2011 Ford Mustang V-6: 30 MPG Isn’t A Stretch

There’s no question that the Mustang’s new standard engine, a 305-hp, 3.7-liter V-6, is no longer a token price leader, or just a rental or a secretary’s car, as the former base version was known. It’s a great all-around performer, as we reported in our full review, with excellent chassis tuning, good electric power steering, and responsive brakes.

But the part that we were naturally a little skeptical about are that the new ‘Stang carries EPA highway ratings of up to 31 mpg, and only requires regular gasoline for peak performance.

So we were happy to take custody of a 2011 Mustang Coupe with the V-6 and six-speed manual—bringing an EPA-rated 19 mpg city, 29 highway. The six-speed automatic gets an even better 19/31 mpg, but Ford knew us well in bringing out a stick.

More frugal than a WRX or Evo

In a few days’ worth of local errands—about 80 miles in all, enjoying the Mustang in daily driving—we averaged 21 mpg in the Mustang. That’s a very respectable figure, and significantly better we’ve seen in than many four-cylinder performance cars like the Subaru Impreza WRX and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. But considering how Ford has emphasized the Mustang’s highway fuel economy in all sorts of ads and press releases, we decided to see what we could do on a mileage run. Setting the cruise control to just 55 mph for ten miles on mostly level ground, we saw 35 mpg from the trip computer—almost incredible for such a large-displacement six, but obviously made possible by the very tall sixth gear. On another run at 70 mph, we averaged nearly 31 mpg.

Intrigued about the possibility of keeping revs down in city driving, I short-shifted with the kind of light-throttle 1-to-4 skip-shift that electronic nannies enforced for years in GM muscle cars, revving just past 3,000 rpm and dropping to 1,100 rpm or so, accelerating lightly. But at every stoplight mileage tumbled as we idled, and after just a few miles our figure settled to the 22-23 mpg range. I quickly cut my losses and started enjoying the car again.

Even with variable valve timing, you can’t have frugal and fast at once

It’s a lesson about what variable valve timing does, if anything else; Ford’s new Ti-VCT allows the new engine to achieve stellar mileage in light-load, low-rev situations especially. Stomp your right foot and the new Mustang V-6 really moves—and revs eagerly to a redline near 7,500 rpm. It’s just not getting great mileage when you do that.

Overall there were a few disappointments, mostly minor: The lack of a telescopic steering column could be an annoyance for some drivers, the red backlighting for the instruments left reflected red halos at the top of the windshield while night driving, and both of the doors in our test car closed with a most unsatisfying secondary rattle. And a hard plastic edge at the back of the e-brake lever repeatedly caught my elbow when shifting into second or fourth.

Also the Pirelli P Zero 255/40ZR19 summer performance tires installed on our test car—equipped with the V6 Performance Package, which also includes a limited-slip differential axle—weren’t so great at gripping in the dry, 35-degree weather that persisted during the week I had the Mustang. However the nice black-painted aluminum wheels these tires were mounted on gave the red ‘Stang a great, classic pony-car look.

With the only option being that $1,995 Performance Package, the test car totaled $28,690, including destination.

The 2011 Ford Mustang can get go surprisingly far on a gallon of gas—even more than 30 mpg—while driving it ‘normally,’ in fact. You just have to be really easy on this pony when there’s a lot of temptation to crack the whip.