2012 Ford Mustang GT – Lines and Power Galore, but Not for the Faint of Heart

This may not be the prancing horse, but this one isn’t wasting any time prancing.

When you spend some years with the same vehicle, it becomes difficult to qualify or even quantify the experience. So many different thoughts have had the time to come and go, so many different experiences to modify or create those thoughts. You would think our job would have to include having a logbook at the ready at any point in time. I believe it is best to just reflect back and put it down, however.

(Disclaimer: the 2012 Mustang GT in question is indeed my Mustang GT. The Grabber Blue mascot for TAC that you see plastered on our Facebook and Twitter pages. Therefore, I am allowing myself the full freedom to talk shit. Her name is Julia. Don’t kill me, Julia.)

When I first picked up the extremely blue car, I was too excited. Too cautious. I drove that thing like a shopping cart with a bad wheel on a slippery floor, making sure not to make a mistake, babying the engine, giving the new transmission components a wide berth. The plan was to run this baby into the ground; my first (factory) new car purchase. I was going to enjoy every single kilometre of the experience. What ensued in four years of ownership was slightly different, however.

img_0918Coyote

The Mustang GT comes with Ford’s modern interpretation of five-point-oh, a 4951 cc, 412 hp, 390 ft.lb, dual-variable valve timing monster named simply… Coyote. Before I continue, allow me to emphasize right now that this is the absolute high point of this car. With very small tweaks, it could easily go down as one of the great small-block V8s of all time. It doesn’t sound nearly as agitated and growly as the Modular 4.7-litre that it replaced, but its bite is definitely bigger than the 4.7’s bark.

Torque! Torque everywhere! I can short shift at 2000 rpm, 1500, doesn’t matter, I will always have enough power to get up to the same speed that that high revving Corolla next to me is trying to get to. I can pass anyone on demand. I can reach dangerous speeds in dangerous speed. And it makes all the right noises. After replacing the laughably quiet stock exhaust with axle-back units from the Shelby GT500, all was right with the world. I wasn’t quite keeping my neighbours up at night, but I was sure giving them something sweet to listen to. The only thing this engine needs is a tune to get rid of any residual rev-hang, and it will be on point. If only the rest of the car would cooperate.

Fatal Attraction

That cooperation was in short supply when it came down to the Getrag MT-82 6-speed manual transmission. Early proponents of the “S197.2” vehicles are well aware of this issue. Some cases were even so bad (if rare) that users would be completely and utterly locked out of multiple gears at once, making emergency acceleration maneuvers very scary. The transmission in my car is not much different. Even after an extensive break-in period, the shifter refused to stop being overly notchy, very slow to react, and an overall displeasure to use. At about 25,000km, I decided to install a JHR shifter bracket to help smooth things out. That definitely helped reduce the notchiness, but the shifter still misbehaves on some days. I used to be able to reliably predict when it would not cooperate depending on the weather that day, but now it behaves when it feels like it.

Don’t let that spoil the fun, however. When the transmission does behave, she behaves well. Shifts are super short and direct. When the car is in gear, the shifter stays firm in its position with zero play, like the guards in front of Buckingham Palace. No bullshit. When it comes time to do a quick shift, it’s always willing and well-defined, even if it requires a little getting used to to get it just right.

Clutch action is good, but not great. While heaviness is to be expected from a 1635 kg (3605 lbs.) muscle car, it does send your left foot flying whenever you get into something else. I’ve discovered that the clutch feel is largely up to preference, but it is a bit vague and labourious, if not consistent and linear. With lots of practise, it is not difficult to get smooth shifts out of it, but try to experiment, and she’ll send you a jerkin’. It’s also not ideal for those of us in the shorter range of homo sapien. My 5′ 7″ self found my right leg getting very tired after a lot of shifting because the clutch is too deep compared to the other two pedals. This was remedied by a 40mm clutch extension that made everything feel right, at the expense of a now-distant dead pedal and a reduction in overall control. But, this isn’t the Fast and the Furious, and I’m not double-clutching like I should on the destroyed streets of Montréal anyway. Anyone planning on using this car for racing purposes should modify the clutch pedal to match their size.

2011_ford_mustang_eng_10-de-as_4_717

The Golden Rule

When MotorTrend put Randy Pobst in a Coyote Mustang and asked him to race himself in an E92 BMW M3, a car that cost at least $30,000 more at the time, the Mustang came within about a second of that car. Impressive stats against such well-established competition. The Mustang definitely is a fast car around corners. Gone is the adage of muscle car = straight line only. This car can hustle, solid rear axle included. Even if the steering is as numb as scar tissue… and the suspension rides about two inches too high.

My car was equipped with the Brembo Brake Performance package which made it the best factory performance Mustang GT money could buy at the time. This included 14″, 4-piston front Brembo brakes, firmer springs/struts/shocks, rear lower control arms from the GT500 (that we will get to in a moment), some fancy traction control mapping, and last but not least, 255/40ZR Pirelli P-Zero summer rubber mounted on 19″ painted aluminum wheels (the ultimate desire for this package). This package ticked lots of boxes for a reasonable $1,700 cost. It also didn’t solve many problems.

Despite the upgraded suspension and lower control arms, the rear end of the car still loves to hop whenever given the beans or making a tight turn. This problem was actually slightly remedied by swapping the tires to Hankook Ventus V12 K120s. While the P-Zeros refused to lose grip in the dry, they were loud and expensive and wore very fast. They were toast at 33,000 km, most of which were very easy kms. They even had the audacity to begin blistering on two corners. I hated those tires, and I was not sad to see them go. But, no tire swap can change the fact that the body rolls a lot and the car looks like it sits way too high. While the Mustang is far more competent around corners than any econobox, I would trade this for the handling characteristics of a GTI or any BMW in a heartbeat. Thus, the Coyote needs modifications to be just right. Lots of them, which is good for a car with such huge aftermarket support. There are some things that the aftermarket can’t fix, however.

Things the Aftermarket Can’t Fix

My god, this interior. This car may have been a major upgrade from the car it replaced, but it is still awful. Soft-touch materials are everywhere, just all in the wrong places. The door cards are hard and uncomfortable, ditto the centre console that leaves no comfortable place to rest your right arm. The cupholders are HORRIBLE. Gaaaaahh, goddamnit it just makes me want to scream every time I think about it. Putting anything more than a cell phone in there makes shifting a lesson in acrobatics. Storage space is also very limited for a car this big. The door card cubbies fit basically nothing and the glovebox is much of the same. That leaves the only logical place to put anything in the centre console which has a very cheap door that likes to pop open on its own and refuses to close about 60% of the time. The steering wheel is also far too large.

I will say, however, that whoever designed these pillarless doors did a great job at cabin wind insulation. It gives me the opportunity to focus on all of the road noise instead. It is a godsend that the 5.0 itself is a very smooth and quiet engine when not pushed, making it good for highway stints.

Ford SYNC, the Mustang’s resident infotainment system, is just awful. I could write a whole article on this alone. The navigation version is better. But, just, no.img_0939

Things the Aftermarket Can Fix

The first things you will want to modify after the exhaust and the shifter are the suspension and the seats.

Over the course of 35,000 km and four years, the Mustang has yet to cease giving me suspension headaches. Clunking lower control arms, clacking sway bar bushings, squeaky this, pingy that. This suspension was designed through-and-through by the penny pinchers. Even after I had the clunking front control arms replaced under warranty, the problem returned within 15,000 km. And the rears make noise too. And there is no spare tire with the Brembo Package, so I had to buy a full-size spare (out of pocket) along with jacking tools that had no dedicated mounting points and thus make noise if they aren’t secured down (by duct tape I may add!).

Ok, so the Mustang is ultimately a cheaply-built American car, sure. I’ll talk about this again when we talk price.

Recaro seats were only introduced in 2013 for the Mustang, so I got the crummy excuses for base seats. Leather, fancy blue stripe down the middle (part of a $500 appearance package), and made seemingly only for big guys. Skinny me slips and slides on these seats all day long if I push hard enough. My back made it four days straight on a road trip, but I wouldn’t dare define these seats as “comfortable”. If I could justify the cost, I would put the Recaro seats in right away. At the very least, I had to replace the headrests with ones from a 2013 Mustang because they were those fixed ones with an insane forward rake. Very uncomfortable.

Unfortunately, there is no real cure for the dead electric power steering.

Reliability

The car has 35,000 some-odd-km on it. Ask the next owner.

Value is in the Eye of the Beholder

While I can reliably say that this car was not worth the $46,000 (or thereabouts) sticker price, it is difficult to pin down anything else in this price range that can match the performance and eye-candy value this car has. A BMW 335i will blow right past that price range. The only thing that comes to mind is the Camaro, naturally. And yet, I still feel like I have been robbed. It is important to remember that this car is a mid-$20k proposition with a big engine and some other fancy bits thrown into it. Is the engine alone worth the near $20,000 differential? The answer is an emphatic NO. For it to be worth this amount of money, this car has to be built a lot better and house much higher-grade components than the ones on display here. While this may be a huge performance bargain, there is no doubt that sacrifices must be made in order to live with this car on a day-to-day basis.

 

Conclusion

Mustang is a big, heavy, powerful, and gorgeous pony car. The engine makes all the right noises and the right reactions on passengers’ faces. It can seat four in a pinch, and it even has a decent trunk. But, this car was not worth the money new. Maybe if the non-premium version of the car were available with the V8 in Canada, that could be remedied a fair bit. But it wasn’t.

Luckily, it’s not new anymore. For almost the price of what a new V6 used to be, you can have this baby and throw on all the bits that make the car just right. For me, I have had my time with this car and I’m afraid it is starting to pass. I’ve been accused of having unreasonable standards, but that’s my fault for having experienced better. Or maybe its not. We’ve already seen what Ford has done with the new S550 Mustang and they may just have addressed every single problem that you’ve read in this article. However, driving a car that rattles and clunks it’s way down the road and through gears for years is enough to make anyone discouraged to walk back into the showroom. And, I’m afraid that is what Julia has done for me. That Fiesta ST is sweet, though.

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Alex is an automotive journalist from Montreal, Canada since 2008. He is certifiably addicted and doesn’t think of anything but cars. Driving is his drug. He also occasionally suffers from bouts of afro hair.
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