MALIBU, Calif. -- We follow a trail of asphalt through Malibu canyons like Encinal and Zuma on a wheel-squealing romp across the Santa Monica Mountains in a pumped-up 2011 Mustang GT coupe.
This new version of Ford's classic pony car runs lickety-split through switchback kinks and serpentine descents lipping around cliffs unfettered by guard rails.
Mustang's new zip comes from a major muscle boost with a new 5.0-liter V8 stuffed below the power-dome hood.
With DOHC (dual overhead camshafts) and four valves in each of eight cylinders, the aluminum-block engine carries new heads with high-tech valve controls -- Ford's Ti-VCT (twin independent variable cam timing) system.
The plant links to a six-speed manual gearbox or a no-load six-speed automatic with stock LSD (limited slip differential).
What about horsepower?
The new V8 delivers 412 hp at 6500 rpm with big torque of 390 lb-ft at 4250 rpm.
That's a gain of 97 hp over the GT's previous engine, a single-cam 4.6-liter V8 rated at 315 hp.
Despite those added power points, the new V8 earns higher fuel economy numbers -- 18/25 mpg city/highway with the manual and 17/26 mpg city/highway with the automatic.
Ford also adds more hardware to the 2011 GT, such as EPAS (electric power assist steering) for faster wheel response, big vented disc brakes (plus optional Brembo 14-inch vented front discs), and some suspension enhancements which forge a very nimble pony car.
The 2011 Mustang GT conforms as a hardtop coupe or ragtop convertible.
Ford also builds the 2011 Mustang V6 in coupe and convertible formats and this model gets a new high-performance engine with vastly more power.
The four-cam aluminum six-pack displaces 3.7 liters and employs Ford's Ti-VCT valve timing device.
It produces 305 hp at 6500 rpm and 280 lb-ft of torque at 4250 rpm.
Either the six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission applies to the Mustang V6 and the fuel economy figures also improve -- 19/31 mpg city/highway with the stick shifter and 19/29 mpg city/highway for the automatic.
All 2011 Mustangs -- V6 and GT -- build upon the 2010 Mustang platform which contained significant revisions.
The RWD (rear-wheel-drive) chassis with welded steel unibody construction carries front and rear subframes to mount steering and suspension systems.
Up front, Mustang has an independent front suspension with reverse-L MacPherson struts and in back there's a three-link solid LSD axle in back with Panhard rod.
A tower-to-tower brace adds torsional and lateral stiffness to the chassis to improve cornering ability when rolling on optional 19-inch rubber.
Chassis enhancements for the 2011 Mustang include revising damper tuning and spring rates to effect a smoother highway ride and installing firmer stabilizer bar bushings to increase the stiffness for better cornering response.
The sculptural body styling on Mustang is smooth and slick in aerodynamic efficiency to reduce drag.
It looks fresh yet familiar Mustang signatures have been retained -- the C-scoops on flanks, tri-part lamps on the tail and a shark's pointed nose with round headlamps.
That galloping chrome pony, traditional symbol of Mustang, mounts front and center on the grille.
And note the innovations of a modern design with round fender flares and the power-dome hood that crimps into the grille plus triple-element taillamps as turn signals which fire sequentially -- from inboard light to outboard light -- to indicate the direction of an intended turn.
Wind test data from Ford reveals the body design pares aerodynamic lift at the front by 23 percent over the earlier version to improve steering feedback as aerodynamic drag drops by seven percent.
Further, the design trims wind noise by 12 percent -- so it becomes a quieter car when moving down the road at highway speed.
Mustang's cockpit features a chiseled dash design.
Layout is classic to Mustang with twin seat positions marked by the symmetrical instrument panel on a horizontal dashboard with dual arching brows above aluminum face plates.
There are form-fitting buckets in front and a carved-out jump seat in back with fold-down seatback.
An ambient lighting kit in the cabin illuminates door pockets, cupholders and footwells, while the optional MyColor color-configured instrument cluster brings 125 color choices for backlighting of dashboard instruments.
Accessories range from a reverse-view video camera to Ford Sync with voice control over in-vehicle phones, media players and USB storage devices, and Sirius satellite radio and satellite navigation through Sirius Travel Link.
Issues of personal safety in Mustang are addressed with strong structural elements and energy-absorbing crush zones front and rear plus a variety of active and passive safety systems aboard.
All versions contain dual-stage frontal air bags for front riders plus seat-mounted side air bags up front.
Equipment promoting active safety includes rack and pinion steering and four-wheel disc brakes tied to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) and all-speed traction control (ASTC) coupled with Ford's AdvanceTrac electronic stability control (ESC) device.
The convertible edition of Mustang comes with a z-fold soft top fitted with a broad rear window plus pillar-less quarter windows on flanks of the sheetmetal shell.
Electric motors spur Mustang's top to fold up or down in seconds for a quick convertible conversion.
Model designations for Mustang divide further by trim packages -- standard or premium.
Three new paint colors apply to 2011 models: Race Red, Ingot Silver and Yellow Blaze Tri-Coat.
Ford sets MSRP numbers for the 2011 Mustang V6 at $22,150 (coupe) and $27,150 (convertible). The 2011 Mustang GT lists for $29,650 (coupe) and $34,650 (convertible).