*Note: I apologize for the length of this post. I didn't realize how much I had to say when I first started this.*
In 2004 Ford introduced the S197 platform Mustangs. It's retro styling set the stage for a renaissance of horsepower, cool cars and affordable fun. Ford updated the platform in 2010, resulting in a much more sculpted and muscular look. With competition from the newly introduced Chevrolet Camaro, the 5.0L Coyote V8 was added in 2011 transforming the car into a true performance bargain. I purchased my 2012 Lava Red Mustang GT in June of 2011. Now the question remains: After two and a half years and 42,000 miles later, has the novelty of this performance bargain worn off?
(Full Disclosure: Ford wanted me to drive a Mustang so badly that they made me fall in love with them at the age of 12. When I graduated college at the age of 23, they gladly accepted a payment of $39,000 after fees and allowed me to order a fully loaded Lava Red Mustang GT Premium. The car came with the Brembo Brake Package, 3.73 gears, 6-speed Manual, Navigation and the Upgraded Interior. I named her Scarlett.)
Like many Mustang enthusiasts, my Mustang is no longer stock, benefiting from numerous upgrades throughout. With the help of my girlfriend, who not only puts up with my obsession but also helps install these parts, Scarlett now has custom designed dual stripes, Roush lowering springs, GT500 Sway bars and exhaust with resonator deletes, Boss 302 intake manifold, front bumper, oil cooler and brake ducts, an Airaid CAI, a tune, painted rockers, and side scoops, rear spoiler and lower rear bumper from 3D Carbon. Because of this, some of the categories I review may have two ratings. These represent the before modification and after modification scores. Please note that I have added a "Reliability" category, as this is a long term review. The "Interior" and "Toys" sections are now combined.
Exterior: 8/10 -> 9/10
It is no secret that I am smitten with the way my car looks. I think the best way to describe the car is "aggressively subtle." Especially over the 2004-2009 versions, the 2010+ Mustangs were blessed with more aggressive front fenders and a cowled hood that gave an athleticism that the earlier version didn't have. As with anything, there was always a little room for improvement. I wanted to get rid of the forward rake of the car, so Roush lowering springs went on (1 inch drop in the front, 1.25 in the rear). I thought the ass jutted out too far so I had the 3D Carbon GT500 spoiler put on. I added the side scoops… well mainly because I liked them. I had the rockers painted and changed the rear bumper to the 3D Carbon to get rid of the grey factory color. The Boss 302 front bumper was added to house the brake ducts for the Brembos. All and all, I made subtle changes that fit the style I was looking for. I think the result is something that looks like it could've come from the factory but with a hint more aggression. It is the bastard love child of a GT500 and Boss 302. The Lava Red color, though hard to photograph, is fantastic and gets nothing but compliments (1 of 510 Mustang GT coupes).
It's a pony car, not an S-Class. The soft touch one piece dash is nice, and the seats are comfortable and reasonably supportive. I would love to get my hands on a set of the Recaro's but they are out of my budget. Adding the interior appearance package gave stripes on the seats, different door trim, heated seats (fantastic by the way) and contrasting stitching to dress it all up. The large 8ich Navigation screen adds a bit of a "Wow" factor as does the billet aluminum shifter (came with the Brembo package). I think it's a nice place to be, especially for the price and type of car. Even better, everything has really held up well over the last two years with no fading or loss of finish. Compared with the interiors of the 2012 Camaro and Challenger, it, in my opinion, is a much nicer place to be.
Toys are a bit on the slim side as the track apps and reverse sensors were added in 2013. The Navigation system is easy to use and intuitive, if slightly slow to the touch. It uses the last version of Sync 2.0 before MyFordTouch was introduced so I don't have any usability issues. I can watch DVD's while parked, rip songs to a hard drive and can look up weather and movie times if you keep the Sirius Travel link service (I didn't—just kept the satellite). It works well with Android, and Windows Phone 7 and 8 with the latter giving me voice to text abilities. A rear view camera was optional though not optioned on my car as I knew I was going to change the spoiler. Beyond a few arguments with Sync and some software overlooks (seriously, If you allow me to rip a disc to the car, and I have to manually type in the information [old disc], you should let me apply the artist to all songs instead of making me type it 18 times) everything has worked as it should.
Holy Shit this thing is fun. Two years later, I can still plant it and put a smile on my face. The first time I put my sister in the passenger seat, all she could do was giggle when I floored it. The power… the sound... it is just fun. The 3.73 gears were a fantastic option that truly livens up the car and gives plenty of responsiveness and power across the rev range. And while I have tinkered with the engine in the form of a cold air intake, Boss 302 intake manifold and tune, the car never actually needed more. The Boss Manifold is fantastic—you can actually feel the difference above 4000rpm in how the car accelerates. Stock the car ran 12.8@106 mph at the drag strip. With the upgrades, I am consistently crossing the traps at 109-111mph, though admittedly with slower times (novice skill set, all season tires).
Here is the best way I can summarize Scarlett's power: I recently drove my cousins 662hp Shelby GT500- I am still impressed with the acceleration of my GT.
Hands down, the 14" Brembo's were the best $1000 dollars I have spent on the car. Living in the NYC area, I have been cut off, have had deer dart out and have come up upon inattentive drivers. The Brembos have never failed me. At the track, they slow the car confidently and quickly; on the street they can easily trigger the ABS. I added the Boss 302 Laguna Seca brake ducts about a year after I got the car. While I haven't seen any improvement in stopping power, I am sure having the extra cool air on the brakes will help, especially during longer autocross days. If they do have a downside, it is that new brakes and rotors cost me 600 dollars with a shop discount on parts. The pads and rotors lasted 38000 miles which includes city driving, and some track time. I had the Brembo front rotors resurfaced so they are sitting in my garage for the next time.
It is an S197 Mustang: This means MacPherson Struts up front with a Live Rear axle putting the power down. The ride is firm but smooth. It doesn't beat me up badly on the roads of Staten Island (trails is probably a better description) and was comfortable during a 12 hour stint to Myrtle Beach. After the sway bars and lowering springs, the ride became slightly stiffer, though not enough to deduct a point. This is due to the fact that the Roush springs are progressive, offering stock stiffness in normal driving and stiffening as the suspension compresses…at least until I hit the bump stops. That part sucks, but comes with the territory of driving a slightly lowered car on stock struts. Drive alert and you will be fine.
Handling : 7/10
This past summer I participated in my first autocross (NNJR for anyone who cares). This led to my participation in two more over the course of the summer. It is a lot of fun and I am learning a lot. Scarlett is great. I think the lowering springs and slightly thicker sway bars (2012 GT500 front sway bar has a larger wall thickness- the rear sway bar is the same as the GT) eliminate a lot of the lean in the turns but she is obviously far from an autocross master. That being said, she stays pretty planted throughout the bumpy parking lot of Metlife Stadium and is very controllable during the transition to oversteer. She has understeered more than once in the course, though she admittedly, is limited by my use of Cooper RS3-A all-season tires and slightly ham-fisted driving. They are fantastic all-around tires (nearly as grippy as the Pirelli Pzero in the dry, but better in the rain and cold) but do limit the capabilities on the track.
On the street the car is pretty composed in all but the worst turnpike expansion joints (NJ Turnpike North Exit 13 entrance, I am looking at you) with little to no axle-hop unless I am doing something stupid. Steering feel is great in my opinion, but it's worth noting that I have the option to increase or decrease the steering weight (There is noticeable difference in each level). The traction control is pretty unobtrusive as long as I keep the car straight while the stability control will ease the power to the wheels if I fishtail around a turn (See aforementioned "doing something stupid"). Even better, all systems can be turned off for drag strip runs at Englishtown or autocross events.
My car has a Chinese built Getrag MT82 6-speed manual transmission: you may remember this as the version that likes to grenade itself at around 5000 miles. Well, luckily mine hasn't done that, though it isn't without faults. 2nd gear is a massive pain in the ass to engage, requiring a fully floored clutch and a nice shove into the gear. Further, when combined with the 3.73 gears it is too short to be useable for many things. Every once in a while 5th gear will engage weird, though this is corrected by redoing the shift. I have been told by Ford that there is nothing wrong with the transmission; fine, that's what the extended warranty is for. Anyway, clutch release is forgiving with the engagement point at the very bottom of the travel. It is worth noting that high rpm shifts, near redline (drag strip) may cause the pedal not to return all the way (common issue due to assist spring on the pedal assembly). The one compliment I have for the transmission is the short throw shifter Ford installed with the Brembo's. I love the way the shifter clicks into the gates. It feels fantastic when it all works which is why it was rated a 6 instead of a 5.
This wouldn't be a true long term review if I didn't discuss reliability. Truthfully, it has been a mixed bag as Scarlett has had quite a few trips to the service department. In no particular order, the lower control arms were replaced under a TSB, the fan motor was swapped due to a high pitched whine that was annoying me, the rear sway bar links went bad, the battery developed a crack; the paint bubbled on my hood lip (Ford took care of me very well during this issue), the AC compressor crapped out at 36000miles and most recently the GPS antenna needed to be replaced. And while that is a rather comprehensive list, it is hard for me to ding a car that has never actually left me stranded on the side of the road (aside from the time I had two right side blowouts and had to be towed—even if the car had a spare [OEM spare doesn't clear the Brembos], I would've still needed the tow). Less attentive owners may have lived with the bad bushings in the sway bar or the fan noise—I couldn't. Still it is worth noting that I am familiar with the inside of my service department.
There are two different audio systems in Scarlett. The first, the Shaker 500 stereo, is nothing to write home about. It has good bass and decent sound but at higher volumes it loses some clarity. There was a point at which I was tempted to swap the speakers or the amp (I couldn't get a straight answer from more than one audio shop as to which was better so I never pulled the trigger) but that boat has most likely sailed. It does feature HD radio, a 10gig hard drive, Bluetooth, USB and line-in so I am never at a loss for ways to listen to music. All and all, it works.
The second audio system is the exhaust… and that is well… addicting. 5.0L's of V8 power going through a JBA 3" to 2.75" H-pipe, Borla resonator deletes and exiting through GT500 Mufflers. It is aggressive and deep at speed, but idles quietly and doesn't drone at any rpm. Even better are the crackle and pops of the overrun at 3000rpm. The exhaust changes are probably the sole reason my fuel economy has gone down as it gave Scarlett the aggression she was missing above 3000 rpm. A friend, who I autocross with, summed it up this way: "You may not be the fastest car out there, but you sound fantastic doing it.
Value: 8/10 (Original) - 6/10 (Realistic) - 10/10 (Sentimental)
Yes, you are reading that correctly— the value has gone down. From the factory, the 412hp Mustang GT is a fantastic bargain. And while you could option a base car with all the go-fast parts for much less, even the $39000 I paid represents a great bargain for the performance. "So why the decrease then?" Here's the problem: I modified the car. I plan on continuing to modify the car. I want to make her faster and handle better. I am almost through "stage 1" of the Mustang build in my head—there are 3 stages! Realistically, the car is a money pit, abet one I enjoy immensely. And every time I add a new part, the performance bargain that is the Mustang decreases. On the flip side, I have made Scarlett mine. There may be similar Mustangs out there, but none of those are mine – And that's worth all the points. There has been cursing, frustration, anger and bruising but there has also been learning, smiling and burnouts. This is my Mustang GT. This is Scarlett.
Before Modifications – 73/100
After Modifications – 75/100
Sentimental Total – 79/100