Stick Shift: 2016 Ford Mustang GT

Once upon a time, when I was young, a little naive, and totally smitten by all things automotive, I spent many of my evenings in the garages of friends, tinkering with cars. From spray painting brake calipers red and yellow, to bolting on oversized exhaust systems and custom rigging cold air intakes. One especially large project took shape as a late 80’s RX-7. We were dreaming big, images of fiber-glass wide body kits, tube frames, turbos the size of spare tires and roll-cages like elaborate jungle gyms danced in our heads. We cut, unbolted and pulled off every piece of soft luxury we could find, all in the name of saving weight to improve performance. It’s what was most important! It’s what we knew, what we’d read in all the car magazines. You could have neck snapping performance or soft, supple luxury; never both.

For a very long time, the Ford Mustang was no exception to this rule. Now though, things have changed, and the Mustang has finally been allowed to have its cake and eat it too. I reviewed the 2015 Eco-boost awhile back. I was impressed with the power the little 4-cylinder made. I loved the interiors new level of polish and the beautiful fast-back shape resurrected on the exterior. Mostly though, I was struck by how polite and refined the new Mustang behaved. Ever since that review I’ve been curious to learn how the power hungry V8 GT would perform. Would it retain all the moves in the right direction the 2015 Eco-boost had made, or, like my friends old RX-7, would it sacrifice all at the alter of performance?

From the outside, the Mustang looks as good as ever. The taught, muscular lines sweep back effortlessly from nose to tail, ending in a small spoiler and commanding rear diffuser with integrated dual exhaust. HID projector headlamps are aggressively angled above fog lights. The hood is sculpted and contoured like iconic models of the past, with secondary turn signals tucked into the vents. A new feature for 2016. Lastly, the dark wheels against retina assaulting Competition Orange paint is a striking combination, regardless of who you ask.

On the inside, nothing is missing in the name of that extra 0.1 seconds on the drag strip. The seats are extremely supportive without compromising comfort. The 8.0″ center stack touch screen has a user friendly infotainment system and includes a rearview camera with super sharp video feedback. A must considering the car’s poor rear visibility. A tilt and telescoping steering column is useful in getting everything positioned just right before attacking the clock at your local track. The swath of materials used on the new Mustang’s interior look and feel higher end than they probably are. Aluminum panels cut a handsome line across the cabin. Leather trimmed seats, shift boot and center arm rest feature contrast stitching. Fun details can be found throughout, like a speedometer reading out ‘ground speed’ and an impressive Shaker Pro 12-speaker audio system.

So, we have door liners, carpet, sound deadener and back seats for the little ones. Tire and wind noise is even modest at highway speeds. With all those ‘performance destroying’ niceties weighing us down, how does the new 2016 Ford Mustang GT perform? Lucky for us, the 5.0L V8 is a real heart-breaker. Making 435 hp and delivering remarkably smooth, even acceleration, it’s deep V8 growl building to a voracious roar all the way to redline. It will even manage 25 mpg on the highway. Thankfully, my model came with the right number of pedals. This 6-speed manual transmission and V8 combo is a eHarmony match made in heaven. With easy to find shift gates, a short throw and beautifully precise shifter and easy to modulate clutch pedal; even mundane daily driving is a delight. The sixth gear is plenty tall for highway speeds, ensuring a quite cabin with only minor engine noise.

Numbers will show that the new Mustang has gained a couple pounds since 2014. It may be a little slower at the start if you’re racing in a straight line, but as soon as you introduce a bend or two, the previous models don’t stand a chance. Having taken a page or four from its European rivals, and finally ditching the live rear axel for a more modern independent suspension, this updated, tightened chassis shines. 0-60 is accomplished in 4.7 seconds with a quarter mile time of 12.9 seconds at 110 mph.

In Sport Plus mode, especially with the performance package, the ride quality can be a little punishing over irregular pavement. On better roads though it’s generally very civilized. Unless your planning to take your Mustang to the track on a semi-regular basis, I’d opt for the softer, standard suspension configuration. It’ll provide a much nicer day to day driving experience.

Though the Mustang is mechanically unchanged from last year, thankfully, its tech has been dramatically improved. Ford replaced the troublesome MyFord Touch system with the new Sync 3 touchscreen. The new hardware has a simplified interface to better integrate smartphones, even handling in a similar fashion with pinch and swipe finger commands.

Now that I’m older and slightly less naive, I know that a balance between comfort and on-track capability isn’t an unreasonable thing to ask for. Where the Mustang never gave you the option to have both in the past, times have changed. The beloved 5.0 GT doesn’t need to feel embarrassed over an interior full of cheap plastic or its general inability to navigate around a corner. Now it boasts nearly as much ‘show’ as it does ‘go.’ Nearly. Still not as much. Which is what we’ll always prefer.

By: Brandon Randall

Price as tested: $42,275.00

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