1996 Ford Mustang
Ford's Mustang was the first of a new breed of factory hot rod–the “pony car”–when it was launched back in 1964, and during the decades that followed it's stuck largely to the same genetic coding: High performance, low tech and low cost.
With a simple rear-drive chassis borrowed from a sedan and lots of components borrowed from other Ford vehicle lines, the Mustang has always been relatively cheap to produce, delivering lots of performance at bargain prices.
However, in terms of maximum performance, the Mustang's formula has, in recent years, fallen behind the pace set by GM's Camaro-Firebird twins. Ford's durable old 5.0-liter V8 simply didn't match the muscle of GM's 5.7-liter V8, which bristles with torque and horsepower.
So for 1996, Ford answers the challenge with a new engine. The overhead valve 5.0-liter has been replaced with Ford's much more sophisticated 4.6-liter V8, an engine with better volumetric efficiency as well as better emissions performance. The Mustang GT receives the single overhead cam version, similar to the engine used in the Ford Crown Victoria and Lincoln Town Car. With 215 hp and 285 lb.-ft. of torque, it delivers roughly the same performance as the old 5.0-liter.
But if sizzling go-power is the objective, Ford now has an answer for the Camaro Z28 and Firebird Trans Am. The new Mustang Cobra has the dual overhead cam, 32-valve version of the 4.6-liter V8, and in Cobra tune it throbs with 305 hp and 300 lb.-ft. or torque.
With lots of V8 power driving the rear wheels and a number of suspension revisions, the Mustang Cobra can gallop stride for stride with its GM rivals, whether the road ahead is straight or twisty.
Since the Cobra represents the best of what's new about the Mustang, it was our choice for this test.