Test Drive: 2011 Mustang GT 5.0

This changes everything. The new 2011 Mustang GT 5.0 isn’t just a turn of the page, it is a new chapter all together. Since 1995, Ford fans have been clamouring for the return of the 5.0 emblem on the Mustang’s fenders. The host of 4.6 modular V8’s over the years have been impressive and some even legendary, but something has just been missing. It might have taken fifteen years, but Ford has listened. And they have made up for lost time in a huge way.






The sound of this all-new 412hp DOHC V8 roaring under the hood, bellowing through the canyons, and ripping through the gears plays on the inner soul in ways that words cannot well express. It is the euphoric addictive essence of automotive lust there for you to playback over and over again whenever you need the fix. Like chain smokers watching the clock at work for a smoke break, owners of the 2011 Mustang GT will be looking for every opportunity to get out on the road for a spirit feeding car-fix of 5.0 rumble, roar and speed. Even the smallest chance to hear that growl, the exhaust note, and feel the power will be the new nicotine. Did we mention that it sounds good?

Suffice it to say that new owners of the 2011 Mustang 5.0 will not immediately feel the need to go out and buy a set of aftermarket mufflers. Ford has outfitted the new Mustang GT with a generously piped high-flow stainless steel exhaust system with huge chrome tips.

Engineers tell us they spent untold weeks and months in the sound lab getting rid of what we don’t want to hear, and adding more of what we do.  A sound pipe even transmits induction sound from the intake manifold directly to a drum-head like diaphragm in the firewall, giving the driver a healthier dose of that throaty V8. A device that owes it’s origins to the Eco-Boost engine program, we have to say that it actually works.






And the power. Oh my. With six-speeds at your disposal and a standard 3:31 limited slip rear axle, every bit of the stated 412hp is easily put to forward motion. In fact, a couple of magazines have already dyno tested the 2011 Mustang 5.0 with results of 377-395rhwp. If you do the standard math on that range, you have Ford under-stating the true power potential of the new 5.0 litre V8. Let’s just say that it felt terrific to slingshot through the curves and hills of Southern California‘s coastal roads. Powering up steep grades with the engine sounding  something of an off-shore racing boat was effortless and rewarding. Let’s go back and do that again.

The engine is a brilliant balance between demonic rage that rolls your eyeballs back like slot machine reels and a refined smoothness you would assign to a high end German sport sedan. How they achieved this dual personality is something people will be talking about for a long time. But suffice it to say it not only looks and sounds the part of a world class sports car, but it now feels the part as well. Someone buying this car having owned a BMW will be every bit impressed by the power train’s refinement as someone coming from a 2005 Mustang.





The six-speed manual was our favourite of course. The shifter is much improved over the similar one we experienced in the 2010 Shelby GT-500 last year. It is easily rowed through the cogs with few hang-ups or misses. It is precise and surgical. It feels solid and durable. And with Mustang enthusiasts it will need to be.

The six-speed automatic surprised and pleased as well. We had the opportunity to test one on a short drag strip alongside a Camaro SS also equipped with a six-speed automatic. With firm quick up-shifts we clicked off a 8.60 second 1/8 mile run in the 2011 Mustang GT with a top speed of 86.70 mph. Our fastest 1/8 mile run in the 2010 Camaro SS was a much slower 9.58 seconds at 80.14 mph. The Camaro by comparison felt sluggish and heavy with a sloppier shifting transmission.

The 2011 Mustang GT 5.0 also impresses in the handling and braking arena as well. For 2011 the Mustang uses an all new electronic power steering assist (EPAS) instead of hydraulic system. Freeing up the engine from driving a power steering pump, the first thing you notice in the parking lot is that turning left and right does not pull down on your idle. There is no power steering pump noise either. This translates into better performance and efficiency as the engine is free of that drag.

Electric power steering allows for software programming to make it feel right in a variety of driving situations. The system can detect drift caused by a crosswind or road crown and automatically correct your course. Some automakers have not been so successful, having an artificial feel or noticeable assist motions. The good news here is that Ford did it well. Even experiencing stiff crosswinds on our drive, we never felt it stepping in on us. At speed the steering feels buttery and precise on centre. In the curves and windy roads above Los Angeles it felt as good as any BMW 3-Series or 5-Series we have experienced.





The suspension also gets new spring and damper rates for 2011 along with new chassis stiffness improvements of 12% over the 2010 models. New sound deadening has been added around the rear wheel wells and around the A-pillars to reduce road and wind noise too. The result is a more refined and expensive feel to the Mustang driving experience you can actually hear and feel. The 2011 Mustang Convertible is the first drop-top we have ever driven where after an hour on the road with the top up we forgot we weren’t in a coupe. There was little or no cowl shake, no shimmies, and low wind noise. It was solid.

We highly recommend you order the new for 2011 Brembo brake package for your 2011 Mustang 5.0. It upgrades you to the larger 14” front disc brakes that come from the Shelby GT-500. Additionally you get a very expensive looking set of exclusive 19” wheels and summer rubber. The wheels have a slightly smoked metallic finish that really looks aggressive while showing off your big brakes. And yes, those big binders really pull you down fast when you’ve been letting that 5.0 scream.






Some of the other little improvements made in places you might overlook include stiffer rear control arms that tighten handling and reduce road noise. A few new wheel designs join the option list while the best of 2010 carry over.  You also might notice that Ford’s new blind-spot mirror has been added to the Mustang for 2011. It may seem gimmicky at first, but after having spent many hours behind the wheel we came to appreciate it for what additional field of view it provides. The curved wide angle mirror insert is also placed so that you don’t lose anything crucial from the larger section. Nice.

The comparison to the Camaro SS which was on hand opens a can of worms we did not expect. We are Mustang enthusiasts here, but there should be a lot to like with the Camaro. In fact we wanted to like it. The chassis is supposed to be more modern, the design is fresh. The Camaro was tested on the Nurburgring right?

But in our testing we found the driving and handling of the Camaro to be far less sharp and less precise than the 2011 Mustang GT. The Camaro’s low roof-line that looks so much like a concept car made driving with a helmet on impossible because it hit the headliner. So if you are an open track guy, forget it. To compound matters, the high belt line made outward visibility on the auto-cross a non-starter as you could not see the cones to make a good line through them.

And yes the Camaro has a modern independent rear suspension and the Mustang still does not. But you know what? After comparing the two of them back-to-back this week, we have to admit that Ford still has the best behaving rear suspension even if the design does date back a few centuries. We’re officially and begrudgingly done carping about the Mustang’s  lack of an IRS here at TMN. Chevy has proven that it is not a magic bullet.






The Mustang while admittedly the more matured pony-car in the stable brings many qualities to the race that making living with it far more realistic and enjoyable. Ford has really made the 2011 Mustang interior a place to be proud of. The leather seating surfaces are a higher grade than we can ever remember in any Ford let alone the Mustang.

The dash fit and finish is phenomenal and never looks cheap. And if you add some of Ford’s new techno gizmos like Sync, touch-screen NAV, rear-view camera and travel link to the mix you have a Mustang that is far more upscale than ever before. This is of course no mistake. Ford had an Audi A5 on hand which they stated with no apology or hesitation they had used as an aspiration in their design and quality benchmarks. This thinking shows in every little detail of the 2011 Mustang.

Our bottom line is simply this: The new 2011 Mustang 5.0 changes everything. This is a new day for Mustang and a car that every Mustang enthusiast needs to drive at least once. But be warned. Don’t go off to your Ford dealer without first figuring out how to buy one or how to sell your old one first. Like all things addictive the first drive is free. But once you drive the new 5.0 you will want one. No, you will NEED one.

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