Worst and Best Ford Mustang

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The heritage edition package available on the 2020 Mustang Shelby GT350 and GT350r features a unique throwback livery in Wimbledon white paint and Guardman blue side and over the top racing stripes.

Car and Driver

As the seventh-generation Mustang appeared on the horizon, just about to debut in Detroit, our editors couldn’t help but look back at 57 years and six generations of Mustangs to commemorate their favorite and least favorite versions. Read on for the Worst and the Best:

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Worst Gen 1 (1965–1973): The Base Model

We don’t like poser cars. Sorry, but the initial production base model of the first generation Mustang was one. Sporty yet gentle looking, it is nothing more than the economy Falcon car it is based on. The entry-level Mustang runs slow through life thanks to its sleepy 170-cubic-inch, 101-hp inline-six and three-speed manual transmission that lacks the comfort of synchromesh in first gear — making for a tooth-grinning fest when driving in the city. Its soft suspension, slow, heavy steering, and weak drum brakes are best suited for cruising to the local A&W for a burger rather than carving out a backroad or challenging a Pontiac GTO at a traffic light. But at least it looks cool. —Rich cepo

It’s easy to say that every first-generation Mustang was the best Mustang because America fell in love with the original pony car when it was launched on April 17, 1964, at the New York World’s Fair. Over 418,000 Mustangs were sold in the first 12 months of production. Two versions, however, bounced back and made their way into the hearts of fans. The first is a high-performance model equipped with the K-code hi-po 289-cubic-inch V-8, which produces 271 horsepower at a high 6000 rpm. It came with just a four-speed manual transmission, a special handling package, and 15-inch wheels — which are really cool because they’re painted black and free of hubcaps. Beyond the hi-po, there are other top-notch first-generation Mustangs: the GT350 race car (pictured), the Shelby American-powered fastback Stang with stiff suspension, sticky tires, alloy wheels, and a 289 version that puts out a claimed 306 horsepower.—Rich cepo

2nd Gen (1974–1978) Worst: Mustang II

I’m writing this over Labor Day weekend, with a group of car-loving friends drinking beer in my room while I work. When asked, “What’s the worst Mustang II?” some shouted, “Everyone.” Someone said, “What is a Mustang II?” and then, looking up, said, “Oh my gosh, that’s a terrible car.” I’ll try to put up a defense when we get to Best, but for the worst, say, a 1974 four-cylinder coupe, chosen for its combination of bad road presence—really, the coupe looks like it’s sag straight. dealer floor, Ghia designed or not—and poor 87-hp performance. For the most part, though, I chose the first year because it introduced the Mustang generation which, while financially good for Ford, was spiritually bad for the pony’s pride. Also, 1974 was the only year the Mustang was offered without a V-8 option, and that was wrong. —Elana Scherr

Best: Mustang II King Cobra (1978)

Lee Iacocca ran into a dilemma in 1973: Continue to develop the Mustang, which by then was approaching mid-size car territory, or shrink it back and offer something that overcomes consumer fears about fuel mileage and rising cost of living. The Mustang II was a huge disappointment for performance-loving Ford fans, but the Mustang is the only pony car that boasts an unbroken line from introduction to this day, which it can’t do if it continues to grow and consume a lot of gas. such as the Challenger and Camaro. The Mustang II is also valuable as a source of easy and lightweight independent front suspension and rack-and-pinion steering for custom car builds, and many of the show-winning Deuce or road trunks have benefited from Ford’s choice of chassis. For the best, I’d go for the 1978 King Cobra Mustang II. It’s still slow, takes more than 10 seconds to hit 60 mph, but it comes in a V-8, has some of the wildest hood graphics of any car except the Trans Am, and, perhaps best of all, signaling the end. of his generation. —Elana Scherr

Worst Gen 3 (1979–1993): 4.2-Liter V-8

Those are the best times, that is. . . no, it’s just the worst. In the midst of the second fuel crisis of the 1970s, manufacturers did all they could to stretch a gallon of gasoline. For the Mustang, this means a shrinking V-8. For the 1980 model year, Ford lowered the bore diameter of the 4.9-liter V-8 (more commonly referred to as 5.0) to create a 4.2-liter. The horsepower output is so disgusting that Ford wouldn’t put it in press material. The 4.2-liter engine produces 118 horsepower, making it the most powerful V-8 Mustang ever produced. We never had a chance to test it, but rest assured, it won’t be impressive. —David Beard

The last of the Fox-bodies and the first car from the Special Vehicle Team (SVT) is arguably the best, and with just a 107 Vibrant Red hatchback built, it’s one of the rarest models ever made. (Shown here is registered for auction on Bring a Trailer in 2021.) The 1993 Ford Mustang Cobra R was powered by a 235-hp 4.9-liter V-8, and SVT made sure steps were taken to make it a custom track car. The Cobra R is made without radio, air conditioning, rear seats, and rear carpet and sound-absorbing materials. It also had manual windows, door locks, and mirrors. The bucket seat from the Mustang LX was used in place of the heavier Cobra seat, and when all is said and done, the claimed 450 pounds have been removed. But most of the weight will be re-added with strategic hardware such as larger brake rotors, turret support and subframe support, stiffer springs, adjustable dampers, larger radiators, as well as power steering and engine oil cooler. Cobra R will appear again in 1995 and for the last time in 2000. —David Beard

Gen 4 (1994–2004) Worst: V-6 Coupe

When we compared the basic 1994 Mustang to a contemporary Camaro, we said that the engine “can’t buzz” and the shifter shifts were “long and heavy” and that “you won’t be happy to know that the car’s live axle is easily misled.” And those are some of the better sentiments.Today, the base Mustang is a respectable performance car in its own right, but in 1994 the V-6 Mustang existed primarily for rental fleets and as a sale on wheels—drive it and you’ll know how to buy a GT. Its engine specs (145 hp at 4000 rpm) read like those of a small diesel rather than a V-6 horse car, and this car may sport the saddest three-spoke wheel the car-buying public has ever seen. How bad is that? Bad enough to lose the test comparison to the V-6 Camaro. But even that car could be worse: It could be an automatic car. —Ezra Dyer

Ford delivered the Fox platform in supercharged glory with the 2003 SVT Cobra, which brought a 390-hp V-8 and independent rear suspension to the party. While this Mustang is still on a platform dating back to 1979, the new hardware is good for 4.5 seconds from zero to 60 mph and a quarter mile of 12.9 seconds at 111 mph — figures that are legit even today. The same goes for the 0.90 g stick and its ability to handle bumps in the center corner without the back pointing towards the guardrail. Sure, you smash your knuckles on the dash shifting to third, but that’s the price of Fox’s body prowess. So why is the 2004 model better than the 2003? Because you can get it color changing Mystichrome paint, the best early 2000s flex Mustang. —Ezra Dyer

Gen 5 (2005–2014) Worst: Base Model with V-6

Ford aficionados rejoiced with the arrival of the fifth-generation Mustang in 2005. Nonetheless, the fourth-generation model, the Gen 5 is the first new Mustang since 1979. Based on the new D2C platform and with a bold style that is both modern and attractive. sexy fastback of the sixties, it was a huge hit. But Ford spent most of its money on a new platform and body. The engine pretty much carries over, specifically the base model’s 4.0-liter V-6, borrowed from the Explorer, and traces its legacy to the 2.0-liter German V-6 from 1964. That base model takes 6.6 seconds to get to 60 mph, running through the quarter. at 15.3 at 93 mph, and can put together just 114 mph, even with a manual. This generation got a useful mid-cycle refresh in 2010, so obviously the worst was a pre-refresh car with an old V-6. —Csaba Csere

Gen 5 Mustang GTs started with a carryover V-8, a 4.6-liter version of Ford’s “modular” three-valve V-8. It had 300 horsepower, which we would kill for a return in Gen 3, but was run-of-the-mill in 2005. But in 2011, the Mustang got the first “Coyote” V-8. Replacing 5.0 liters and profitably using dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder, this gem of an engine develops 412 horsepower and instantly boosts GT performance. A few years later, Ford extracted 444 ponies from the Coyote and fitted them into a model called the Boss 302, which was a worthy successor to the 1969 original. Coupled with the Laguna Seca package, which upgraded the chassis, and spun to 7,500, the Boss hit 60. in 4.2 seconds, scorched the quarter at 12.7 at 111 mph, and cruised to 161 mph. It was also cornered at 0.96 in stops from 70 at 150. Undoubtedly a fifth-generation class. —Csaba Csere

Worst Gen 6 (2015–222): “Bullitt” Mustang

Cars are getting really good this time, there’s no “worst” Mustang. Still, I don’t know why anyone would buy a Bullitt (pictured) or EcoBoost base. Ford doesn’t want anything to do with movies Bullitt, making the cartoon badge, retro wheel, and two color options the least attractive type of throwback at an unattractive price. Coming back to the EcoBoost, its lowball MSRP can’t forgive its featureless, immersive stupidity, and adding enough options to avoid boredom—such as the High Performance package—puts one in the V-8’s pecuniary orbit. That’s where everyone should start. —Jonathan Ramsey

The greatest driving cars happen when engineers make the best compromises during development. The most thrilling driving cars for everyday use on the everyday road require one compromise: a manual transmission. The Mustang Shelby GT350 is a grand accumulation of give and take. Ford put the screaming diablerie 5.2-liter V-8 right there in the name: “Voodoo.” That voice! Circuit bending! Trem it! Brake it! Unlike the GT500, the GT350 doesn’t seem like a threat to anyone. And if you step up to the 350R, Ford blacksmiths wear carbon fiber boots. Even the legendary eponymous horse dealer Carroll Shelby would say, “Okay, I’ll do it.” We certainly did. More than once. —Jonathan Ramsey

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