How do you go about reimagining one of the most iconic cars in history? Carefully.
With Ford looking to pull its sixth-generation Mustang into the 21st century in a way its predecessor couldn't, the automaker knew it had to tread lightly. At the same time Ford needed to make the car's "Mustangness" appeal to a younger and more global audience.
"We set out to create a modern interpretation of the Mustang," said Joel Piaskowski, design director for Ford. "First and foremost, it had to be a Mustang. From the overall proportions, you might say yeah, it's keeping up with the times, it has much more of a sports car-like proportion."
With over half of the 5.5 million Facebook fans of the Mustang coming from outside the U.S., Piaskowski said Ford was eager to use this next generation as an ambassador.
"They appreciate the car for its Americanness, for being a true American muscle car, sports car," he said. "That's what we're building on."
The redesigned body has a fastback design that harkens to the car's early days. It's lower and wider than the older car and the skin stretches over the engine options: a V8, a V6 and a new turbocharged four-cylinder. An updated chassis that now includes an independent rear suspension.
With plenty at stake for the new design, we sought out industry and classic car experts to weigh in on the new design. But first ...
How you feel about this new Mustang depends on how much muscle you like in your car. Unlike Chevy's take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward the reimagined Corvette that debuted earlier this year, the Ford Mustang seems aimed to please everyone. And while it could well pull this off, the unbridled American brawn of the muscle car seems lacking.
In person, the Mustang looks like an exaggerated version of the outgoing model, almost a caricature. This is a good thing. The 2015 version is wider, lower and more three-dimensional than before. Ford traded a modicum of aggression for 21st century refinement and class. But they could have done more. Muscle cars are supposed to have muscle.
What's nice about this iteration is that Ford wasn't afraid to deviate from the Mustang's heritage in an effort to modernize the car. Yes, the company is making plenty of noise about the fastback design. But the fastback look has recently been co-opted by German luxury brands for use on four-door coupes like the Audi A7 and Mercedes CLS.
Other more mainstream family cars followed suit. If Ford's Fusion -- a common sedan aimed at people who don't want muscle anywhere near their cars -- can have a fastback design, shouldn't the model that brought it to Ford 50 years ago also use it?
If the Mustang disappoints anywhere, it's in the interior design. It still relies heavily on a retro-themed layout (and steering wheel) that can't justify its existence ergonomically. It harkens back to certain era that old-school aficionados will appreciate. But car cabins have evolved for a reason. This one should have too.
Parnelli Jones, former IndyCar, NASCAR racer and team owner:
It's beautiful, and I'm really impressed with the looks of it. I was really happy they didn't get away from the traditional Mustang look. I was really impressed they didn't go in a complete different design direction. It looks pretty sleek aerodynamically. Though they could probably use a little more spoiler on the back -- like the Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca version -- for high-performance driving, since it's certainly a high-performance car.
The independent rear suspension (IRS) certainly is an upgrade. We did about as good as you could do with a solid rear axle. You can do a lot more handling changes with IRS. It's also a great combination together with the six-speed manual transmission.
I was really shocked to see they were coming out with a four-cylinder turbo. It's great, I'm really big on turbocharging. I have a Ford Flex with a turbocharged V-6. This should definitely help pull in the younger generation.
As for the car as whole, if I'm a teenager, I think it's great. If I'm an old guy like me, I think it's great. I think young people will go for it. The look of the car makes you want race it; it makes you want to get in and drive.
Craig Jackson, chairman and CEO of Barrett-Jackson auction company
When I first saw it, I felt the way I did when I first saw the 2005 version. You still see it's a Mustang, but it's been updated. This car needs to keep evolving, and Ford did a wonderful job with the way it's evolved.
It's still got some of that retro look to it, but it's definitely a modern-looking car, definitely a Mustang when you look at it. This should help the demographic for the car go younger, like our customers have been. Kids like the retro and the modern technology together, and I think this car covers that.
The fastback design, that's part of it. It's not as big a change as when the '05 came out, where it really looked like a 1965. But this is still a modern car with the basic lines and proportions. It's got an aggressive front on it; I love the headlights. And you can see the wind tunnel design to it; it's got some aerodynamics to it in the rear.
People who love Mustangs will love this. The Mustang has always been well loved by men and women; it's not just a guys' car. And multiple generations have grown up loving Mustangs.
This car is evolving, just like the [Corvette] C7 did. You still know it's a Corvette, it's got all the right dimensions. If that car went by you on the autobahn you'd wonder what it was; it doesn't scream that it's an American car. It's the same when you see this Mustang. You know it's a Mustang, but everything has to evolve, and I think it's evolved in a very sophisticated way.
GM raised the stakes with the [Camaro] ZL1. Now with this Mustang's IRS technology, and all-new body style. And I can't wait to see the Shelby version.
It's game on again.
Dave Sullivan, senior analyst at AutoPacific
It's predictable. It's like they grafted on a Fusion front end to the current Mustang.
There's nothing Earth-shattering, or that's going to turn the pony-car world upside down. If you're looking for an all-new Mustang, this is not an all-new Mustang. Unlike the new Corvette C7 that was all new from the ground up, this is pretty much the exact same car with a new rear suspension, a new front end and a new interior. This is a way of extending the lease on life for this vehicle without spending massive amounts of cash.
The Mustang has always been a car that doesn't look like any other Ford for about as long as I can remember. This now at least looks like other Fords on the road; it kind of looks like a Ford Fusion coupe. Look at the Chevy Camaro; that doesn't look like a Chevy Malibu coupe.
Whether that's a successful move remains to be seen. They've been losing the sales battle to the Camaro for a while now, so maybe this is what they need. Coupes are a hard sell no matter what since it's a limited market; they've kind of disappeared from the marketplace.
Mustang has kind of been in its own little world, almost as a unique brand of iconic American goodness. Now it's going to this softer and less edgy and less retro design that looks good on a sedan, but it remains to be seen how this pans out for the consumer.
Stewart Reed, chair, transportation design department, Art Center College of Design
I'll confess, all the Ford design guys are friends of mine. But I've been anxious to see it; what I see here, it's clearly a little more international from what Mustangs have been. That's a very conscious decision on [Ford's] part to sell this car around world, and yet it maintains the Mustang-ness and American-ness, which I think is wanted around the world.
The rear end of the car is unmistakably Mustang and yet new. The front end, the front face, is also undeniably Mustang. It's definitely enough of a change. [Ford] navigated this course of incremental advances, and I think they've done it -- even what you don't see, the chassis and suspension -- with underlying authenticity.
In a way it's like the Mustang grows up, and I think it's going to have a broader appeal to different socioeconomic groups too. People looking at European two-door sporty coupes are really going to be looking at this car too.
I'm hoping it won't be bashful about being American, without an apology about being a muscle car. Mustang and Camaro are back, and I love those choices in the marketplace.
Donnie Gould, president of Auctions America, RM car specialist for Ford and Mustang
I liked it instantly. A lot of times when new models come out I have to scratch my head and warm up to it, absorb it. I don't have to do that with this car.
It looks like a completely new design. The roof seems chopped down, it doesn't have too much retro in it like the last versions did; it looks like a completely new car to me.
As for the new turbo, this is not the first four-cylinder turbo in a Mustang. The SVO Mustangs built back in mid 1980s were very popular cars, and are collector items today. A lot of guys really liked those cars. I think with all these young kids today involved in the tuner world, a four-cylinder with big turbos on it will appeal to them and will also appeal to the European market as well.
The original 1966 Shelby Mustang I owned, I did a lot of autocrossing in. It was some of the most fun I've ever had without getting in trouble with the police. Taking the car out and throwing it around and trying to beat the clock in a short course like that, that was a lot of fun, let me tell you.
And the car withstood it. It was tough enough that you could really thrash them. They can really survive the toughest test. There are very few American muscle cars that you could have done that with.