Cars tend to have this habit of collecting extra letters at the end of their names, but none are more nebulous than the oft used “GT.” Badges like “LE,” “Type-R,” and “AMG” indicate which trim level you’ve sprung for or whether you’re zipping around in the sportier variant of a particular vehicle. “GT” is supposed to mean you’re seated in a “Grand Tourer” — but what exactly does that mean? What does it take for a car to be considered a true GT? To satisfy my musings, I took the 2016 Mustang GT on a short road trip to explore this concept, and to see if it’s worthy of the label.
The top tier of Ford’s latest Mustang comes saddled with a 5.0-liter V8 that puts out 435 horsepower and 400-pound-feet of torque. All this grunt is sent to the back wheels by way of a six-speed select shift automatic, or six-speed manual. For this journey, my pony had a proper stick shift.
Story time: The bride-to-be of a good friend requested that I surprise the budding groom at their wedding with a showstopper of a chariot to shuttle him to the ceremony. I felt that a Triple Yellow muscle car with a throaty exhaust capable of blowing open the chapel doors would be sufficient. This also required a drive from New York to Maine, so I’d have plenty of time to wax philosophical about the nature of a GT.
In the traditional sense, a Grand Tourer is something in the middle of sport and luxury: more comfortable than a track-blaster but nimbler than a long-hauling sedan. You’re meant to go the distance, but still have fun. To that end, the most common car configuration of a GT is a two-door, “2+2” coupe, and the sleek, fastback build of the modern Mustang certainly fits that bill.
Without eschewing too much of its heritage, the latest generation Mustang goes for a sleeker look meant to appeal to the overseas market that can now buy one. Since it’s a global car, Ford wants folks across the pond to buy it because they truly like it, not for its token American kitsch. That may worry some, but the striking new features don’t disappoint nor will anyone mistake this Michigan monster for a European sports car.
The blunt fascia proudly brandishes the iconic pony badge in its trapezoidal grille as it stares down the road with a set of sleek headlight casings. This houses a set of high-intensity headlamps that are accented with three LED daytime running lamps. The squinty look is probably the most hit-or-miss detail about the car, but it does grow on you.
As for the rest, the Mustang retains a long, bold hood and a canopy that swoops down to the rear haunches. Three distinctly Mustang LED taillights on each side (which light up sequentially, by the way), jut out of the traditionally flat back of the car.
Prepping to head out, I fill the 13.5 cu. ft. trunk with two sets of whatever you can carry on to a plane — roller bags and backpacks, that is — and still have a bit of extra room. Up front, two optional Recaro sport seats are prepped to embrace me and my travel companion. These don’t bode well for the long haul I’m about to endure. Nevertheless, the interior is one of the finest you’ll ever see in a Mustang or indeed, in any car of its class. Without feeling too cluttered, the interior features have bold, chunky lines throughout the cabin. Aircraft-inspired gauges (which display your “ground speed”) and switches are nice touches to the excitement of the experience.
From these solid metal toggles, the driver can slip through the different driving modes befitting the occasion. Softening the steering and the ride prevents me from getting too tired on the long highway stretches. Through the more fun backroads, I firm everything up and make the car as responsive as possible for some spirited thrashing. There’s even a much-welcomed snow mode which helps prevent the torque-heavy pony car from becoming completely useless when the white stuff hits the road.
A few hours in, and the Recaro seats prove more comfortable than anticipated. The ride in general is smooth and supportive thanks to the independent front and nigh-blasphemous independent rear. That’s right, the old live rear axle is gone, and now the ’Stang can step out and corner with the best of them. In theory, at least.
The interior is one of the finest you’ll ever see in a Mustang — or any car of its class.
This is supposed to be the most sports-car like Mustang yet, but the near-4,000-pound pony car won’t best its European counterparts. It still feels a bit too floaty in comparison to more performance-focused coupes, but when pushed through a corner, the integral-link rear suspension pushes the outside wheel to dutifully hold the car in place far better than any previous Mustang could have. Throw in new double-ball-joint MacPherson struts in the front and a set of 6-piston Brembo brakes and you’ve suddenly got a muscle car that drives like a sports car.
One last fling
Let’s be honest, decent handling in a car like this is a bonus. The real selling point is what’s under the hood, and the latest Mustang has a new version of the naturally aspirated 5.0-liter V8 that it’s renowned for. With updates like larger intake and exhaust valves, straighter intake ports, and new manifold features, the mighty power plant is able to deliver improved fuel economy while still upping the flex factor. All told, the V8 cranks up 435 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque while keeping fuel economy at a comfortable… 15 mpg city, 25 mpg highway.
Yes, she is a thirsty horse.
Though “part of the experience,” I’d probably enjoy myself a bit better if I didn’t have to stop as many times en route to the wedding. Perhaps if this Mustang was equipped with the 2.3-liter four-cylinder EcoBoost engine it now offers, I’d fare better. The smaller turbocharged power plant churns up a respectable 310 hp while giving drivers 22 mpg city, 31 mpg highway. Putting my foot down on long highway stretches, rocketing forward while listening to the thumping exhaust crescendo, however, dispels any thoughts of fuel economy.
Ford wants folks across the pond to buy the Mustang because they truly like it, not for its token American kitsch.
For all the improvements that Ford has made in the Mustang, the manual clutch seems to have adopted a nuance that dissatisfied me in the previous generation of its rival, the Chevrolet Camaro. Feeling out the contact point feels steep, making smooth shifts a chore.
On the big day, I present the happy soon-to-be husband with a not-at-all subtle ride to his nuptials. The Mustang is dialed into its most raucous settings, and I even consider firing up the line lock function when we arrive. “Line lock” is one of the many track apps that are built in so that the Ford is track-ready from day one. Most of the apps are of the usual performance metric measuring fare, but line lock clamps the front brakes down hard while allowing drivers to spin the rear wheels. It’s meant to heat up the wheels for maximum grip at a drag strip, but in practice, it’s a “burnout for dummies” button. I decide a miasma of burnt rubber smoke wouldn’t exactly enhance the wedding.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t thrills to be had on the way. With 435 hp underfoot, the Groom gets one last thrill in as the Mustang slides its tail through the corners of the sleepy Maine village; I can hear his hoots of excitement amidst the cacophony roaring from the tail pipes. I like to think I gave him a decent adrenaline boost to prepare for saying “I do.”
The DT Accessory Pack
Starting at $32,395, the Mustang GT’s bottom line is par for the course for its category, but that creeps up sharply with premium packages to the $40K mark. On the drive back, I was satisfied that the Mustang accomplished its mission to be comfortable for long stretches, fun enough to accept the offer twisty roads present, and make a big splash at a wedding with its powerful presence.
How it stacks up in the rankings with other grand tourers is a barstool debate for another time — but this Mustang has clearly earned the GT badge.