The Mustang GT motors, no doubt. Zero to 60 mph is under six seconds and it's a lusty, roistering charge up to triple digits. Top speed is limited to about 143 mph. At cruising altitude, the car is dead calm, thrumming sonorously down the highway at about 2,300 rpm.
As for driving dynamics, the first thing you become aware of is the light, easy, progressive effort in the steering wheel. The turn-in is sharp and the effort builds nicely as the wheel approaches left and right lock. It's fairly relaxed on center -- look for a quicker steering ratio in the SVT models to come -- but plenty accurate, with only a slight tendency to self-center in long sweeping turns.
Sitting on a strut front suspension and a coil-over rear above a solid rear axle, the Mustang is hard to fluster. The car corners flatly and, if you lift the throttle just so, the car will rotate neatly without excessive rear roll, so you nail the back end down with the throttle. It doesn't have an exceptional amount of lateral grip -- the stock tires are a little gimpy -- and the rear end suspension is calibrated on the soft side to give the car a natural understeer.
You could argue that by having a solid rear axle -- which means that the two rear wheels are connected so that what affects one affects the other -- the Mustang is a little too faithful to the past. Most rear-drive cars today have independent rear suspensions, which generally offer both better ride compliance and handling. I would have to exercise the Mustang GT on a race track to really tell the difference in handling. I'm pretty sure I could get the car to lift the inside wheel in a corner. As for ride compliance, the Mustang is, just at the margins, a little less supple than other cars (Pontiac GTO) over the broken concrete rhythms of Los Angeles' freeways. This is particularly noticeable if you are riding in the back seat.
But almost certainly an IRS rear end will be part of any future SVT (Special Vehicle Team) package. In the meantime, the Mustang upholds one of the core values of the original Mustang: It's cheap. The well-stocked GT edition comes in under $26,000, and the base model can be had for under $20,000. I do wish, however, that Ford had made stability control available. Ford, of all companies, should know the value of these systems.
When automakers speechify about "heritage" and "legend," they are often engaged in the rhetoric of suggestion. It was only by swilling large quantities of Kool-Aid that anyone ever bought into GM's badge-marketing of the recent GTO, a federalized version of the Australian-built Holden Monaro that is to the 1960s muscle car what a hen is to a hammer.
But the new Mustang is the real thing -- great-looking, affordable, and potent, both emotionally and mechanically. The faith is defended.
2005 Ford Mustang GT
Base price: $25,705
Price, as tested: $27,375
Powertrain: 4.6-liter V8, single overhead cam, 24-valve, variable-valve timing; five-speed manual transmission; rear wheel drive
Horsepower: 300 hp at 5,750 rpm
Torque: 320 pound-feet at 4,500 rpm
Curb weight: 3,450 pounds
0-60: 5.2 seconds
EPA Mileage: 17 miles per gallon city, 25 mpg highway
Wheelbase: 107.1 inches
Overall length: 187.6 inches
Competitive vehicles: Nissan 350Z, Pontiac GTO
Final thoughts: Something old, something new
Automotive critic Dan Neil can be reached at email@example.com.