2012 Mustang GT Review

I’m driving a mythical creature, a 2012 Mustang GT.With a solid rear axle spun by a 3.73:1 ring gear putting down the torque of a 5.0-liter V8, there’s nothing economical about this car. No fuel is burned while braking, at least, but the Brembo hardware makes short work of stops. Gasoline will soon flirt with $5 per gallon, and 18 mpg feels like hypermiling in this thing, especially with the amount of city driving I’ve been doing. The 412-hp snarl that accompanies every launch makes any concern about MPG evaporate, at least until the rent’s due and all your cash is sitting in the gas tank. But this is a Mustang GT review, not a Prius.

This ain’t no press car, either. What else should an enthusiast who is single with no kids do when looking for a car, right? This being my first live rear axle vehicle, I now understand why that can be a pejorative term. It shimmies and shakes even over slow bumps. Take off on a cold or slick surface and you’ll discover axle hop. If it weren’t for the 5 nice days Ohio has had in the spring, I’d have thought that the Mustang was severely flawed, but no, it’s just the weather that sucks. At least I’m not going to regret NOT doing this.

2012 Mustang GT ReviewWhen the weather clears, the Mustang is the polar opposite. Traction off the line is surprising, the clutch has an easily-found sweet spot, and you can break every speed limit in the United States in a little over ten seconds. It’s an idea that sounds as good to a driving enthusiast as a quick snort of heroin sounds to a junkie. The itch starts at every red light. Sure, blip the throttle and the car fluctuates back and forth. The light turns green and you try to behave but with short gears the V8 quickly ascends to its almost 7,000 rpm redline and from there the only fathomable option is to grab another gear. You quickly become engrossed in managing the cogs and before you know it you’re hitting 4th and approaching the ton mark. Panic ensues and you quickly do a mirror check for that other Five-Oh.

That ox-cart axle is great for launching this 3,600 pound car, and handling is tidy, regardless of the chassis layout. Seriously. You guys talking about how it’s heavy and bounces in turns, eat it. The Mustang GT is well-behaved and quick as snot propelled by a sneeze. You simply cannot find a car that does all that the Mustang can do for anything near its price. I got a lesson in this when I hit a corner too hot. Bracing for a bunch of sliding and protesting from the Pirellis, there was no drama as the car simply negotiated the turn. Those Brembo brakes burned off the speed with the same kind of competence, leaving me to sit at the side of the road, idling, hands shaking, stupid grin on my face. It’s not so much the power that scares the novice. It’s easy to let off the gas the car calms down. No, have a panicked slam of the Brembo’s and you’ll be pulling your face off the windshield.

This gap looks very unfinished on an otherwise pretty nice dash. What the hell, Ford?

This gap looks very unfinished on an otherwise pretty nice dash. What the hell, Ford?

The modern Mustang is nothing like the old standards we were used to. Still, one eyesore on an otherwise impressive dash can be seen near the steering column, where the faux aluminum finish ends but the plastic continues going. It’s nothing major, but it just makes you scratch your head and go “What the hell, Ford?

The rest of the interior is above Ford average, with quality plastics and thick leather. The seats have some bolstering that can keep the average person from sliding too much, but they aren’t Recaros – an option we wish was available on the standard GT. Still, we won’t complain because we’ve been in the Corvette and we’re pretty sure our Grandfathers Cadillac had more bolstering than those seats.
The car has been plagued by issues with the MT82 Getrag transmission, in the cold some Mustangs refuse to use half of their gears. The rumor is that Ford used the Getrag because of its smoothness, despite the fact that its only rated for 375 lb. ft when the Coyote throws down 390 lb. ft. To Fords point, its a slick shifting transmission compared to the TR-6060 used in the Shelby. However, I think what most Mustang owners want is a transmission that can hold the power rather than be smooth. In reality, its not that smooth of a transmission in the first place. We hope Ford fixes this issue. Otherwise they’ll be faced with a lot of lemon law’d cars, lawsuits and disgruntled owners. The only other option for owners is to throw the warranty into left field and drop an aftermarket Tremec and kissing their cost savings over the Boss or Shelby goodbye.Ford' Getrag Transmission in the new Mustang has been causing problems among the Mustang fans.

Still, this brings up a interesting point. A stock GT, is 30 horsepower and a suspension setup away from being a Boss 302. There are significant differences between the GT 5.0 and the Boss 5.0 to be sure. However, consider this build – a GT build like ours, Brembo brake package, 3.73 gears stickers for around $36 (knock off leather and save a few grand), throw in a TR-6060 ($3,000 + install), the Boss/FRPP suspension package ($1,800 + Install), Ford Racing 525 HP Super Charger, and lets say a new axle-back setup for around $600. That puts you on par for horsepower with the $50K Shelby GT500 at $45K + installation. You might say thats too much work, but what you’re getting is the same amount of horsepower as the Shelby, thats a few hundred pounds lighter than it, and mostly crucially a few hundred pounds off the nose. It’s packing more power than the Boss with a pretty close suspension set up. We already know the stock GT’s ability to keep up with an M3 is pretty good, now add 150 HP and better handling. So instead of keeping up the Teutonic bruiser, you’re watching it shrink away in the rear view and still pocketing money.
A Shelby GT500, An Super Charged SN-95 and our S-197 5.0 Mustang

Overall, color us impressed with the new Mustang GT. Obviously, we bought one. It’s a very well sorted car despite its handicaps and takes our pick as the top muscle car from the big three. It’s lighter, faster, and all around a much more enjoyable car to be in than the slower and sometimes more expensive competition from Chevy and Dodge. Oh, and an easter egg for you other 2012 owners, depress the brake and then the T/C button twice before letting off the brake and you’ll be in “Sport” mode, which dials back the traction control, stability control and firms up the steering. Be careful with this trick!

American Le Mans Series 2011 preview

We’ve passed the midway point between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox, so it’s time to start thinking about motorsports again. That means getting ready for the 2011 American Le Mans Series (ALMS), which rose from the ashes of IMSA in 1999 and has since become the preeminent sports car racing series in North America. Despite the economic slowdown of the last several years, ALMS has grown its fields and its attendance, thanks to CEO Scott Atherton’s collaboration with Le Mans organizers Automobile Club de L’Ouest (ACO) and an emphasis on relevant and green racing. It’s far more exciting than the F1 space race or NASCAR’s same-sameyness.

Atherton has promoted the idea of alternative fuels and alternative drivetrains along with a mix of high-tech prototypes and recognizable GT cars. ALMS is the only series North America with such a diverse mix of propulsion systems. The base fuel for cars in the series is E10, a blend of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline. Many of the cars including virtually the entire GT field now run on cellulosic E85 a next generation biofuel made from organic waste materials. Though the Audis no longer run the full season in America, they and the French Peugeots still appear at Sebring and Petit Le Mans with their diesel powered prototypes and in 2010, Dyson Racing began running on biobutanol, another biofuel with characteristics more like gasoline.

For 2011, the fuel situation remains the same with four approved fuels but the other technical rules have been modified to align with the updated ACO specs. In 2010 ALMS ran the former LMP1 and LMP2 cars in a single class with weight and air restrictor adjustments to even out the performance. This year we are back to two prototype classes with the new LMP1 largely following the former LMP2 specs. The most significant change for the P1 cars is that hybrid powertrains are now officially allowed.

In 2009, Corsa Motorsports ran an LMP1 car with a Zytek hybrid drive system that had some success but inadequate funding sidelined that car last year. Porsche’s 911 GT3R hybrid made its North American debut at the season ending Petit Le Mans last fall with its electro-mechanical flywheel energy storage system. Porsche has yet to announce 2011 hybrid racing plans, but the 918 RSR may well appear on the track before the year is out.

2011 LMP1 cars will continue to run with race-bred engines limited to 3.4 liters normally aspirated or 2.0 liters turbocharged if running on gasoline or ethanol blends and 3.7-liters if diesel fueled. Dyson Racing is back this year with its butanol-fueled Lola coupe powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged Mazda four cylinder engine. The diesel powered Audis and Peugeots will also return for at least the enduros at Sebring and PLM since both races are part of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup that also includes the flagship race in France and four other events in Europe and Asia.

Audi will contest Sebring with an updated version of the R15+ TDI that won at Le Mans last year while it continues testing of the all-new R18 TDI for its race debut in France. Unlike the open-top R15 and its predecessors the R10 and R8, the R18 is a closed coupe. This echoes the more aerodynamically efficient approach taken by Peugeot. The 5.0-liter V10 diesel has been supplanted by an all-new 3.7-liter twin-turbo V6 diesel. At PLM last year, Audi motorsports chief Dr Wolfgang Ulrich declined to comment on whether the new car would use a hybrid drive, but if it does, we wouldn’t be surprised to see it adopt a version of the flywheel system from the 911.

In addition to the new body style, the R18 also adopts a feature that debuted on the 2009 Acura ARX-02a, identically sized front and rear wheels and tires. For many years, most race cars have used smaller front wheels, but the new configuration allows for a more balanced weight distribution and handling.

Peugeot is also back with an all-new diesel prototype that retains the 908 designation of the old car but not much else. The 3.7-liter diesel in the 908 has eight cylinders and two turbos, down from the old car’s V12. Peugeot has been testing a hybrid version of the old 908 since September 2009 but hasn’t indicated if the electric boost and regenerative braking system will be used on the 2011 car. The French manufacturer has also opted for a equal front and rear wheel/tire combo used on the Audi. All of the new prototypes are also equipped with vertical “shark-fin” aerodynamic panel on top of the engine compartment, a change mandated by the new rules to help prevent the cars from getting airborne if they spin.

Both Audi and Peugeot are planning full campaigns in the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC) which means that they will be at both Sebring and Petit Le Mans as well as five other races in Europe and Asia. Peugeot has not indicated whether the new or old 908 will run at Sebring.

Among the ALMS regulars, two-time prototype champion Highcroft racing is back again with Honda power shifting back to the P1 class. Highcroft will be running an updated ARX-01e with the 3.4-liter V8 used so successfully for the last several years. Highcroft has been a Honda factory development partner since Acura entered the ALMS in 2007. The Connecticut based team spent much of the off-season testing a modified ARX-01c P2 car fitted with the new twin-turbo 2.8-liter V6 from Honda Performance Development (HPD).

The new HPD engine conforms to the 2011 LMP2 rules that require production based engines that cost no more than $35,000. The HR28TT is based on Honda’s global V6 that sees use across most of the Honda and Acura lineup including the Accord, Odyssey and MDX. In ALMS defending prototype challenge champions Level 5 Motorsports are moving up to the P2 class with a pair of Lola chassis using the new HPD V6.

In addition to Highcroft and Dyson, LMP2 stalwarts Muscle Milk Cytosport are also moving up to P1. The Porsche RS Spyder has been retired from ALMS competition so the squad owned by Greg Pickett has taken over one of the former factory Aston Martin Lola coupes. Like other older P1 cars, this one is grandfathered in with tighter air restrictors on its 6.0-liter V12 but that didn’t seem to cause much grief at last week’s annual ALMS winter test at Sebring where it outpaced all other challengers.

Last summer Roush Yates Engines announced plans to produce an LMP2 spec engine based on Ford’s 3.5-liter Ecoboost V6 and Lola announced that it would produce an installation kit for its chassis.  However, no team has publicly announced plans to compete with the Ecoboost engine.

In the GT ranks, the fields will again be full for 2011 with all of last years marques returning. Corvette Racing is back with two freshly built C6.Rs. The team experienced more difficulties than usual in 2010 including a double DNF at Le Mans. However, the Detroit based squad brought it all together at the season-ending Petit Le Mans with a last lap victory.  That momentum carried through to 2011 where the new car topped the GT class at the Sebring test.

While the Corvette is basically the same as the 2010 model, the driver lineup will see its biggest shakeup in several years with decade-long veteran Johnny O’Connell leaving the Vette squad to pilot one of the new Cadillac CTS-Vs in the SCCA World Challenge series. Tommy Milner is moving over from the Rahal-Letterman BMW squad to join Olivier Beretta in the #3 car.

One on only two all-new cars in GT for 2011 is the gorgeous Ferrari 458 Italia, four of which will be operated by Extreme Speed Motorsports and Risi Competizione. The 458 gets a larger engine, new gearbox and of course completely different aerodynamics from the 430GT it replaces. Speaking of the 430GT which has been so successful over the past several years, Tracy Khron is back in 2011 running one of the “obsolete” Ferraris.

The other new entry this year, is the 458’s most direct market competitor, the Lamborghini Gallardo which will be run by the freshman West Racing team.

Of course this wouldn’t be GT racing with a complement of Porsche 911s and the GT3 RSR is back in the hands of Flying Lizard and Black Swan Racing which is moving up from GT Challenge. Also returning is Rahal-Letterman Racing with its factory backed pair of BMW M3 GTs.  Robertson Racing returns and will be running two of its Ford GTs for the full season after debuting the second car #04 at Petit Le Mans.

Also expanding to two cars is the JaguarRSR team which is back for its sophomore attempt. 2010 was pretty much a disaster for the Jaguar XKR-GT with a string of mechanical and electrical failures that usually it retire very early on. With two cars, the team has brought three veteran racers in P.J. Jones, Bruno Junqueira and Cristiano Da Matta to join team owner Paul Gentillozi. Hopefully with the experience of 2010 behind them the pretty green and black Jags can actually finish races this year.

The LMP Challenge and GT Challenge classes are back again for a second season with their lower cost and fixed specifications and several new teams joining the party.

The 2011 ALMS and ILMC seasons kick off on March 19 with the 12 Hours of Sebring with a massive 59 car grid. If 2010 is anything to go by, 2011 should be another bang up season for sports car racing fans in North America and the around the world.

CES 2011: Ford rolls out the fast-charging Focus Electric

For the first time ever, Ford revealed a new production at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. In what has become an annual tradition with his third appearance Ford CEO Alan Mulally showed off the new 2012 Focus Electric. The world first learned about the Focus Electric in December 2008 when the Detroit automakers had to submit their viability plans to the federal government as part of the discussions to get bailouts for General Motors and Chrysler. At the time Ford revealed plans to produce two battery electric vehicles (BEV), a commercial vehicle which is now in production as the Transit Connect Electric and a car, the upcoming Focus.

The reveal of the Focus Electric in the Las Vegas Hilton ball room yielded only one real surprise, the fast 240 volt charging capability. The Nissan Leaf which has been on sale for several weeks already supports 240 V charging but the input current is restricted so that charging power is limited to just 3.3 kilowatts, the lower limit for so-called level 2 charging equipment. Anyone that has picked up their phone or computer while the battery is charging knows that it heats up while taking in electrons. Nissan opted to go with an air-cooled lithium ion battery pack for the Leaf and which gives them limited latitude for cooling the battery during charging, thus the relatively slow charge rate.

Ford on the other hand is using a liquid cooled pack in the Focus that allows for active thermal management. As a result, Ford is allowing the Focus to charge at the maximum 6.6 kilowatts allowed by the level 2 standard. That means the Focus Electric’s 23 kilowatt-hour battery can be charged in just 3-4 hours compared to the 8-10 hours for the 24 kWh pack in the Nissan. Ford developed the battery pack in-house and will assemble them at a plant west of Detroit. The lithium cells are being supplied by South Korea’s LG Chem and are similar to those used in both the Chevrolet Volt and Hyundai Sonata hybrid.

For those that want to take advantage of the 3-4 hour charge capability, Ford has partnered with Best Buy to have its Geek Squad crews come out and install 240 V chargers for $1,499. That ‘s $500 less than the installed price for a Volt charger and as much as $1,000 less than the AeroVironment chargers being pushed by Nissan for Leaf buyers.

At the reveal Ford wasn’t talking much the Focus Electric range specs, but has previously targeted a range of about 100 miles. Real world range will likely be in the same 80-100 mile range expected for the Leaf. Propulsion comes from a 100 kW electric motor and top speed is limited to 84 mph. Visually, the EV Focus gets unique 17-inch wheels and an Aston-Martin-esque grille that is blanked off to optimize the aerodynamics. Inside, the same dual LCD instrument cluster found in the Fusion hybrid is in place but programmed with new displays tuned to the battery-only operation. Like the Leaf and Chevy Volt, Ford has also developed a smart phone app that lets owners monitor and manage battery charging so that the vehicle can be prepared when needed.

Ford is showing the Focus only as a five door hatchback in Las Vegas, but the EV should be available as a four door sedan as well.  When the new Focus was first previewed in late 2009 Ford said that the new platform has been engineered to accommodate conventional, hybrid and full electric powertrains, all of which can be built on the same assembly line. The Focus Electric goes on sale in late 2011 at a yet to be announced price.