Ford Mustang is still cool after all these years

 If only we all could age as well as the Ford Mustang has.

Now 45 years old and revamped for 2010 with new styling and more powerful V-8, the “pony car” that debuted in 1964 is strikingly muscular, more energetic than before and thoroughly cool for a modern buyer.

You don?t even have to pretend to be Steve McQueen, the lead actor in the 1968 film “Bullitt” who famously drove a Mustang in one of Hollywood?s best chase scenes, to enjoy the new Mustang?s unique persona.

Just take today?s low-riding, sporty and sinister-looking Mustang out on the streets amid roundly styled sedans like the Toyota Camry and tall-riding sport utility vehicles and see how the Mustang stands out as a special ride.

Surprisingly, the Mustang remains a bit practical, too.

The federal government gives the 2010 two-door Mustang coupe across-the-board 5 out of 5 stars for safety protection of driver and front passenger in frontal crash testing. The coupe gets the same high marks for protection in side crash testing.

It gets an average rating for reliability from Consumer Reports.

Starting manufacturer?s suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $21,845 for a base, rear-wheel drive Mustang powered by a 210-horsepower V-6 mated to a five-speed manual transmission.

Unfortunately, the real gems of the Mustangs — models with V-8s — are priced much higher. The 2010 Mustang GT with 315-horsepower, throaty V-8 has a starting retail price of $28,845 with manual transmission.

A key competitor, of course, is the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro, which has a starting retail price, including destination charge, of $23,530 for a base model with 304-horsepower V-6 and six-speed manual. The rear-wheel drive Camaro with 426-horsepower V-8 starts at $31,595.

Ford officials rightfully play up Mustang?s longevity, its status as one of the best-known nameplates in history and its notoriety over the years in film, television and even a magic act in Las Vegas recently.

The test Mustang GT seemed to have some magic, too, with its makeover for 2010. The car arrived wearing an eye-catching “Grabber Blue” paint color, and it was complemented by ambient blue lighting inside illuminating the door sills, cupholders and center console.

I couldn?t miss the big Mustang horse badge in the middle of the steering wheel as I slid down and into the driver?s seat. The Mustang rides low to the pavement, so a driver can?t see anything but the back bumper and tailgate of a pickup truck or SUV ahead in traffic.

The round, deep-set instrument gauges on the dashboard looked old-school, but in a cool, not clunky, way. They also were easy to read.

Turning the ignition on, I heard the 4.6-liter, single overhead cam V-8 come to life. Even just idling, it sounded exciting, and a tap of the accelerator with the gearshifter still in neutral brought up the decibels considerably.

I grabbed the gearshift knob and moved into first gear. The Mustang GT rolled out of the garage as if it was on the prowl. I worried that the low front air dam might scrape at the dip of the driveway where it meets the street, but there was no problem. Indeed, only because I couldn?t ever see where the front of the big hood ended did I bump the dam once against a concrete curb that marked the front of a parking space.

Torque in the Mustang GT is 325 foot-pounds at 4,250 rpm, and thankfully, the engine runs fine on regular gasoline. By judiciously selecting gears, I zoomed forward into and around traffic. Glancing frequently down at the speedometer, I found the car always was going faster than I had guessed. At highway speeds, the car almost seemed to be waiting to go faster.

The gearshifter was a bit notchy feeling in the test car, but it seemed to fit fine with the car?s overall personality. A few times in city driving, I noticed some driveline lash.

Fuel mileage is rated by the federal government for the GT with manual transmission at 16 miles per gallon in city driving and 24 mpg on the highway. I figured I did well to average 21 mpg in combined city/highway driving in the test car.

The Mustang isn?t a quiet car, and the ride in the test GT could be tiring. I always heard the engine, and it had an especially showy roar during hard acceleration. Between the engine sounds and road noise from the 18-inch, Pirelli sport tires, I never noticed wind noise because I couldn?t hear anything over the other sounds.

My passengers and I felt road bumps all the time. Even on visually smooth asphalt, slight vibrations came through to the cabin. Needless to say, someone looking for a refined ride should look elsewhere.

I was impressed by the fit and finish on the tester. Not a body gap nor piece of trim inside or out was out of place.

Competent brakes were well matched for the engine speeds, and steering was so precise and sporty, I found I could wander out of my lane if I gazed this way or that for a second too long.

Predictably, the back seat is cramped, with just 29.8 inches of legroom and passenger heads positioned below the large rear window glass. With the driver seat up a ways, I had decent rear-seat legroom, but my toes still got tangled in cables that were under the driver seat.

Standard safety equipment includes side air bags and electronic stability control

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