The V6 Mustang: The Unloved Entry-Level Sports Car
"Whoa, dude, sick Mustang! Is that Gotta Have It Green? Oh man, I love that co- OH GOD, OH F***, IT'S A V6!?" Everyone disperses from your location at the Sunday morning meet. Everyone chuckles at the lack of a 5.0 moniker on the fender. All of a sudden, you become a poser relegated to dining at Super Weenie Hut Jr's as V8 owners gain easy access into the Salty Spitoon (I will be genuinely upset if no one gets this reference). The V6 Mustang garners no respect. Why is that?
Over the years, the six-banger has proven itself worthy of praise from media outlets and even some die-hard Mustang enthusiasts who found it worth a sample. The aftermarket is nearly equal in size to its EcoBoost and Coyote-engined kin, and, from a value perspective, it presents a viable and well-rounded option in a field of arguably more compromised sports cars. So allow me to try to dispel the "secretary car" stigma in at least one person.
2011 model with the V6 Performance Package; Photo by Motor Trend
Okay, yeah, the stigma was kind of deserved for some time. Before, the V6 Mustang has admittedly been the secretary's car using lethargic truck engines up until the big switch in 2011. Seriously outgunned by the competition, Ford ditched the 4.0L, single-cam, 210 hp Cologne motor shared with the last-generation Ranger for a much newer 3.7L, dual-cam, 305 hp Duratec dubbed, "Cyclone." Originally co-developed with Mazda and equipped in large sedans and SUVs, this iteration of the Cyclone motor was modified for the Mustang and made standard in the Ford Edge Sport, Lincoln MKZ, and if you can believe it, the Radical RXC.
With the new engine came a new 6-speed Getrag manual that replaces the Tremec 5-speed, and a transformative Performance Package was introduced. The new package added shorter gearing (from 2:73 to 3:31) for the limited-slip diff. Traction and stability control is granted a less intrusive Sport mode. Brake calipers and pads are lifted from the Mustang GT as are the sway bars, shocks, and springs. A strut tower brace compliments the engine bay, and 19" wheels shod in Pirelli Pzero tires round out the handling.
Lo and behold, it's not a Coyote; Photo by Motor Trend
Upon its release, the "Mayhem" Mustang, as the Performance Package cars were named, won the hearts of many who have driven it. The standard car, which Car And Driver described as, "disappointing," and feeling like, "suspension bushings are made from the stuff inside Stretch Armstrong," was greatly rectified with the new handling package. Chassis behavior became composed and balanced, and the car was noted to have managed its 3500 lb. weight remarkably well.
With 305 hp and 280 lb-ft. on tap, 0-60 in manual-equipped cars came in 5.1 seconds and the 1/4-mile in 13.7 seconds at 102 mph, nearly matching the old 4.6L V8 GTs. At track tests, the car outlapped the 4.6L GT while also blitzing the likes of the Genesis 3.8 R-Spec and last-generation Subaru WRX. On-track competence was only handicapped by average brakes and a 115 mph limiter that protects the two-piece driveshaft from defecating itself.
The S550 V6 Mustang ran from 2015 to 2017; Photo by Pinterest
2015 brought the S550 platform Mustang which knocked the V6 down to purely a budget-minded, rental car-grade afterthought as the EcoBoost took over the mantle of being the entry-level sports car to buy in the lineup. The Performance Package was discontinued, and the S550 V6 was unavailable in Premium trim meaning there was none of the climate seating, navigation, or adjustable drive modes that the other Mustangs enjoyed. However, buyers could still enjoy their spartan Cyclone cars with a slicker shifting manual transmission and the vastly improved chassis with the independent rear suspension. With all the focus shifted to the more modern EcoBoost 4-cylinder, the V6 was eventually discontinued after 2017.
Fancy some racing? Photo by V6 Mustang Performance
Aftermarket support exploded, and today, you can still find an array of parts to make an S197 or S550 V6 into anything you want just like its more popular brothers. Maybe boost it and turn it into a V8 killer? Or how about take advantage of the lighter nose and better weight balance and turn it into an apex hunter? The aftermarket never ignored the Cyclone. On nearly every Mustang aftermarket site, the selection of V6 upgrades is nearly as expansive as its kin, and it helps keep the Cyclone community alive to this day.
Learning That "Just A V6" Doesn't Mean "Penalty Box"
My personal 2013 Mustang Performance Package manual
"Why didn't you get the V8, bro? Shoulda got the V8." Well, yes, but actually no.
I sought a crowd killer over two and a half years ago as I genuinely liked Ford, and I felt at the time, I was able to land an entry-level performance car and leave my aging Fiat 500 behind. As much as I would have loved a good, sensible hot hatch, I sought to leave hatches and chase a rear-drive coupe. A BRZ or Nissan Z seemed too small and focused, and GTs and EcoBoosts were out of my price range at the time. I had driven GTs before including a modified example on a road course. Alas, I was not prepared to be regularly hemorrhaging money on fuel and insurance. I wanted to ensure my next car was one I could love for years to come without breaking the bank, so I continued to scour the internet searching for that Goldilocks car.
Ta-da! I had eventually found this: a 2013 V6 with the Performance Package and 6-speed manual painted in the Chad of all Ford colors, Grabber-Fucking-Blue. I had heard good things about the Mayhem Mustang at the time, but I still never expected to be so smitten with it even to this day.
As a commuter, it's nearly as good as any normal car. Suspension is compliant, and it has an effortless clutch you can work in traffic for hours while still retaining decent pedal feel. The interior is roomy and comfortable even if it felt as though it was hashed together with the absolute worst damn plastics I have ever seen since I rode in a '99 Suzuki Grand Vitara. But that's all a given. This is, after all, still an S197 Mustang. At least it can still get over 30 miles per gallon.
Call me a clown, but I wear that 3.7 badge with pride.
Where the car impresses the most is when you turn onto your favorite set of twisties and drop the hammer. Tires chirp as you grab second gear, the engine revving freely to its 7,000 rpm redline without the harsh vibrations or exhaust rasp of a Nissan VQ. The steering in its Sport setting offers ample weighting if a little numb, and the electronic nannies in Sport mode grant you the freedom to drive with a bit more tenacity without ever yanking the reins from you. The body, even with the GT suspension hardware, still wallows about, but it does not upset the chassis. Rather, the body takes a set, and you can push surprisingly hard into a corner, albeit with a little less confidence as you would in, say, a Toyota 86. The lighter nose, not having to be burdened by the heft of a V8, is surely a big contributor to the car's fleet footed demeanor. It's a lovely dance partner.
Lightly modified with some suspension hardware, an angrier axle-back exhaust, and a tune, my car had me enamored on a recent trip to Reno as it attacked northern Nevadan backroads with ease. Body control was even greater than before, the engine pulling with a hair more ferocity as the baby F-Type exhaust uttered a guttural roar. Fast esses and tight hairpins were not as daunting of a challenge as I pushed hard enough to make the brakes reek of hot pads. The technical roads of Route 341 and Mt. Rose Parkway didn't have me wishing for a V8. They had me thankful I had a car that was lighter and more agile than any V8 this side of a GT350 could have been. At the end of every canyon run, my face ached from grinning too long. Did I mention I would still get 30 mpg on the highway stints between canyons?
A newer GT owner even seemed to dig the Mayhem Mustang.
Still A Secretary's Car?
The V6 Mustang is not a penalty box Mustang. It's just an alternative Mustang.
It may be slower than the GT and have less tuning potential than the EcoBoost, but that's okay. This car appealed to a different buyer when new, and it appeals to a different buyer now. In both cases, it's perhaps young, budget-minded enthusiasts who want more juice than a BRZ and admire the heritage of the Mustang, acknowledging the potential this friendlier entry offers. Or maybe it's not, and they just completely forgot about the GT. Either way, granted they picked their spec wisely, they wouldn't have been disappointed had they got one new in 2011 or got one used yesterday.
The handling is commendable for a big pony car, it's as quick as the old V8s while getting gas mileage your bank account will thank you for. The Cyclone is a sweetheart of a motor with a lovable eagerness to rev and a likable exhaust note, stock or modified, and like any other Mustang, it is a blank template for endless modifications.
Maybe I'm just blinded by rose-tinted goggles, and the haters are right. Maybe a Mustang without the V8 isn't a proper Mustang, but the little-V6-that-could did a damn fine impression, and it deserves an ounce of respect for that.