The first thing you notice when slipping behind the tri-spoke steering wheel of the '05 Mustang is that everything is different. From the power-window switches to the instrument-panel layout to the radio controls, the Mustang's interior is totally new. If you're currently driving a '94-'04 Mustang, don't expect to find the tilt-wheel lever on the steering column or the familiar push-pull headlight knob on the instrument panel.
Of course, that's to be expected with a brand-new car, and especially with the Mustang's first major revision in 25 years. The Fox-body Mustang, which debuted in 1979 and saw the Mustang through its musclecar reincarnation over the past two decades, was a good car. The '05 Mustang is a great car.
After teasing everyone for six months with photos and display prototypes, Ford finally gave us a chance to drive the '05 Mustang at a special press preview in Michigan in August. Our schedule called for a quick drive in '04 GTs for comparison, then a switch to '05s for a drive through the Ann Arbor countryside before hitting I-94 for a cross-state jaunt to Gingerman Raceway. The round-trip driving route provided us with over five hours of street time to evaluate the '05 on all kinds of roads and in all kinds of conditions, including railroad crossings, rough pavement, and those famous Michigan pot holes, along with the expected fun drives through some beautiful countryside.
For conditions, we got more than we bargained for when morning dawned dark and rainy. Journalists were paired for each '04 GT in front of the Weber Inn, so Josh Bolger, editor of the Mustang Club of America's Mustang Times, and I teamed up for a young-guy/old-guy Mustang-guy perspective on the '05 Mustang. After a 30-minute drive in the familiar '04 GT (after all, both Josh and I drive SN-95 Mustangs for daily transportation), I took advantage of my "seniority" to claim dibs for the first stint behind the wheel of a Screaming Yellow '05 GT with a manual five-speed.
That's when I noticed that everything is different. With rain coming down, I reached for the end of the turn-signal stalk to turn on the windshield wipers. Not there; it's on a separate up-and-down stalk on the other side. Then I felt for the headlight switch. Not only has it moved lower on the instrument panel, it's also been revised from the traditional push-pull switch to a twist-style. Later, when we had a chance to explore, we discovered the GT's grille-mounted fog lights are also operated by the headlight switch. To turn them on, pull out the knob. The fog lights turn off automatically when the headlights are switched off, so they must be manually turned on when needed again, which means no more leaving the fog lights on all the time.
From a driver's perspective, the steering wheel and instrument cluster are functional and attractive-just enough retro with the right amount of modern. I wasn't sure I'd like the tri-spoke steering wheel, but it looks and feels good. The '67-style instrument cluster, with its large, round speedometer and tachometer pods book-ending a rectangular opening with fuel, temperature, oil-pressure, and amp gauges, is plenty easy to read and understand. Our yellow GT was equipped with the optional "My Color" color-configurable cluster, which can be backlit in 125 different colors, as part of the Interior Upgrade Package. We tried to experiment with it, but for obvious safety reasons, the colors can't be changed while the car is in motion. Guess they want us to keep our eyes on the road instead of fiddling with instrument colors.
Gone are the rocker-style power-window switches, replaced by push-for-down and pull-for-up switches. The power windows now include the auto-up feature to go with auto-down, which allows one-touch operation both ways. The side windows also slide down an inch or so when the door is opened, then go up automatically when the door is closed. This provides a better seal for a quieter interior.