A tale of two Mustangs: a canyon run in a 2017 GT by a 2013 V6 owner
Years overdue, I get some extra insight on two Mustangs separated by four years, two cylinders, and 130 horsepower.
There's nothing like after-school shenanigans to help you completely forget everything you learned that day. Whether it's being a high school freshman going to McDonald's to procrastinate on that group project or being a college sophomore yearning to drive away from mundanity of today's online classes, the feelings are all the same.
It started as it always has with a few exchanges of texts. After agreeing to stop for boba at the end, my friend and I departed to charge up the roads flowing up towards Mount Charleston. In a fit of curiosity, we sought to try each other's tributes to blue-collar hooliganism as we came back down. I brought along my 2013 S197-generation Mustang V6 and my friend his 2017 S550-generation Mustang GT. Both wielded the infamous MT-82 six-speed manual and were equipped with their respective factory performance packages. Both remain conversation pieces among enthusiasts everywhere although for different reasons. Guess which one is the disrespected one.
I won't clutter this piece with enough stats to rewrite the code on this computer, so here are the magazine tests of the "incorrect engine" and "proper engine" Mustangs for all your objective questions. I'm sure we've all seen Mustang reviews a million times over, but this past outing was my chance to compare these cars based on what truly matters. Both our cars are lightly modified, however, so it wasn't quite apples-to-apples, but you fight with the weapons you have.
It was late in the afternoon, and daylight was falling fast behind the jagged Spring Mountains. After a brief impromptu photo shoot on our phones, we departed to make the most of our sprint down to the desert below.
My car continued to prove itself as the everyman's driver's car, not just to myself, but to my companion as well. Handling was totally acceptable when stock and was made pretty damn good thanks to the upgraded springs, dampers, and panhard bar. Having come from his GT and a tuned Fiesta ST, my friend described it as surprisingly stable and neutral. We couldn't lose each other in the corners. He genuinely enjoyed the smooth power of the 3.7L Cyclone V6, an engine I like to describe as an alternative Nissan VQ with none of the raspiness or vibration. In short, my humble six-banger wasn't an embarrassment.
"Unpopular opinion, this is a great FR-S alternative," said my companion, eyebrows raised as I witnessed a V8 owner actually complimenting the lesser Mustang.
Right off the cuff of the Big Daddy GT, one can discern that the hype about the modernized interior was no bullshit whereas the only hint of modernity in my car was the aftermarket CarPlay screen. Although this example wasn't a Premium trim, the quality and fit of the interior plastics no longer remind you of cars engineered during the Bush administration. I recall reading about how Ford reps insisted that materials in this generation are what they feel like, but I'm not entirely convinced. Still, if those knurled metal knobs really are plastic, they're a damn good plastic. Of course, it's still a Ford, but progress is progress.
Out on the twisties, the GT's 5.0L Coyote V8 ecstatically flaunts why it's among the best engines on sale today. It builds power oh-so smoothly and linearly, and it loves to wind itself out like an eager European V8. Yes, the iconic GM LS engines are tried-and-true brutes, but this just feels a little more special. The manual bolted to it was similarly enjoyable in its feel. Although I enjoyed the heftier, mechanical feel of my short-throw-equipped car, I greatly appreciated the newer car's accuracy and ease which continuously encourages the driver to shift faster. Just mind the MT-82's fragility.
The S550 chassis was a little more divisive. This wasn't my first go in this generation of Mustang, but it's my first in a manual Performance Package car and my first drive in one at pace outside a track. On a positive note, handling was as stable as I had hoped from the independent rear suspension, and the steering was delightfully weighted and accurate, accentuated by what felt like a smaller diameter wheel than my car. Despite being saddled with nearly 300 more pounds, it carried its weight well enough and attacked corners with plenty of confidence. I can go for a jaunt in this and believe it's a true sports car.
On a more critical note, there's a strange floatiness in the body as you load and unload the car. Hammer the throttle and let off, and there's some kind of shimmy as if the mounting points to the suspension were made of putty. The suspension itself was firm especially on its lowering springs, and the car never lost stability, but it couldn't mask that disconcerting wallow. After addressing it with my friend, he too acknowledged the mild float, and we both agreed it's probably nothing that a few bushings and some chassis braces can't fix.
Oh, and six-piston Brembos fuck. They fuck hard. Exclusive to Performance Package GTs, they bite with the viciousness of Florida Man on bath salts and stop harder than global trade through the Suez Canal. Every 400-plus-horsepower car's brakes should be as good as these.
Two very different ways to Mustang.
It was a revelation to experience firsthand how modern Mustangs have evolved from a merely acceptable driver's car to a world-class product. I walked away with love and respect for the Coyote V8 and the S550 platform as a whole as well as a heightened appreciation for my own Mustang which will soon be two generations old.
The newer vehicle may still have some work to do before it can really throw down against a BMW M3. It's not quite there, but you know it has those aspirations. What it lacks in lightness and absolute composure, it makes up for with sports car steering, boat anchor brakes, and (mostly) surefooted stability in a relatively-affordable package. For anyone who actually believes they need more, there's always the aftermarket, and allow me to remind them of the Performance Pack Level 2, GT350, and Mach 1. As far as the chassis has come in terms of capability, the icing on the cake is still that sweetheart of a free-revving V8, always at the ready to sing its heart out.
What was especially great about the day was still being able to appreciate my own car in spite of all its shortcomings. Believe it or not, I didn't feel like I had to trade up after driving the superior vehicle, something I see too many young gearheads do against anyone's good financial judgement. It offers its own admirable flavor meaning I can actually get in and remind myself of why I love it and had kept it around for so long. These are two ponies of the same stable, but they gallop in different ways where I can still appreciate them both. Yes, even if only one will continue to get all the glory. Guess which one that is.