If you ever took, literally, the marketing meanderings of automakers, you would be inclined to believe that every new car is a panacea, a cure-all for your life’s many woes. There are lane-departure warning systems if your neck is braced from your last rear-ender, there are voice-activated entertainment systems if you speak the tongue of robots, and there are oil life monitors if you can no longer remember how to open the hood. The soothing womb of a new car can assuage all of your troubles. Or can it? Or should it? Let us not veer too far off our intended course into the philosophical “should” element, and let us instead focus on the former: can any car act as an elixir to the noxious constructions of our contemporary conurbations? Or should we concede that marketing mavens are hysterical embellishers of the truth?
Thus we arrive at the 2011 Mustang 5.0. This is a special car for Mustang aficionados. You might even say that this is The Return Of The Five-Oh, as other writers in the automotive realm have unimaginatively opined, and I have with equal lack of imagination repeated. That’s 5-0 as in 5L or 302 cubic inches of displacement, not the police. And if you didn’t already know that, I’m amazed that you’re even reading this at all.
How exactly I ended up with Ford’s latest and second greatest equine achievement is a Byzantine and convoluted tale involving 140-character micro-blogging, #yeg, and a devil-eyed, green-faced baby. Nevertheless, Ford Canada figured out who Peter Dushenski was and generously lent me the keys to a 6-speed manual, chop-up-my-license-red Mustang for a road trip to the Central Alberta city of Red Deer for the 31st International Mustang Meet.
Honestly, I had trouble sleeping the night before. Whether I was worried about missing my alarm and my first opportunity to drive a “muscle car”, or whether my melatonin was simply low, I cannot say with certainty. When I went to pick up my steed for the day, I was an unstable mix of nervous, groggy, and excited. My first stop was to the Edmonton Country Club to test the reactions of the wealthy and the retired to this “muscle car”.
(Sidebar: I use quotation marks for “muscle cars” because I’m not entirely sure what it means. Does it refer to an American two-door coupe with a large engine? Must an engine be of a certain size to qualify? Must the car’s experience be entirely about the engine, full stop? Are only certain nameplates permitted to enter this more-exclusive-than-Augusta-National club? Must a car be brutish and ill-mannered to qualify? The last question is the most intriguing because the Mustang is anything but, as you’ll soon see).
The cherry tomato red juxtaposed the somber slate and brown exterior of the clubhouse, yet I received admiring, even wistful glances, not glares of haughty disdain. Nor did the refreshed and Giugiaro-inspired sheetmetal of the new Mustang look anything other than purposeful at the entrance of the white-collar club. Not that a ’68 Fastback wouldn’t look great in that same spot, but the ’11 was mature where the classic icon is a childish pleasure. You really can buy and drive the new Mustang using your less emotional, and more logical, left cerebral hemisphere. The ‘11’s maturity continued in the driving experience.
NVH was controlled with aplomb, the strangely-lofty seating position lent itself to excellent outward visibility, and soft touch dash bits abounded. On the down side of the interior, the steering wheel only tilts. This would be fine except that the steering wheel itself is the size of an extra-large pizza. Other than the steering wheel, other ergonomic elements were thoughtfully laid out. The seats were comfortable for the 150km drive each way, but they were too wide even for my 6’1” 205lbs frame. In fact, I would like the meet the man bulky enough to fill those seats properly. Headroom was ample, even with the (optional) slick glass roof. In fact, if you were blindly placed into the car and set off driving around the shops at low speeds, you would be forgiven for thinking you were in a mid-level family sedan, such is the comfort and hushed nature of the 2011 Mustang. The clutch is as light of that of my Mazda Protege5, yet the 6-speed cue ball shifter, at complete odds with the effort of the clutch, is short, direct, and satisfying. For a vehicle of 412 hp, about the same as the cars as diverse and sporting as the Lexus IS-F and Audi R8, I would have liked the clutch to provide more heft and more feedback. A small quibble to be sure, but one that leaves the driver feeling at ease rather than intimately engaged, which comes down to personal preference, I suppose.
Now I’m sure that Ford Canada will cringe at this comparison, but despite the IS-F being a (whisper it) “Lexus” and costing tens of thousands of dollars more, the Mustang is the more polite of the two, with the IS-F coming off as more vocal, brash, and compromised. This once again brings into question the definition of a “muscle car” and whether the new Mustang qualifies. Is the IS-F excluded from membership for being too Japanese, too expensive, and possessing two too many doors? If I were ruled the sailboats of the semantic seas, I’d let the IS-F and its ilk into the club, no questions asked. To me, a muscle car is a car where the engine is the primary focus and compromises are made to lift the engine onto a pedestal. As such, it’s not clear to me that the newest Mustang qualifies. The engine is robust and potent, to be sure, but it fails to define the experience. Instead, the Mustang experience is defined by a compliant ride, a quirky live rear axle, excellent outward visibility, an easy-going drive, and flawlessly integrated tech.
When driving in a more spirited and risqué manner, the Mustang rewards the driver with a fair bit of body roll, steering that is a hair too light, and a general lack of aggression that is at odds with the car’s straight line prowess. Not that one would expect a Mustang to eat up corners, but my expectations may have been inflated by my literature review of the Mustang prior to my time with the car.
To return to our initial query: can any car act as an elixir to the noxious constructions of our contemporary conurbations? The answer is yes. And the 2011 Ford Mustang 5.0 is one of the potential antidotes. It really is an ideal car for the Canadian Prairies, where corners are all of the 90˚ variety, a comfortable ride is needed to trump the rough roads, and a light clutch makes the daily grind infinitely more manageable.
So that’s the 2011 Mustang 5.0, but what of the intent of the road trip, the Mustang Meet in Red Deer? Suffice to say that I can now tell the difference between a ’67 and a ’68 Mustang. Other than that, I think I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. If you have any questions about the cars catalogued below, feel free to leave them in the comments sections.
For those of you looking for a review of the 2011 GT500 after reading this article last week, I owe you an apology. I was told that I would be driving a “GT5” to Red Deer. Using some highly sophisticated methods of interpretation, I interpreted that as “GT500”, rather than “5.0 GT”. Again, my apologies for the confusion.
This vehicle was provided by Dean Heuman and Waterloo Ford in Edmonton on behalf of Ford Canada. Without their support and recognition of CarEnvy.ca, this review would not have been possible, so thank you. In case you were wondering how press vehicles made their way outside of Vancouver and Toronto, Ford Canada has launched an initiative in Northern Alberta to provide traditional and alternative media outlets with access to press vehicles. Ford Canada is currently the only automaker with such an innovative program, and you, the reader, can look forward to more reviews of Ford vehicles as a result.
[Photo credits: author]