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Back on Track: TrackPack suspension leads Mustang mods

Rafay Ansar

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We drove a herd of 2010 Ford Mustangs last week on the road and at a pretty good racetrack, and we can say with certainty that the muscle car is alive and well in America.

Changes to the 2010 model are relatively minor, with freshened skin and a few suspension improvements that make the car a little more stable and a lot quieter.

The Mustang is still all muscle car, not sports car, so the 4.6-liter V8 remains the star attraction from a driver’s point of view, with power bumped up to 315 hp thanks to cooler air going in and smoother exhaust routing going out. It spins the rear tires through your choice of five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission and out to that solid rear axle. There is still no independent rear, not even as an expensive option. That won’t bother drag racers and stoplight heroes, probably the majority of the Mustang faithful. Those looking for a road racer probably will look elsewhere, to the Nissan 350/370Z and the like.

Zero to 60, a muscle car’s bread and butter, should stay in the low fives, depending on when and how well you engage the clutch. We got into the high fives on what might have been a flat stretch of empty highway, timing it with a highly inaccurate handheld wristwatch. A little practice, with the clutch and the watch, will get it into the low fives for sure.

The Mustang also is a little more capable on curves now. Engineers upped rear spring rates on the GT by 25 percent compared with the ’09 model and retuned the dampers at all four corners. As a result, the GT model is tied down a little better, with a little more control of roll while cornering and of pitch under braking.

The V6 model gets similar improvements plus an antiroll bar for 2010, which it didn’t have in ’09.

“From ’09 to 2010, the V6 model is now like the old GT was, and the V8 base car in 2010 is like the Bullitt but more controlled because of improvements to the shock valving,” is how vehicle engineering manager Tom Barnes described the handling changes.

But the best handling news for the 2010 Mustang is an optional package coming next summer called the TrackPack. The $1,495 option will get you 255/40 Pirellis with a summer tread pattern mounted on 19-inch wheels. Combine that with the antiroll bars, rear lower control arms and strut top mounts from the GT500 and better brake pads, and you have a potent package for the road course.

We did many a lap of the Streets of Willow out in the California desert in 2010 Mustangs, all GTs with and without the TrackPack setup. All cars had Ford’s AdvanceTrac stability program, which could either be delayed a bit with a sport mode button or turned off. We found it far less intrusive than earlier stability programs, but mostly, we just shut the thing off going around the track. The best combination, of course, was a TrackPack-equipped car with everything turned off.

Ford says lateral grip in TrackPack-equipped cars goes up from 0.90 to 0.93, and stopping distance goes down by 10 feet to the low teens. In a lane change or a slalom, Ford says to expect about 2 mph more than the base GT and three seconds on lap times at tracks where 1:20 is the baseline time.

“The whole thing is more of a track-day-type car,” said Barnes. “It’s not a race car, but it’s a huge uplift in performance.”

While high-volume sedans cruise quickly through four- or five-year product cycles, the mighty Mustang must take

redevelopment at a slower pace. As in the past, this updated version of Ford’s iconic pony car is part of what looks like a 10-year cycle plan, which means that when the car’s 50th anniversary comes in 2014, watch out!

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