The Mustang Boss 302 model, new for 2012, is a true attention grabber. To set this Mustang apart, Ford builds each with either a black or white roof panel, color-coordinated to the C-shaped graphics on its flanks. A low, aggressive splitter on the Boss's front air dam is also functional, improving engine cooling and adding downforce to the front tires. The Boss 302 is a good looking car, striking for sure, and nearly impossible not to notice. We found that our test car garnered more looks than some high-performance machines that cost three times as much.
Ford offers the Mustang with a range of appearance and wheel packages that subtly (or not so subtly) change its look and allow buyers to tailor the car to taste. All variants start with a welded steel unibody (as opposed to a separate body and chassis), and half the body weight is high-strength, low-alloy steel. Mustang is by far the lightest of the new breed of pony cars, beating the Chevy Camaro by 300 pounds and the Dodge Challenger by as much as 500 pounds. The weight savings provide a definite advantage, in both performance and fuel economy.
Ford took several steps to improve noise, vibration and harshness control when it reworked the Mustang for 2010. Additional sound-deadening material on the instrument panel and a rear wheel arch liners help drivers hear the sounds they want (namely the engine) and avoid the sounds that can be a distraction (such as dash creaks and tire noise).
The 2005-09 Mustang featured a modern retro design with a front end that recalled the 1964-68 Mustang. The current car sports a headlight arrangement and wider grille reminiscent 1969-70 models. Other design elements are also tributes to Mustangs of yore. The coupe's roofline, unchanged from the last generation, recalls the original Mustang fastback. The hockey-stick shape of the lower character line pays homage to the side coves found on Mustangs from 1964 to '68. The current car's chamfered three-element taillights, which house sequential turn signals that blink from the inside lamp to the outside, were first found on the 1964 Thunderbird, then the 1967-68 Shelby Mustangs and late '60s Mercury Cougars. These taillights are interesting, but we'd say they are the weak link in an otherwise excellent design.
Despite its homage to Mustangs past, the current car remains fresh and modern in appearance, with substantially better aerodynamic properties than its predecessors. Features like the low air dam, front splitter and underbody covering substantially reduces aerodynamic lift and drag, and more evenly distribute aerodynamic forces on the front and rear ends. Such techniques improve high-speed stability, reduce interior noise and contribute to better fuel economy.
The Ford Mustang's interior mixes excellent build quality with improved materials and a straightforward dashboard layout. The decorative trim and soft plastic on the dash are fairly appealing, though some hard, hollow plastic panels remain. Overall all, the Mustang delivers a solid middle-class package, and we'd call it excellent in the functional sense.
The Mustang has never been and still isn't particularly space efficient, but if space efficiency were a priority, Mustang buyers would be looking at sedans. A range of noise, vibration and harshness countermeasures have made what was once a rather loud car pleasingly smooth and quiet, though the Mustang's all-American pony car rumble is still audible to drivers and onlookers alike. Better still, the base Mustang's list of standard features continues to expand, with dual illuminated vanity mirrors, a universal garage door opener and sun-visor storage clips added for 2012.
The look and feel inside the Mustang is even better with the Premium model package offered on both V6 models and V8 GTs. It adds leather-upholstered sport bucket seats with cashmere accents running down the middle, as well as a dark aluminum instrument panel and unique door inserts. There's Interior ambient lighting in the door pockets, cupholders and footwells, and the lighting can be changed through a range of 125 colors with a button.
The leather-clad steering wheel is big, with six metallic spokes in three groups of two, incorporating cruise-control switches and controls for the sound system. The wheel on ultra-performance Mustangs is wrapped with suede-like Alcantara, but in all cases the metallic spokes can get hot enough to burn hands when the car is parked in the sun.
Most drivers should find a comfortable seating position, though we would like a telescoping feature for the tilt-only steering column. There is plenty of head and leg room up front for large drivers, and the view out of the Mustang is excellent for an emotion-inspired coupe. The side mirrors add blind-spot panels with a different view angle in their upper, outer corners. We found that this simple, cheap solution works quite well, and the mirrors are wide enough to provide a good rearward view otherwise. The coupe's rear pillars don't intrude much in over-the-shoulder visibility, but it's hard to see out the back in the convertible with the top up. The optional back-up camera and reverse sensing system help.
Coupe or convertible, the Mustang does not have the high beltline of its main competitor, the Chevrolet Camaro, and this is an advantage for the Mustang. The lower beltline makes for better visibility to the sides. The advantage became especially apparent in an autocross. We could easily see the cones from inside the Mustang, but not from inside the Camaro.
The standard front bucket seats are significantly more comfortable and better looking than the slabs used prior to 2010, though they could still use more lateral support. The optional Recaro seats for the Boss 302 and GT500 definitely solve the bolstering problem, and while they offer minimal adjustment, they're surprisingly soft for race-type seats. We like them better for the street than the sport-seat option in a lot of cars.
The dash layout and switch panels are uncomplicated, aesthetically balanced and very effective. Most controls are large pushbuttons, though temperature, fan speed, volume and tuning are extra-big radial knobs. Even the base model has a very readable video display (the message center, as Ford calls it) for audio and other information.
The Mustang's two-passenger rear seat is no place for adults. Headroom is limited by the rake of the coupe roof, and leg room is minimal, even with the front seats moved forward. A person up to 5'9" or so can cram themselves back there, but he/she won't want to stay long.
The Mustang convertible comes standard with a power fabric top and glass rear window. The top has two latches that the driver must release before pressing the button, but both are within arm's reach of the driver's seat and easy to lock or unlock. The top and frame drop behind the rear seats. The vinyl tonneau cover must be installed manually, and costs an additional $160. The top's storage space also reduces trunk volume nearly four cubic feet, shrinking the convertible's trunk to 9.6 cubic feet of volume.
The Mustang coupe's trunk has 13.4 cubic feet of cargo space, which is comparable to that in a compact-to-mid-size sedan. The opening isn't particularly big and the lift-over is rather high, but the coupe's fold-down rear seats expand cargo volume substantially.