2010 Ford Mustang: First DriveS

The 2010 Ford Mustang is, more or less, the sum of its parts. Luckily those parts are much better than you think. Especially the GT's optional track pack.

Full Disclosure: Ford wanted me to drive the new Ford Mustang so badly they flew me out and put me up in a nice hotel to make sure I wrote about it. Also, they fed me BBQ. Bad BBQ.

The new Mustang really is all about the add-ons. Ford's basically taken the old model and bolted on a bunch of fancy new parts to make it. They work; the new base model Mustang is a lot better than the old one. But it's the parts you'll have to pay for to add on that'll really make a difference.

2010 Ford Mustang: First DriveS

2010 Ford Mustang: First DriveS

2010 Ford Mustang: First DriveS

2010 Ford Mustang: First DriveS

2010 Ford Mustang: First DriveS

2010 Ford Mustang: First DriveS

2010 Ford Mustang: First DriveS

2010 Ford Mustang: First DriveS

2010 Ford Mustang: First DriveS

2010 Ford Mustang: First DriveS

2010 Ford Mustang: First DriveS

2010 Ford Mustang: First DriveS

Aside from the sexy new body (only the roof is carried over), the new Ford Mustang uses the same basic mechanical components as the old one. Same chassis, same engine. But, Ford has added higher-spec components to the base model with the aim of making the new ‘Stang better than the old one.

Inside, there's a new, less rental car-like interior complete with soft touch plastics, greater sound deadening and shiny new instruments. It's a nicer place to spend time; it looks better (especially with the addition of the aluminum trim), it's much quieter and it now features Ford's tacky MyColor LED lighting, most notably on the scuff plates on the door sill.

Outside there's new mirrors, hidden washer nozzles and a repositioned radio aerial (it's on the rear quarter panel now) also contribute to a reduction in wind noise, while integrated indicators, a new hood bulge (used across all models), a new grille and a more creased body combine to great effect, making the Mustang's basic shape much more lithe.

Under the hood, the engines are carried over. The V8-equipped GT now makes 315 HP (up from 300) thanks to the addition of the cold air intake from the Bullitt. That intake is also good for a .3 second reduction in 0-to-60 times. Want more shove? Add premium gas for about a 10 lb-ft increase in torque between 1,000 and 4,000 RPM.

Suspension on the new model now comes from whichever old model was one up the range. So the V6 gets the suspension from the old GT, the GT gets the suspension from the Bullitt. And the GT500? Well, you'll have to wait until the Detroit Auto Show for that. But for now all models get traction and stability control as standard.

There's also a bunch of other new parts like the standard front undercover that reduces front lift by 23% and the optional rear view camera.

The sum of these new parts? A vehicle that's better in every way than the one it replaces. It's faster, better handling, nicer looking and now has a big boy interior. It's kind of like a really, really comprehensive tuner version of the old one.

But that's only part of the story. What's interesting about the new Mustang isn't the standard parts, but the optional ones, the ones you have to pay for.

We drove the 2010 Ford Mustang GT equipped with both the premium and track packs. While the premium pack brings Ford's awesome SYNC nav/entertainment system and "real aluminum trim" (they're really excited about that), it's the track pack that you'll really want to care about. Know how the new GT gets the old Bullitt's suspension? Well the track pack brings the suspension and carbon-plate diff from the Shelby GT500. Only available with the optional 19" wheels (along with a massive front strut brace). It also includes upgraded brake pads, a 3.73 differential gear and summer performance tires. The Mustang's engineers were so excited about the performance possible with the track pack, that they've managed to convince Ford to make it available at cost: about $1,495 on top of the GT's $27,995.

Pulling onto the PCH in Malibu, immediately apparent is the new engine noise made possible by rerouting the exhaust for a nicer sound inside. Otherwise a very quiet place to spend time, the interior is flooded with the 4.6-liter V8s aggressive growl the second you put your foot down. From the PCH, it was up into Topanga Canyon then onto Mulholland. The new, firmer suspension not only delivers a more controlled ride, but much more planted, competent cornering. Combined with the summer tires and the new sport mode for the stability control (it turns traction off, then allows for about 7-9 degrees of slide before cutting in), these tight, bumpy corners are no longer the Mustang's Achilles heel, but its strong point. The responses are now more sports car than muscle car, with the engine upgrades delivering more acceleration than driving here demands.

Despite the continued use of a live rear axle, the 2010 Mustang's rear end never got out of control. At least not without severe provocation.

There's still improvements that could be made: the steering, while adequate, isn't the most communicative; the brakes, while powerful, lack initial bite. But this is a Mustang we're talking about, a car that was, until now, the stuff of rental car fleets.

But right now, I'm sitting on a plane flying back from LAX to JFK trying to get this damned review written in time for the midnight embargo. When I flew out here the Mustang was just a car for men from the Midwest with facial hair. Now, with more sophistication from both the looks and driving experience, I'm thinking that, with an appropriately checked options list, it may be a car for me too; a sports car that's refined, cheap, good-looking and, most importantly, fast. Even around corners.