New Bang for the Buck Title Contender

White Base 2012 Mustang w/ V6 Performance Package

Hard to beat for the price, the Mustang V6 with Performance package has been timed from zero to sixty in just a tick over five seconds, faster than a Hemi Cuda in its day.

Zero to Sixty

Historical Perspective

It’s all Tom McCahill’s fault. Before 1946, the few automotive publications (mostly British) talked vaguely about top gear acceleration and top speeds in the gears. Not surprising considering the primitive non-synchronized shifters of the day. That changed when Mechanix Illustrated began publishing Tom’s road tests for a Post-war American public starved for new cars. Among his innovations was the introduction of a timed test of acceleration from a dead stop to sixty miles per hour – a mile a minute.

While cars have gotten faster, that measure (and the similar 0-100 kph or 62 mph test in Europe) has been the standard by which most cars are compared ever since.

A fast car in the ’50s could do it in eight seconds. By the ’60s a Jaguar XK-E could do it in seven. Muscle cars in the late sixties and early seventies flirted with times in the high fives.

A first-generation Pontiac GTO was thought blazing fast doing it in 6.6 while a Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda was timed in 5.8 seconds. A few ringers posted faster times, and I’m sure someone will claim my times are slow, but numbers for factory-spec cars lower than that are suspect.

By the muscle car era organized drag racing was bringing quarter mile times and trap speeds into the enthusiast’s awareness, but today middle school boys still quote magazine 0-60 times for their favorite fantasy cars.

For a little perspective, a Volkswagen Type 1 (Beetle) struggled to make the run in under 30 seconds. Carroll Shelby’s original Cobra was reported to have managed it in 4.2 seconds, but there is some question as to whether that was an actual timed run. Today supercars and sport motorcycles make the sprint in under three seconds.

Those extreme numbers may as well be parsecs per millennium as far as the average driver is concerned though. You and I might be more interested in your everyday mid-size V6 sedans like the Motor Trend Car of the Year VW Passat and the ever-popular Toyota Camry, which testers say can click the stopwatch at 5.7 and 5.8 seconds, respectively.

To get a sporty two-door with some rear seat room and adrenaline-pumping performance, you’d need to go to an entry-level luxury car like Infiniti’s G37 (5.7 sec., about $35K) or a BMW 328i (6.0 sec., about $42K).

That’s where the Mustang’s value shines. If you can resist the temptation of the V8s (3 choices – 414, 444, and 650 hp in the supercharged 2013 Mustang GT500) and limit yourself to options that make the car faster (V6 Performance Package) a Ford Mustang V6 comes in at $25,100, and according to Motor Trend reaches 60 mph after just 5.1 seconds. Whatever the statistics, it feels plenty fast, and it’s a hoot to drive!

Mustangs Have Always Been About Choice

With the Mustang, like a Burger King Whopper, you could have it your way right from the beginning.

There were Coupes, Fastbacks or Convertibles; anemic six cylinders, race-ready K-Code Hi-Po V8s, or a couple of choices in between; three-speed manuals, automatics, or four-on-the-floor were all on the option list. You could even get a bench seat if you really wanted one. As the years went by the list of available choices kept right on growing until you could get just about anything you wanted, including some monster seven-liter V8s.

That was then. Today among Mustang lovers, there is understandable angst over the way their car has mirrored the trend among Americans themselves – they’ve put on weight. A 1964½ Mustang was a full 1,000 pounds lighter than today’s car, while measuring six and a half inches shorter and 5.7 inches narrower. The upside is that while they’ve grown in size, they’re capability has (finally) also taken huge leaps ahead.

For one thing the engines have benefitted from the tech revolution. While the early sixes had a whopping 101 hp – the same as today’s Fiat 500 – and 156 pound-feet of torque, today the V6 Mustang has more horsepower than Ford advertised for the HiPo Trans-Am V8 in 1965 – 305 v. 271 – and it commands 281 pound-feet of rubber-smoking torque.

The real gap may be even wider, since many of those early numbers are suspect. Ratings then were in inflated “SAE gross” horsepower. Chrysler admitted their Hemi with an SAE gross 425 hp actually produced 350 net.

Then again, some advertised figures were understated to molify the safety Nazis. Nobody was putting those engines on a dynamometer though, while Motor Trend did just that with Ford’s 3.7 liter V6, and it produced 308 hp and 268 pound feet. That’s all just numbers really, if the 0-60 times don’t back them up. With the Ford they do.

Have It Your Way

The list of options remains long, and today you could theoretically spec out a $60,000 Mustang. But you can see the base Mustang six is no longer the wimpy “secretary’s car” that testosterone-infused youth turned their noses up at. With a zero to 60 time in a tick over five seconds flat and a 102 mph trap speed in the quarter mile in 13.7 seconds, it’s fast enough to give a run for the money against something like BMW’s $50,000 turbocharged 335Ci.

2012 Mustang Premium Center Stack

Center Stack of Mustang V6 Premium contains controls for the 500 Watt stereo. Note also the six-speed manual shifter, and in this case the buttons (at the bottom between the A/C knobs) for the heated seats that come in the Comfort Package that adds a power passenger seat

The car I’d order, a Premium V6 with the Performance Package and a few other options like the one I drove, comes in listed at about $31K. If you opted for the base car with Performance Package, you knock $6,000 off that, and there are discounts out there.

For $1,995 on the Monroney sticker, that Performance Package gets you a limited slip 3.31 rear end, SVT anti-roll bars, fancy 19 inch alloy wheels with low-profile high-performance summer tires, less intrusive electronic nannies in the traction and stability controls, three choices of steering effort, and a lovely alloy shock tower brace to keep the front suspension from wobbling in rough going. All good for a best in class .96g on the skidpad. (Or so says Motor Trend.)

2012 Mustang V6 Engine Bay w/ Performace Package Strut Tower Brace

The V6 sits almost completely behind the front wheel centerlines for better weight distribution. Note the brace between the shock towers to keep them steady in rough going & hard cornering. To get it with the 5.0 liter V8, you’d have to order a Boss 302.

Fun Stuff

Of course if you did that you’d be missing out on the MyColor interior lighting package. Depending on your attitude it could be fun or just silly. What it does is allow you to toggle through a half dozen or so colors for the ambient lighting, instrument faces, and “halo” instrument lighting. If you get too creative – say purple, orange and green, it can get just plain weird. On the other hand, if you’re say, a Laker fan, you can have your instruments in Laker purple and gold.

9 2012 Ford Mustang Colors

Before you commit to a color selection, be sure it’s available. These are the nine colors I saw on the lot, minus Lava Red which I neglected to photograph before it sold, and which is not listed on Ford’s “Build it” page. From left to right, Race Red, a dark gray that doesn’t appear on Ford’s or Edmund’s option list, Ingot Silver Metallic, Kona Blue, Yellow Blaze Metallic Tri-coat ($495 extra on Edmund’s, but not shown on Ford’s “Build-it” page), Grabber Blue, Performance White, Black, and Red Candy Specialty Paint ($395 extra).

Other stuff you get with the Premium trim line include brushed aluminum instead of honeycomb-textured plastic on the dash, contrast-stitched leather on the seats, a USB/iPod/MP3 port, four more speakers (including a pair of subwoofers) and 500 watts of stereo power, Bluetooth, and six months of Sirius satellite radio.

2012 Mustang V6 Premium Front Compartment

Opt for the Premium Mustangs and you get nice leather with contrast stitching that my wife tells me should not be called “French Stitching.”

Balance, Grasshopper

What attracts me to this package (apart from the chance to right an ancient wrong – I passed up a chance to have a Mustang 289 4-speed for my first car because I was too impatient to wait for a special order.) is its balance.

The V6 sits well back in the  engine bay, almost entirely behind the front wheel center line. That gives it better weight distribution than the V8 (forget the supercharged hunk in the GT500!) for better turn-in. The few turns I took revealed no handling anomalies, and published reports by drivers with more wheel time (and finer discernment) than mine found it very user-friendly. They did not even qualify that with a “for a car without independent rear suspension.”

With the automatic transmission the EPA rates it at 31 mpg on the highway. Think of that – 0-60 in a little over 5 seconds and 31 mpg! The EPA rates the Manual at only 29 mpg on the highway, but they said the same about my BMW 328Ci, and I’ve averaged 31 mpg on a 400 mile trip.

The clincher for me is a line near the bottom of the sticker. “Final Assembly Plant – Flat Rock (Michigan).” It’s built right here in the good ol’ USA!

2012 Mustang V6 Monroney Sticker

This Mustang V6’s Monroney Sticker reveals one of the flaming-great bargains in automotive performance. For $25,395 you get 305 horsepower and 261 pound-feet of torque, all the goodies to make it handle well and run fast, and still get 29 mpg on the highway – on regular gas. If you spring for the six-speed automatic transmission ($1,195 MSRP) they say it gets 31. And it’s made right here – by us.

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About carmacarcounselor

I'm one of those people that friends call "that car guy," except I've made it into a profession. Since 1988 when a friend found my help in choosing, finding, and negotiating for a new car was worth a fee, I've helped countless people, listening to their car questions and challenges, and helping with their car purchases, insulating them from the adversarial process that is the new car retail model today. Their word of mouth is my only publicity. My newsletter CARMA won the description "The clear crystal ring of truth" from award-winning automotive journalist Denise McCluggage. Now I'm going global!
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