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Best Of 2015 Under $50,000: Ford Mustang

The original pony car lives.

It was something Ford knew it couldn’t mess up. The challenge was daunting and thrilling at the same time. How do you go about designing and engineering an American muscle car legend that’s still in touch with its origins but, at the same time, is a fully modern machine? Add to that ever increasing fuel economy regulations not only for the US, but for other global markets as well. One of the major goals for the sixth generation Mustang was for it to be a global car.

Strict safety standards had to be met and, believe it or not, the new Mustang also needed to be dimensionally correct, meaning that it had to be able to fit on narrow European city streets.

Exactly two years ago this week, the 2015 Mustang was revealed at multiple media events across the globe, such as Dearborn, Michigan, Los Angeles, California, New York City, Shanghai, China, and Sydney, Australia. It was crystal clear the new car looked like a Mustang, but it was known in advance there’d be a few significant changes. For starters, Ford finally ditched the live rear axle in favor of a fully independent rear suspension. For Mustang purists, that’s a big deal. For some, it’s almost everything. Like all muscle cars, the Mustang thrives at the drag strip, but its new suspension set-up negatively affects that.

However, because the rear wheels now move independently of each other, overall handling, especially on twisty roads, has been dramatically improved. The second biggest change? The arrival of an optional turbocharged four-cylinder. A muscle car powered by a four-banger? Yes. In fact, the US market standard 3.7-liter V6 isn’t even being offered overseas. Controversial? Also yes, because that precedent foreshadows what’ll very likely happen in the coming years: the death of that V6. But fortunately, the highly regarded 5.0-liter V8 with 435 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque is still very much the heart of the Mustang, and it’s as thrilling as ever. 0-60 mph happens in only 4.4 seconds and the quarter-mile in 12.8 seconds at 112.2 mph.

Thanks to six-piston Brembo front brakes, the ’15 Mustang comes to a halt from 60 mph in just 107 feet. That’s obviously wonderful news for Mustang buyers who put performance first, but what about those who simply want a Mustang because it’s a Mustang who aren't bothered about specs; they just want a cool car. That’s where Ford figures the turbocharged 2.3-liter four comes into play. With an output of 310 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque, it’s more powerful than the V6 (300 hp and 280 lb-ft) and is actually even more fuel efficient. This isn’t the first time a Mustang has been powered by a four-cylinder. For those who recall, four-cylinders were standard in all Mustangs built from 1974 until 1993.

There was also the SVO turbocharged Mustang from 1984 through 1986. Ford figures that for a majority of Mustang buyers, the new turbo four is more than good enough, and so far the sales numbers are proving them right. At the same time, sales of the V8-powered Mustang GT are solid as well. Combined with a choice between a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic, coupe or convertible, there’s a Mustang configuration for everyone. When it came to the exterior design, we’re of the opinion one of the greatest achievements is that rear fastback. It just looks awesome, especially from the rear three-quarter angle. The taillight design is magnificent.

Overall sheetmetal is very much an evolution of the previous car and it’s generally been very well received, but we do have one gripe: front overhang. There’s simply too much. We first noticed this back at the 2014 Geneva Motor Show and we still haven’t warmed up to it. Another area where Ford hit a homerun is the interior. Ford told us that there were two design proposals submitted, one with traditional Mustang styling, the other more modern. The solution was to combine them both. The gauges are beautifully designed, controls are easy to use, the steering wheel is sized right, and pedal placement is spot-on for proper heal-and-toe.

Standard safety features include traction control, electronic stability, and multiple airbags. As is the case with every previous Mustang, the new one remains affordable. A base V6 fastback starts at $23,895, while a GT Premium fastback will top off at just under $50k. And then there’s the Shelby GT350 and Shelby GT350R. The former starts at exactly $49,995, and that includes the gas guzzler tax; the track-focused GT350R at $63,495. Both are different animals than the lower trims for a number of reasons, but mostly because of a certain 5.2-liter flat-plane crank V8 with 526 hp and 429 lb-ft of torque. Without question the redesigned sixth-generation Ford Mustang is a superb muscle car.

Were a few sacrifices made? Yes (such as the solid rear axle), but the positives far outweigh any negatives. The Mustang has never been better and its future is well secured.

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