Touring Southern California in a 2016 Ford Mustang GT
What would you do if you had a Ruby Red Mustang GT Premium Coupe with the Performance Package and a six-speed manual for one day in Southern California?
I took inspiration from the car’s iconic namesake, the all-conquering P-51 Mustang of World War II fame, and created a day fusing cars with aviation.
I have yet to pilot a P-51, but am certain Ford’s ground-bound version offers a more comfortable cockpit, and is damn-near as quick. Car and Driver measured 0-60 acceleration in the 435-horsepower Mustang at a brisk 4.3 seconds. Adding the Performance Package turns this straight-line racer into a master of corners. According to C&D, the Mustang achieves 0.94 lateral g on the skidpad. Straight-line and lateral acceleration put the Mustang right between BMW’s 340i and M3.
The day began at the La Cañada Flintridge end of California State Route 2, a.k.a. Angeles Crest Highway. The 22-mile climb from the base of the foothills to the turn-off at Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road follows the spine of the San Gabriel Mountains through more than 100 turns. This well-known stretch of quality asphalt features dramatic curves – hairpins, blind and banked. There are also falling rocks and dozens of hideouts for industrious deputies.
To avoid traffic, weekend warriors, and Johnny Law, the ascent began at 7:00 on a weekday morning. This is second-, third-, and fourth-gear country, and the Mustang’s short-throw shifter provides a wonderfully tactile, mechanical feel. You will not miss a gear.
The six-piston front Brembos shed speed rapidly. Corner entry is crisp and predictable, though its steering could be more communicative. Exit under hard acceleration, and the car thrusts forward, speed limited only by confidence. The RPMs build quickly, though the 5.0 refuses to provide that wound-out shriek some cars use to signal the need for an upshift. Fuel cutoff arrives with unexpected verve – the Coyote feels like it could continue revving. The car grabs corners and wrings them out, unflappably stringing together dozens of curves into a sinuous orchestra of pleasure. Average drivers become heros.
The next 20 miles on Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road were nearly as entertaining, before flattening out in the desert for a 50-mile run to the Mojave Air and Space Port. After a quick breakfast at the aptly named Voyager Restaurant, I explored the airport grounds. There is no aviation museum here, but this is home to Orbital Sciences, Virgin Galactic, and other luminaries in the private space business. Interesting artifacts are scattered about, including a recreation of Burt Rutan’s Ansari X Prize-winning SpaceShipOne, a rare flying Lockheed L-1011, a phalanx of 747s in dry storage, and other aviation esoterica.
Next, I visited the California Route 66 Museum in Victorville. Its staff is welcoming and its memorabilia well-aged, but this small institution’s best feature may be its well-kept mural on the back side of the old Red Rooster Café in which the museum is housed. This is not a destination so much as a place to stop if you are in the neighborhood and fighting cramps in your lower extremities.
The second half of the 45-mile journey south to Rim of the World Highway, just shy of Lake Arrowhead, gets interesting as two-lane State Route 138 winds past Silverwood Lake. Here the desert gives way to pines as the road twists into the San Bernardino National Forest. Shoulders evaporate and the narrowing path spools into ever-tightening turns. Again, the Mustang blasted through, its purposeful exhaust echoing through the forest.
At the top are incredible views down on Riverside and San Bernardino, a precipitous 4,000 feet below. The twisty, well-maintained 11-mile descent into the valley is a busy funnel through which the masses of greater LA pass between their daily lives and mountain adventures.
Twenty-five miles south is March Field Air Museum, and a real dose of aviation history. They lack a P-51, but have 80 other aircraft, including a B-17 Flying Fortress and P-38 Lightning, which flew side-by-side with the Mustang. This is one of Southern California’s best aviation museums. From its SR-71 Blackbird to its B-47 Stratojet, its strength is in its Cold War collection.
A short drive south is Skydive Perris, with its 96-foot vertical wind tunnel providing thrill-seekers with near endless freefall. Unlike jumping out of a plane, there is an instructor beside you, rather than strapped to you. Divers learn how to balance and move with “jumps” in rapid succession. The learning curve is steep and entertaining. Also, wind tunnel time is a good reminder of the powerful forces at work on your car at speed.
After three jumps I dropped back into the Mustang for the westward climb over Ortega Highway to the coast at San Juan Capistrano. This delightful, but damp 30-mile stretch featured a uniquely playful Toyota Avalon attempting to keep up with the Mustang’s three-quarter pace. The large family sedan finally lost adhesion and ended up pointing the wrong direction.
Shoutout to the optional 3.73 Torsen rear diff that makes the Mustang easy to pull into a straight line when one’s right foot becomes too eager.
By the end of the day I was fatigued, and thankful the optional Recaro seats were absent. The standard sport buckets fit my 6’1”, 195-pound frame well, and provided ample lateral support. This car is incredibly composed and communicative. But given its immense capabilities, it’s challenging to find its limits on public roads. The interior layout and features are logical and segment competitive. Interior materials are an improvement over the last-generation car, and benchmark well versus other pony cars.
But it is the Mustang’s driving dynamics that invite comparisons with BMW. However, premium performance is not the Mustang’s mission; performance value is. And here the Mustang exceeds expectations. At $43,665, this well-equipped Mustang is absolutely a compelling performance value, and still undercuts the original 1942 U.S. Army Air Force version by about $8,000.
2016 Mustang GT Premium Coupe
5.0-liter, DOHC V8 (435 horsepower @ 6,500 rpm; 400 lbs-ft @ 4,240 rpm)
6-speed Getrag MT82 manual
15 city/25 highway/19 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
19.4 mpg (Observed)
Tested Options: GT Premium Trim, Ruby red paint, 401A Equipment Group, Performance Package, enhanced Security Package, Navigation
Base Price: $37,200*
As Tested: $43,665*
*Base and as-tested prices include $900 Destination & Delivery charge
Chime in with your thoughts on the forum. >>
Looking for a good deal on a new Mustang? Get insider information here.