The take-no-prisoners 2016 Mustang GT that landed on our driveway made no excuses to practicality. The extra-cost, extra intense triple yellow tri-coat paint screamed its brash intentions. Hit the start button to fire up the bass-happy 5.0-liter V8 and you’re ready to rumble.

Introverts need not apply.

Our $42,770 Mustang GT premium tester had the fancy 12-speaker “shaker pro” high-wattage stereo, but frankly, we’d pass, saving some coin and some trunk space. The throaty, macho exhaust and SiriusXM satellite provided all the tunes we needed.

We loved the slick shifting six-speed manual. Modern paddle-shifted automatics may shave a millisecond or two here and there when you’re getting on it, but there’s no substitute for snicking through the gates yourself and doing the two-step with clutch and gas pedals if you enjoy driving and control. We did like the new-for-2016 $1,995 California Special package, which added a sliver of exclusivity and throws in a retro “gas cap” to boot.

When it exploded on the scene in 2015, the sixth-generation Mustang hit nearly all the hot buttons of the Mustang faithful. This is one Ford that’s graced with a body that looks fast just standing still. The Mustang also has one of the best stances to ever come off an assembly line with wheels and tires filling the wells and fender gaps kept to a minimum. Ford’s design team did an admirable job keeping the gingerbread off, which not only helps style and perceived quality, but also contributes to improved aerodynamics.

Although it may come in flavors mild to wild, the GT is the starting point for any buyer who wants the power and athleticism to back up the Mustang’s sleek profile. Despite EcoBoost, Ford’s tidal wave of turbocharging, it’s the 5.0-liter V8 that unleashes the sound and fury of the Mustang GT’s 435 horsepower and 400 lb.-ft. of torque. Properly equipped and given the space, the car is good for 155 mph.

The Mustang is not only a five-point-oh muscle car, it’s an oh-my-gawd economic engine. Born more than half a century ago, Ford’s personal coupe spawned its own cottage industries from hardware and service for restoration, customization and performance. The Mustang has also starred on the big screen from “Bullitt” to “War of the Worlds” and has been immortalized in song by artists like Wilson Pickett and Vanilla Ice.

The California Special (C/S) package pays homage to the original – a limited run of 1968 Mustangs tailored to win over California customers. The name has periodically returned, letting Mustang fans customize their steeds by checking the correct box.

Resurfacing this year and available with the GT fastback or convertible, the sharp 2016 edition is a study in contrasts, bundling C/S stripes, logos and badges, its own upper and lower grille, a strut tower brace under the hood, black leather/suede seat coverings with red stitching, upgraded carpeted floor mats that carry over the red stitching, black mirrors and hood vents, black front splitter and black rear spoiler and its own 19-inch aluminum black-painted wheels.

There’s one catch: the California Special package is only available on the premium version of the Mustang GT fastback. The four grand premium over the $32,395 standard GT gets you heated and cooled front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, aluminum foot pedals, ambient lighting, universal garage door opener, heated outside mirrors that incorporate extra turn signals and puddle lights that project a cutesy “pony” on the ground.

Two significant additions with the Premium over the standard Mustang GT are the infotainment system and user-selectable drive modes.
The premium GT features Sync 3, Ford’s much improved touch screen and user interface. The sound system has nine speakers with a separate amplifier, vs. the six speakers in the regular GT. The premium also includes SiriusXM satellite radio.

Although all Mustangs have an improved stability control system which can be turned off or backed off a bit for sportier driving, those who pony up for the premium Mustang GT can tap a switch to select one of four preset calibrations: normal, sport plus, track and snow/wet.

Ford’s also whipped up a performance package for those who prefer more go than show. Though it’s pricier at $2,495, the option can be added to either the premium GT or the $32,395 standard V8 Mustang.

The GT performance package delivers a lot of bang for the buck, which helps explain why Ford reports the option has proven popular: Brembo six-piston front brake calipers with 380mm front discs replacing the 330mm rotors in standard GTs, strut-tower brace, bigger radiator, larger rear sway bar and heavy-duty front springs, oil pressure and vacuum gauges, specific 19-inch black aluminum wheels with 255/40R19 summer ultra-performance rubber up front and 275/40R19s in the back.

The performance package also includes an aggressive 3.73 rear axle ratio with Torsen limited slip and unique electronic power-assisted steering, ABS and stability control tuning.

Big tires, LED lighting and track-inspired hardware are trendy cool. But for many of us, owner satisfaction is where the rubber hits the road. Here, Ford apparently has a solid hit. In Consumer Reports’ annual auto survey, 88 percent of Mustang owners claimed that, all things considered, they’d still buy a Mustang if they had to do it all over again.
And how’s this for perspective? That score puts the Mustang in fourth place, just behind the Chevy Corvette, Porsche Cayman and Porsche 911. Those are not only pretty hard acts to follow on or off the track, at under $40K brand new, one could argue they make the Mustang GT an all-American middle-class muscle car steal.


TYPE: Sports coupe
BASE PRICE: $36,395
MAJOR OPTIONS: California Special package, $1,995; Shaker pro audio system with 12 speakers, $1,795; voice-activated navigation system, $795; triple yellow paint, $495
DRIVETRAIN: 5.0-liter V8; 6-speed manual; RWD
HORSEPOWER AND TORQUE: 435 hp at 6,500 rpm/400 lb.-ft. at 4,250 rpm (with 93 octane fuel)
FUEL: gas, 87 octane (minimum); 16-gallon tank
EPA ESTIMATED MPG: 15 city / 25 highway
CURB WEIGHT: 3,705 lbs.
SAFETY: NHTSA, 5 stars; IIHS, “good” except for “acceptable” in small-overlap test

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