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For a singular nameplate with a long history, the 2012 Ford Mustang line-up delivers a lot of choices. Any of the current Mustangs is quieter, better built, better equipped and more refined than ever, but still visually engaging and good fun to drive.
Improvements for 2012 include more standard features and a selectable power steering system that changes steering effort and feedback from comfort to normal to sport at the driver's selection.
The big news, however, is the return of the Mustang Boss 302. It's a modern take on one the great cars in American road-racing lore.
The Mustang is available as a coupe, a convertible or a unique glass-roof coupe. The top-selling Mustang V6 and GT models are offered in all three body styles, in standard trim or a more feature-laden Premium level, with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. Even the extra-powerful Boss and Shelby GT500 Mustangs deliver reasonable fuel-economy, given the performance potential. The level of fun varies primarily with the potency of the engine selected.
The standard Mustang V6 makes the basic stylistic statement and comes well equipped for about $23,000 with destination charge ($28,000 for the convertible). Its four-cam 3.7-liter V6 delivers 305 horsepower, and it will accelerate faster than the majority of vehicles you'll encounter at a stop light. It also delivers 31 mpg highway with the automatic, according to the EPA, and it makes quiet, comfortable daily transportation. The V6 is offered with just about every feature available on the Mustang, so buyers don't have to move up to the higher-powered models to get the stuff many want.
The V8-powered GT delivers 412 horsepower for about $30,000, and it basically cranks everything up a notch, starting with acceleration. It gets 26 mpg highway, and is just as easy to live with as the V6, with the same 13.2 feet of trunk space and folding rear seat.
The new Boss 302 is geared toward enthusiast drivers who look forward to track days. Its 5.0-liter V8 is massaged to rev higher and deliver a more high-strung 444 horsepower, and everything else in the Boss is tuned to sharpen its reflexes. While hard-core enthusiasts will appreciate its improvements, most drivers will be just as impressed with the standard GT, for about $10,000 less. The optional Laguna Seca package makes the Boss even more fun at the race track, but its not very friendly (or comfortable) for the road.
The ultimate Mustang is the Shelby GT500, combining a supercharged V8 with in-your-face graphics and lots of features. Expensive as Mustangs go, the GT500 nonetheless costs less than any 550-horsepower machine in the new-car marketplace.
Standard safety features include six airbags, all the stability and skid-management electronics and Ford's MyKey system, which allows parents to limit speed and audio volume when they hand the key to teens. The Mustang's appeal include a variety of appearance and wheel packages, allowing buyers to subtly or very obviously tailor the car's appearance to personal taste.
The Mustang as been in continuous production for nearly five decades, making it the longest running model in Ford history. Whether you call it a pony car, muscle car or American Iron, it remains the class benchmark 47 years after it was introduced.