3.7-liter V-6 performed so well, I wondered if a V-8 is really necessary anymore. The test car bounded down highways with gusto, sounded throaty on full acceleration and responded quickly and impressively to throttle demands.
The V-6 has modern double overhead cam technology and gets the most out of regular gasoline — no premium required — via variable valves that operate on both intake and exhaust. There's an honest-to-goodness dual exhaust, too.
Compared with the previous V-6, the new engine generates power with ease. Torque peaks at a comfortable 280 foot-pounds at 4,500 rpm. This compares with 240 foot-pounds in the old Mustang V-6 and 273 foot-pounds at 5,200 rpm in the Camaro.
A few passengers thought the Mustang test car had a V-8 in it, because engine sounds were strong and the power even stronger.
The new powertrain also gives the Mustang finesse. It no longer sounds rough.
The 5-liter V-8 is updated, too, for 2011. Horsepower now tops out at 412 versus 315 last year, and peak torque is up to 390 foot-pounds at 4,250 rpm versus 325 last year.
Fuel economy numbers for the V-6 aren't an aberration. Despite aggressive driving, the test car managed just over 22 mpg in combined city/highway driving.
Shifts from the automatic transmission, which is a six-speed, were well-timed for good power delivery, and the manumatic function worked well, too.
The ride was surprising, too. For 2011, Ford engineers adjusted some suspension settings, and the result was a test car that was buttoned down on twisty roads yet cruised nicely on highways and didn't punish passengers on city streets in need of repair. Electrically assisted steering wasn't as precise as I'd like, but it was more than adequate.
Fit and finish on the test coupe was excellent, with all body gaps and interior trim pieces and stitching on the leather seats well aligned and consistent. Leather seat trim was part of the Premium model contents.
Still, I couldn't always make out on the stylish, analog speedometer the exact speed I was traveling, because the numbers and markings are close together. Based on the angle from which I was looking down on the speedometer in the test car, for example, I couldn't tell one day if I was going 43 miles an hour or 45 or edging close to 50.
Mustang's styling is familiar and still old-school, with a long hood and sinister, browed headlights. From the driver's seat, I never saw where the front of the hood was, and a couple times, I bumped the lower air dam on concrete curbs in parking lots. But the car didn't scrape on driveway entrances, and handling overall was nimble, even in parking lots.
Just be sure to leave enough clearance to open the long coupe doors without banging into adjacent cars.
Rear window visibility is improved for 2011, thanks to the installation of two rear head restraints that fold forward and rest against the seatback when the seats aren't in use.
There are just two seats in back, and they're usable for children and smaller-sized adults, although passenger heads rest under the large rear window glass and can get hot with the sun shining down.
Rear passengers in the test car found they had to arrange their feet around cables and a raised front-seat track, and I really hated how front-seat passengers sat low, as if in a hole, with no seat height adjustment.
The 13.4-cubic-foot trunk has an opening that's oddly shaped, to accommodate the rear taillights.
Also, be careful not to damage the short antenna that's atop the rear fender, by the trunk opening.