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New Pony Is Best at a Gallop

2005 Ford Mustang GT Premium coupe

By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 7, 2004; Page G01

There was little to consider. The 2005 Ford Mustang GT Premium coupe was delivered to my driveway. The car was torch red. The day was beautiful. The airwaves were full of politics. I grabbed several discs from my Ray Charles "Genius & Soul" collection and hit the road.

It was a beautiful escape -- 300-horsepower V-8 engine roaring, Ray singing "Born to Lose" on the eve of a national election, and miles of highway stretched before me.

2005 Ford Mustang GT Premium coupe

Nuts & Bolts

Downside: At a curb weight -- factory weight without passengers or cargo -- of 3,450 pounds, the tested Mustang GT Premium coupe is a tad heavy. You tend to feel that weight in slow-moving traffic through urban areas, where the new Mustang feels less than nimble. But on the open highway, the weight seems to disappear, and the car runs with a wonderful lightness of being.

Ride, acceleration and handling: There is excellent ride and handling on smooth roads. But that traditional rear axle makes its presence felt on rough roads, where the ride can turn into a bump-and-grind affair. Overall acceleration is excellent.

Head-turning quotient: I could have sold tickets. Lots of raves.

Body style/layout: The tested 2005 Ford Mustang GT Premium is a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive hardtop coupe with a traditional notchback trunk lid. A convertible version is coming soon. There are four trim levels -- the Mustang V-6 Deluxe, V-6 Premium, GT Deluxe and GT Premium. The GT models have eight-cylinder engines. "Premium" refers to extra appointments, such as the Shaker 500 or Shaker 1000 sound system and leather seats.

Engines/transmissions: There are two engines -- a base 4-liter V-6 with 210 horsepower and 240 foot-pounds of torque; and the GT's 4.6-liter V-8 with 300 horsepower and 320 foot-pounds of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard. A five-speed automatic is optional. Ford eventually will introduce more fuel-efficient six-speed transmissions to these and other models.

Cargo and fuel capacities: The new Mustang coupe has seating for four people. Luggage capacity is 13 cubic feet. The fuel tank holds 16 gallons of recommended regular unleaded gasoline.

Mileage: A bit disappointing. I averaged 23 miles per gallon in the Mustang GT Premium equipped with the optional automatic transmission.

Safety: Side air bags available as optional equipment. Four-wheel disc brakes are standard. Traction control and anti-lock brakes are standard on GT models, optional on V-6 models.

Price: Base price on the tested Mustang GT Premium is $25,705. Dealer invoice price on base model is $23,489. Price as tested is $29,695, including $3,365 in options (the optional Shaker 1000 sound system is $1,295!) and a $625 destination charge. Dealer's price with options and transportation fee is $27,110. Prices are from Ford, Edmunds.com and Cars.com, an affiliate of The Washington Post. Prices will vary.

Purse-strings note: A Mustang is a Mustang, and there is no real substitute. If you want to save money and fuel, buy the V-6 Deluxe version.

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I have a theory about cars, especially American icons such as the Ford Mustang, which has been around in one form or another since 1964. I don't care if they are "all-new," which is what Ford's marketers claim the 2005 Mustang to be. Nor am I terribly concerned about how fast they can move from 0 to 60 miles per hour, or if they can beat comparably engineered cars in what the people at Motor Trend magazine call "grudge matches."

That's all silly to me.

The things I want from a car like the Mustang are memories, a sense of time and place, the illusion of freedom, the delusion of controlled destiny. I want it to become my magic carpet, to whisk me away from the world's ugliness and tensions, if only for a moment. I want romance, and if there is a car that can give me that and the other craved psychic rewards without the intrusion of sloppy handling, squeaks and rattles, mind-numbing expense or various and sundry other discomforts, I want that car.

I want this Mustang GT Premium.

It is retro without being saccharine, sweet with no bitter aftertaste. It honors the past with traditional external Mustang styling cues -- the famous long hood, C-scoops on the side panels, three-element back lights and the chromed horse on the grille. Similar homage is paid to the past in the interior, most notably with the deep-set chrome-ringed gauges on the instrument panel.

But there is no slavish copying here, no mindless grafting onto the new what was disturbing about the old. The outside sheet metal, for example, is better proportioned, rising higher at the waist and the rear, thus giving the car a truly sporty look. The rear sail panels above the trunk line, once solid visual obstructions, now include windows designed to minimize those former blind spots.

The new Mustang's nose looks as aggressive as ever -- more like the snout of a shark than a horse. But Ford has made a welcome bow to European styling here by adding two round, jewel-like headlamps in the center of the grille.

Inside, there is more space for heads, legs and posteriors than existed in previous Mustangs. Lots of things change in 40 years -- human bodies chief among them. It makes sense for wider bottoms to beget wider seats.

That does not refer to chronological age, per se. Take a look around your local human landscape. There are many people in their teens, 20s, 30s and 40s whose physical girth far exceeds their fiscal worth. How many hamburger and french-fry combos have been sold in the United States since 1964?

Anyway, Ford wants to sell its new Mustang to more than nostalgic baby boomers, and to a wider audience than exists in North America. The company is looking at twenty- and thirtysomethings here . . . and in Europe.

To get those people, the new Mustang has to offer what previous Mustangs didn't -- impeccable quality. That means flawless sheet metal and paint, perfect fit and finish inside and out, and high-grade interior materials, all of which happily are part of the 2005 Mustang.

There has been some whining, mostly in the automotive magazines, about Ford's use of a 1960s-type live rear axle, as opposed to a more sophisticated -- and more expensive -- multi-link, independent suspension in the rear of the car. I suppose that having the more modern suspension matters, especially in the Mustang GT Premium, if your intent is to take the rear-wheel-drive car racing.

But I have no such intentions.

I'd buy the Mustang as a cruiser, a personal therapy machine designed to take me away from the maddening crowd and all of its contentious concerns of the moment. I'd fill my pockets with greenbacks and hit the road, Jack. Either the daytime or the nighttime would be the right time. I'd crank that big V-8 engine, let the good times roll, and there's no way I'd ever let the sun catch me crying.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company