New-look Ford Mustang has plenty of muscle

DEARBORN, Mich. — The Ford Mustang is still galloping at 50.

Ford Motor Co. on Thursday introduced the 2015 Mustang, a confident and aggressive riff on the iconic pony car that first made Americans swoon in the 1960s.

The Mustang’s passionate fans are sure to love it, but Ford will have to wait and see if it’s enough to overtake rivals and win over international buyers.

The Mustang was revealed at events in New York, Los Angeles, Shanghai, Sydney, Barcelona and Ford’s hometown of Dearborn. It goes on sale next fall in North America and will reach Europe and Asia in 2015.

“Mustang cuts to the heart and soul of our company and really represents our company at its best,” Ford Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields told hundreds of dealers and employees gathered in Dearborn to see the new car.

The Mustang isn’t anywhere near Ford’s best-seller. Ford sells more pickups in a week than it does Mustangs in a month. But Ford says the Mustang has the highest name recognition and highest favorable opinion of any of its cars. And car companies count on beautiful sports cars to cast a glow over the rest of their lineup.

The Mustang’s first full redesign since 2005 presented Ford with a tough task: Update and freshen an icon without alienating fans. More than 9 million Mustangs have been sold since 1964, and the car has more than 300 fan clubs around the world, including one in Iceland and one solely for owners of yellow Mustangs. Farrah Fawcett drove a white one in “Charlie’s Angels;” Steve McQueen raced a dark green one through the streets of San Francisco in 1968’s “Bullitt.”

The new car takes plenty of cues from the old. The long hood and sloping fastback are still there, as is the trapezoid-shaped grille with the Mustang logo from the original. But the new car sits lower and wider, and the roof tapers dramatically in the front and back. The signature rounded headlights are smaller and sit back under a fierce, chiseled brow, while the traditional three-bar taillights are now three-dimensional and tucked beneath the rear deck lid. The overall look is wirier than the current, more muscular version designed in 2005.

This new generation of Mustang is engineered to meet various international safety and emissions standards. There’s a right-hand-drive version for the United Kingdom and Australia. And Ford will market the car more heavily overseas.

Ford design chief J Mays said the design wasn’t overly influenced by European or Asian sensibilities.

“The reason they love it is because of its American-ness,” he said.

Still, Stephanie Brinley, an auto analyst with the consulting company IHS, expects modest sales overseas. IHS forecasts European Mustang sales will triple from current levels to around 2,500 in 2015, while sales in China will likely remain low because two-door coupes aren’t popular there.

Ford hopes Mustang can once again become the top selling pony car in the U.S. The Chevrolet Camaro, which followed the Mustang to market in 1966 and was last redesigned in 2009, has outsold its rival for the last three years and is on track to do it again this year, according to Kelley Blue Book.

Aaron Bragman, the Detroit bureau chief for the Web site cars.com, likes the new Mustang but questions whether it can beat the Camaro, which has a less retro-inspired design.

“Anyone looking for something a bit more modern is going to choose the Camaro,” he said.

But Ford countered that it takes its history seriously. Fields noted that he was wearing a set of gold cuff links given to him by someone on the original Mustang marketing team, and said he plans to pass them on when another new Mustang is revealed someday.

“It’s a car, like our company, that has heritage,” Fields said.

Mustang buyers will have three engines to choose from: updated versions of the current 3.7-liter V6, which gets a projected 300 horsepower, and 5.0-liter V8, with 420 horsepower, as well as a new 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder that gets a projected 305 horsepower or more.

The car sits on the Mustang’s first independent rear suspension, which should improve handling because it lets the wheels operate independently.

Inside, new options include blind-spot detection and toggle switches that adjust the steering, stability control and other settings depending on the road conditions. The interior also has nicer materials, with brushed aluminum replacing painted plastics and analog dials inspired by airplane cockpits.

Ford isn’t saying how much the new Mustang will cost. The current one starts around $23,000. A convertible version will also be offered.

Dealers at the Dearborn event were thrilled with the new car.

“They captured what’s distinctly Mustang but it’s new and fresh,” said Brian Godfrey, general manager of Pat Milliken Ford in Redford, Mich.

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