Behind the Wheel – 2012 Mustang GT

2012 Mustang GT

In the critiquing game, whether you’re talking cars, movies or any widget of your liking, there’s such a thing as a shill review. It’s the seedy process by which a manufacturer aggressively encourages, bribes or outright pays a less than reputable hack in journalist clothing to write up a positive review – regardless if the item in question deserves it.

I’m sure it happens in the car beat, and the practice is many times more heinous when you consider the high ticket item on the block. If you get suckered into going to a bad movie, you’re out maybe $30 and a couple hours of your life. If you purchase a poor car based on a dishonest evaluation, your (and maybe your family) are stuck with it for years to come.

So, to avoid any accusation of such a shill review right here, I’m just going to come out and admit I’m a Mustang guy. I always have been. The first car I owned was an aging, but spirited 1975 Mustang II – the first pony in the line to feature the Shelby-inspired 302 V8 engine. I learned to drive stick in that four speed manual monster. I still have the wooden shift knob.

She was re-sprayed silver – where she wasn’t rusting due to Wisconsin winters. She had beat up, red upholstery and a sport steering wheel. I loved that car – right up until the day the 16-year-old me rolled it on I-94 on my way to my shift as a short order cook. I wept more for the loss of my first motorized companion more than I cried for any girlfriend I split with during those high school days.

Years later, after completing graduate school and pulling down my first full time writing gig, I fulfilled a longtime ambition and “replaced” my lost Mustang II with a brand new 1997 Mustang GT. Silver with black interior. I crossed the United States in that car, and it wracked up 200,000 miles before it found a spot to rest in my garage until I finish restoring it.

In total, I’ve owned three Mustangs and loved them all. So, when Ford offered me a weeklong road test in the 2012 Mustang GT, I knew it wouldn’t be a level-headed, objective evaluation. I suspected I’d love it, and I did. The original Mustang was designed to serve as the working man’s sports car – an opportunity for that average guy to sample a high performance car for a price far below fancy foreign makes.

Over the years, the Mustang surged and faded. But, it’s reclaimed its swagger with Ford’s brutish 5.0 liter, double overhead cam, V8 engine. It boisterously pounds out 412 hp with 390 ft. lb. of torque. And you can drive it home for about $29,710, well-equipped.

Can it hang with any Ferrari, Lotus or Maserati? No. But, you can blow close to $20,000 grand for tires on some of those makes. If suck, squeeze, bang, blow for your buck is an issue, you could do a great deal worse than the GT.

Mustangs have always gone reasonably fast in a straight line. If driving enthusiasts had complaints about the Mustang, they kick the car in the back end. Historic handling issues created a car with a heavy rear axel and a tendency to understeer and fishtail.

I have to report I drove the GT hard, trying to get that ass end to slide. I ran down Mulholland Drive and the PCH at speeds frowned upon by the Church of Rome, yet the 2012 Mustang GT hunkered down into the corners and bit into each apex. Yes, she floats a bit – but that adds the entertaining side effect of the car’s nose surging upward slightly when you slam down the accelerator – like a speed boat skipping white caps.

I don’t think it’s possible to seize on more guttural driving excitement for $30,000. There are those who look to the smaller, less pricey Japanese sports cars that can’t pile up as much straight line speed, but can handle better on the tighter turns. But, the Mustang GT pulls ahead with MacPherson strut front suspension, solid live axle rear suspension, front and rear stabilizer bar, Stability Control and Traction Control.

I drove the 2012 Boss 302 Mustang on a track day – running it so hard I shredded the tires and killed the car for everyone that afternoon. The Boss is a track run specialist that sells for about $10,000 more than the GT. For that, you get a louder engine and a more refine interior. Still, if you stick with the GT, you drive home with a hell of a car for the price.