Cigar Aficionado

Who says you have to sacrifice performance to get good fuel economy? While muscle and mileage used to be mutually exclusive, you may get a shock when you check out the 2011 Ford Mustang. The new pony car does a credible job of delivering them both.

Serious performance fans will be pleased to learn that the classic Mustang 5.0-liter V8 is back and churning out a solid 412 horsepower and a tire-spinning 390 pound-feet of torque. Those sorts of numbers would have landed the Mustang GT into supercar country not all that many years ago. But it certainly won’t match the thirst of a supercar by the fuel economy numbers on the window sticker (17 miles per gallon city and 26 highway).

Not bad, but the real surprise comes from the ’11 Mustang V6. As with the GT, it gets an all-new engine this coming year, something you’ll recognize the moment you fire it up. The old, truck-based six-banger was sluggish and not much fun to drive, with a droning exhaust note that grated the ears. The new 3.7-liter V6 sounds surprisingly like the bigger 5.0, with the sort of brawny roar you’d expect from a muscle car. And at a solid 305 horsepower, the six makes nearly twice the power of the 1995 GT, which heralded the return of the Ford V8. Yet, the Mustang V6 also delivers a thrifty 31 mpg on the highway and 19 in city driving.

To see what those numbers mean on the road, we headed out to Southern California, alternating between the two Mustang models—and pitting them against their toughest direct competitor, the new Chevrolet Camaro. The Mustang GT roundly overwhelmed its Chevy rival on an improvised drag strip.

Raw power might have been all that mattered back in the cruisin’ days of American Grafitti, but these days, a performance car is expected to handle like a sports car—and stop like one as well, so kudos to Ford for adding big Brembo brakes to the Mustang GT’s standard equipment list. On the back canyon roads north of Los Angeles both Mustang models let us flog them around the tightest corners while emitting only the occasional tire squeal.

The downside? The 2011 Mustang could use paddle shifters for those who opt for the surprisingly quick six-speed automatic. And let’s add a grab handle for nervous passengers. But those are modest complaints that shouldn’t turn off any pony car fan who wants to get the best of both worlds, mileage and muscle.