2003 Ford Mustang

By December 22, 2002
2003 Ford Mustang

The Ford Mustang is an absolute hoot to drive. The new Mach 1 and the Cobra deliver brilliant acceleration performance with lots of torque for quickly attaining super-legal speeds. The Mustang offers good grip when cornering hard, and you can really feel what the car is doing. Don’t expect sophisticated ride and handling, though. This is a hammer of a car, and it’s interior is dated.

Mustang’s heritage dates back to April 17, 1964, when the first one rolled onto the streets with its long hood, short rear deck, low profile. Performance and style were its hallmarks.

Today, the Mustang is commonly seen at local racetracks of all types, drag strips, road racing circuits. About 135,000 Mustangs were sold in 2002. Ford claims Mustang is the best-selling convertible in America (54,783 in 2001). With the Chevy Camaro and Pontiac Firebird gone, the Ford Mustang is the last pony standing. A new Mustang is on the horizon, likely to be introduced as a 2005 model.

For 2003, two new special-edition models are available: Mach 1 models boast a powerful twin-cam V8, sports suspension, and shaker hood designed to remind us of the famous 1969 fastback. The Mustang Pony is a new package that offers the aggressive appearance of the GT in an affordable V6 model.

2003 brings important safety improvements to the Mustang. Several new measures are designed to reduce wind noise, the suspension has been retuned, and the V6 and V8 engines get some minor refinements.

Model Lineup

Mustang comes in coupe and convertible body styles. Base models come with a V6 engine. High-performance GT models are powered by a V8. Ultra high-performance Cobra SVT models get a supercharged V8.

Base MSRPs: V6 coupe ($17,615); V6 convertible ($23,315); GT ($23,485); GT convertible ($27,790); Cobra coupe ($33,300); Cobra convertible ($37,545).

Standard equipment on all Mustangs includes air conditioning, power windows and door locks, tilt-steering column, a floor console, remote keyless entry system and interval windshield wipers. Reclining cloth front bucket seats are standard, as are 50/50 split-folding rear seatbacks on coupe models. A six-way power driver’s seat is available, as are leather-trimmed bucket seats.

The standard Mustang engine is a 3.8-liter V6, an overhead-valve engine rated 190 horsepower at 5250 rpm and 220 foot-pounds of torque at 2750 rpm. V6 coupes offer a choice of two optional trim packages: Deluxe ($730) includes rear spoiler, color-keyed floor mats, power driver’s seat and cruise control. Premium ($1845) adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel, MACH audio AM/FM with in-dash 6-CD changer, anti-lock brakes (ABS) and traction control; a stripe distinguishes Premium models.

Pony ($595) adds the GT hood and scoop, 16-inch polished aluminum wheels, Mustang stampede graphics and unique stripes, a special rear bumper with blackened Mustang graphics, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

GT comes with a 4.6-liter V8 with single overhead cams and two-valve heads rated at 260 hp at 5250 rpm and 302 lbs.-ft. of torque at 4000 rpm. To manage all that power, the GT is equipped with gas-pressure shocks with unique model calibrations, P245/45R17 performance tires on 17-inch alloy painted wheels, a Traction Loc rear axle, ABS and traction control. GTs come with sport bucket seats and fog lamps. Mustang GT uses the Tremec five-speed manual gearbox with a tall fifth gear for improved fuel economy.

Mach 1 comes with a high-performance twin-cam 4.6-liter V8 with four-valves per cylinder rated “over 300 hp” and a sports suspension (stiffer springs, special shocks and struts, lower ride height). Distinguished by its black shaker hood, the Mach 1 ($4885) is a package that includes special 17-inch wheels, special leather-trimmed seats, special interior trim, in-dash six-disc CD stereo, and special exterior graphics.

GT and Convertible models offer a Premium package ($2585) with leather seating surfaces, the MACH 460 stereo with in-dash 6-CD changer, and ABS and traction control. Convertible models with Premium trim come standard with an automatic transmission.

Cobra models are massaged by Ford’s Special Vehicle Team, or SVT. That includes the 4.6-liter supercharged engine, which uses double overhead cams and four-valve heads. The SVT V8 produces 390 horsepower at 6000 rpm, with 390 pounds-feet of torque at 3500 rpm. It comes mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. Cobra comes shod with P275/40R17 tires and loaded with special interior and exterior trim.

Convertibles feature a power top with a scratch-resistant glass rear window. A black semi-hard boot protects the top and provides a slick top-down appearance.

New safety features for 2003 include a new A-pillar, headliners, sun visors and a revised D-ring seat belt attachment, all designed to offer better head protection in the event of an impact. The firing strategy on both driver and passenger side air bags has been updated. Standard safety equipment includes safety belts with pretensioners to tighten the lap belt and shoulder belts in the first moments of a crash. Energy-management retractors gradually slacken the safety belt if necessary to help reduce the force of the belt on the occupant’s chest. 2003 Mustangs get anchors in the rear to implement the LATCH child safety-seat system.


The Mustang design picks up styling cues from the 1964-66 original, but executes them in today’s rounder, more organic idiom. The rear fender air intake, for example, has sharp corners and pronounced lines; but the rocker panels curve out, and the fenders have pronounced front and rear wheel well arches. The front end features wraparound complex reflector headlamps with integrated side marker lamps, combined with a square-edged honeycomb grille and a chrome pony. Tricolor front fender badges recall the good old days, as does the prominent but non-functional hood scoop. In back, it’s 1965 with vertical, three-element taillamps.

GT models get unique hood and side-scoop treatments, along with fog lights and a rear spoiler.

Mach 1 is easy to spot with special trim that starts with its shaker hood scoop. Attached directly to the top of the engine, the black scoop rears its head through a squarish hole in the Mach 1 hood. (Hood scoops on GT models sit on top of the hood.) A bold low-gloss black stripe runs up the center of the powerdome hood to accentuate the scoop. Stomp on the throttle and you can see it move, or shake, slightly as the engine twists against the motor mounts. In theory, the scoop is designed to channel fresh air into the intake for increased breathing and, therefore, increased power.

Cobra is distinguished from the other models by a unique front and rear appearance package. Its raised hood is required to make room for the supercharger setup. Two rear-facing vents near the leading edge of the hood are designed to let hot air out of the engine bay. Cobra is further distinguished by its unique grille opening, front bumper, driving lamps, rocker panels and side scoops, rear-end treatment, and 17-inch five-spoke alloy wheels in either brushed or chromed finish.

Interior Features

The Mustang has good, reclining bucket seats with plenty of travel. The seats are fairly full yet supportive, a good compromise, and you don’t slide around. Seatbelts are attached to the seat frames so they move with the seats.

The interior is cozy, with enough seat-track length to accommodate tall drivers and just enough elbowroom to keep from feeling cramped. The footwell is comfortable, but wide enough that it’s difficult to brace your knees in corners. Your right leg has to stretch too far to reach the console, although your left foot can be jammed on a good dead pedal. Convertibles and coupes offer about the same space in the front seats.

The back seat is small, with only enough room for small objects or kids. Convertibles offer less hip and shoulder room than coupes, but about the same headroom and legroom.

The trunk is small with an even smaller opening. Coupes hold just under 11 cubic feet worth of cargo, while convertibles hold just 7.7 cubic feet. A split fold-down rear seat is standard on all models and handy for hauling cargo. A glow-in-the-dark safety latch has been added inside the trunks of all Mustang models designed to prevent kids getting locked in the trunks.

The federal government gives the Mustang a five-star rating for front passenger safety, its highest. Only the two frontal air bags are available, however, there are no side air bags.

Leather upholstery is standard in the Premium GT, optional in some other models. Running horses embossed on the upper portions of the seat backrests recall the deluxe pony interior of the mid-1960s.

The Mach 1 tachometer and speedometer use a tall condensed typeface and more hash marks that make it harder to read than the gauges in the GT models. The instrument panel, center console and headliner are color-keyed. To turn on the headlights, pull out an old-fashioned knob on the left. The center console includes cup holders.

SVT Cobra models offer front bucket seats with Nudo leather trim and suede inserts. The driver’s seat features six-way power with power-adjustable thigh and side bolsters, and power lumbar support. Clearly, these seats are made for serious, fast driving. Switches are on the right-front corner of the seat. The SVT instrument cluster has been redesigned to include a boost gauge. The gauges feature titanium-colored faces and electroluminescent lighting. The Cobra’s gearshift knob is leather-wrapped, with a brushed-aluminum insert on the top, inscribed with the six-speed pattern. Metal-trimmed pedals and dead pedal are standard.

Driving Impressions

A 300-mile drive in a GT convertible was a reminder that the Mustang is a throwback to another era, but still a very enjoyable car. It was gorgeously sunny during the day, brilliantly starry after midnight. We dropped the top and kept it there the whole time. We had our new Bonnie Raitt CD along and discovered the MACH speed-sensitive sound system is fantastic with the top down. But a Beach Boys tape might have been more in tune with the wonderful rumble of the engine. Throwback time.

It was early and damp when we pulled onto the freeway away from the airport, and we made the Mustang fishtail on the on-ramp, just to get started with a smile. The point is, it can.

On the freeway, the firm suspension transmitted the undulations, and later on a different surface we could feel side-to-side jouncing, but the unsteadiness was relatively benign, especially considering how happy the car made us.

With the top down, the engine sounds so good, so deep and thunderous, it might be the most enjoyable thing about the car. With the Camaro/Firebird gone, they just don’t make them like this any more. With a lot of high-performance cars, you have to be going fast to feel the joy, but with the Mustang, even 2000 rpm is fun. Such a broad range of enjoyment adds to the already high value of the car.

Mustang GT’s 4.6-liter overhead-cam modular V8 is rated at 260 horsepower at 5250 rpm and 302 pounds-feet of torque at 4000 rpm.

In first or second gear, upshifting at a modest 4000 rpm, the motor feels and sounds very satisfying. In fifth gear, 2000 rpm is 75 mph, and the engine doesn’t loaf at that speed, it rumbles. No engine we can think of sounds and feels like it’s doing more at such low rpm. Not working hard, just doing more.

The torque provides steady, smooth acceleration, and the throttle response to blips is wonderful, with an easy heel-and-toe pedal position. The only small problem was throttle control at 5 mph in parking lots, as it tended to snatch.

The gearbox gets very high marks. Because the top speed in second gear is 70 mph, most corners are second or third gear, so you find yourself downshifting a lot. You can drop hard into second, with a beautiful racy blip, and it’s great stuff, smooth and solid, inspiring confidence. The GT’s leather gearshift knob has the perfect shape for a firm grip.

In corners, the Mustang likes to be muscled, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s brutish, but still goes where you point it without a struggle.

Our route was along Southern California’s twisty Ortega Highway, east from Capistrano to Lake Elsinore, a classic sports car drive with enough of a mountain to climb that we used the brakes a lot. No problems with fade when driving at an aggressive pace, using the brakes frequently.

The whole drive was so much fun, that we did it a second time that night, under the stars. Under the sun or stars, it doesn’t get any better than this.

The Bosch traction control system works at all speeds: Whenever wheelspin is detected, the system retards ignition timing, cuts fuel flow, and activates the brakes at one or both drive wheels, in that order. The driver can turn the system off with a console switch.

The Cobra offers acceleration on a par with cars costing twice as much, with 0-60 times in less than 5 seconds flat, a maneuver you can do at every stoplight. The new suspension and tires offer incredibly good grip when cornering hard, without side-stepping and chatter. The car completely involves the driver, every day, on every road.

The Cobra’s 4.6-liter, dohc modular V8 is equipped with an Eaton supercharger providing 8 pounds of boost, plus an intercooler to keep things cool, and it is tuned very differently from the regular Mustang GT engine. It produces 390 horsepower at 6000 rpm, with 390 pounds-feet of torque at 3500 rpm. That’s about 22 percent more power than the GT, quick and fast car. The Cobra’s engine uses a cast-iron block for long-term durability, with new pi


The Ford Mustang remains a great performance value. Mustang GT offers strong performance and sounds great, whether cruising or at full throttle.

The Cobra version of the Mustang is fun to drive, fun to be seen in, quick, fast, and pretty loud, with excellent handling considering the age and lack of sophistication of this chassis. It’s priced well atop the GT model, and gives the Mustang buyer looking for something slightly different than a run-of-the-mill GT. The Cobra is a viable alternative to the much more expensive Corvette. Ford says only 5000 Cobras will be built each year.

Model Line Overview
Model lineup:Coupe ($17,475); Coupe Deluxe ($18,080); Coupe Premium ($19,195); Convertible Deluxe ($23,000); Convertible Premium ($25,585); GT Coupe Deluxe ($23,220); GT Convertible Deluxe ($27,475); GT Convertible Premium ($28,645); Cobra coupe ($33,750) Cobra convertible ($37,995)
Engines:190-hp 3.8-liter ohv V6; 260-hp 4.6-liter sohc 16v V8; 300-hp 4.6-liter dohc 32v V8; 390-hp 4.6-liter dohc 32v supercharged V8
Transmissions:6-speed manual; 5-speed manual; 4-speed automatic
Safety equipment (standard):dual airbags
Safety equipment (optional):ABS, traction control
Basic warranty:3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in:Dearborn, Michigan
Specifications As Tested
Model tested (MSPR):Mustang GT Convertible Premium ($28,645)
Standard equipment:air conditioning; power steering; power brakes; power mirrors; tinted glass; passive anti-theft system; tilt wheel; cruise control; reclining bucket seats; Premium includes automatic transmission, leather seating surfaces, rear spoiler, leather-wrapped steering wheel, MACH 460 AM/FM/CD6, ABS and traction control
Options as tested (MSPR):none
Destination charge:$625
Gas guzzler tax:N/A
Price as tested (MSPR):$29270
Layout:front engine, rear-wheel drive
Engine:4.6-liter sohc 32v V8
Horsepower (lb.-ft @ rpm):260 @ 5250
Torque (lb.-ft @ rpm):302 @ 4000
Transmission:4-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:18/26 mpg
Wheelbase:101.3 in.
Length/width/height:183.2/73.1/53.2 in.
Track, f/r:60.2/60.6 in.
Turning circle:38.1 ft.
Seating Capacity:4
Head/hip/leg room, f:38.0/52.3/42.6 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m:N/A
Head/hip/leg room, r:35.8/41.0/29.9 in.
Cargo volume:7.7 cu. ft.
Towing capacity:1000 Lbs.
Suspension, f:independent
Suspension, r:live axle
Ground clearance:N/A
Curb weigth:3208 lbs.
Brakes, f/r:disc/disc with ABS
Fuel capacity:15.7 gal.
Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle. All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSPR) effective as of December 22, 2002.Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable. Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-800-392-3673 or 1-800-FORDSVT - www.ford.com

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